Over the years, The Daily has accompanied Carly Cushnie and Michelle Ochs to pole-dancing lessons and man-hunting sessions. When they turned down our request to visit an all-male revue, we feared the worst—have they lost their sexy? Over cocktails at the Smyth hotel, the Cushnie et Ochs designers explain their evolution.
This is going to be our most serious conversation ever.
Michelle Ochs: No, because we just ordered cocktails.
You have new investors, including [Hilldun and InterLuxe CEO] Gary Wassner. Are you rebranding?
Michelle: It’s not a rebranding or a retooling; it’s super…enhancing. We’re adding gasoline to the fire.
Carly Cushnie: We had a solid DNA and aesthetic that people have come to know us for. The brand was walking, and now we’re ready to run.
Will the look be less sexy?
Both: No! [In unison]
Carly: It will be expanded. There had been a misconception that we only did dresses, but there’s a lot more to the collection than that. As well as expanding the collection, we want to expand our offering outside just womenswear. That will help broaden the idea of us being a lifestyle brand.
Which categories interest you?
Michelle: Swimwear—we did a capsule, but we’d like to go deeper—and knitwear, which has always done well for us. As women, we want to own the whole look, and we’re now able to have the right partners to go into those categories.
Were you on the hunt for those partnerships?
Michelle: It was very organic. We’d heard so many horror stories, so we wanted to make sure we found the right fit.
Carly: We had already been in discussions with potential partners, but they didn’t end up being the right fit. Our business was doing well, so it wasn’t like we were going to sink.
How did you meet your new CEO, Peter Arnold?
Carly: Gary Wassner introduced us, and we immediately knew he was what the company needs. The initial meeting was about sales, marketing, and his perception of the brand. He brings so much from being at Cynthia Rowley and the CFDA
Michelle: He’s worked with creative—he knows it isn’t just about the bottom line. He understands the process, and he gave us an ease that none of the other candidates gave.
What about Gary?
Carly: We’ve been working with Hilldun for many years now, and our relationship has grown. Even before this partnership, we could always call him.
He was someone we could rely on.
Michelle: It was easy to have him in the fold officially, because he was someone we could always go to. Nothing’s really changed in that regard. He knows absolutely everyone, and you can pick his brain.
Are you more stressed?
Michelle: It’s taken a lot of stress off! We were wearing many hats before, and now we can focus on design.
Carly: A lot of designers have been asking us, What’s it like? How is it? And it’s great! It’s almost like having a big brother watch over your child. We feel very lucky.
What’s the look of your Fall ’16 collection?
Carly: We’re excited to be moving to Clarkson, and we’re working with [stylist] Kate Young. The show will feel a little different.
Michelle: The sexy will definitely still be there.
Michelle, how’s married life? You’re all grown-up…
Michelle: When my husband and I first started dating, he googled me and saw that man-hunting piece we did with you. Of all the things!
Carly: When that story came out, Linda Fargo e-mailed me and wrote, “That’s the best article that you guys have ever done!”
And you’ve moved out of town?
Michelle: I live in Bayonne, New Jersey, now! I got the master bedroom as my closet. I was not leaving the city without a big closet. I’m in the city Monday through Friday, so it’s nice to have the chill weekend. But I wouldn’t have moved to New Jersey without Uber.
Carly, how’s your personal life? Anybody special?
Carly: Yes! I’ve been with a guy for six months and we’re living together. As a friend said, “It’s going at lesbian speed!” [Laughs]
Michelle: I told Carly that I’m getting a little jealous! I feel like I missed that whole Tinder thing. I’ve never been on a dating app.
You guys still seem as close as ever.
Michelle: Taking a lot of that business stress off has made everything so much easier. We needed a man in the office.
Carly: We are very pro-woman, but sometimes you need a man.
Next time we’re going to a strip club!
Michelle: We’ll be begging for it by then!
Carly: Can’t The Daily take us on a sexy vacation?