Badgley Mischka: Back to Business

Mark Badgley and James Mischka spent last September's fashion week squirreled away in their Hamptons house, fielding phone calls from prospective buyers.

In a telephone interview, Cole said, "I always thought they made the most beautiful dresses out there. I looked at it like an uncut diamond. They didn't have anything beyond their couture dress business. This was the perfect opportunity to build a phenomenal luxury business and to diversify Iconix, which until then had been largely thought of as a junior business."

Badgley Mischka is on its way to becoming a $100 million annual business by 2009. With eight licenses in place, the company expects to generate $30 million in sales in 2006 — well above the $20 million business it was at its peak with Escada, Cole said.

Under the old regime, Escada was priority number one, and as a result, Badgley Mischka fell short of its plans to line up a licensing portfolio. "The focus really was on Escada. At the time, they were in such financial difficulties themselves," Mischka said.

Badgley finished the thought, as they often instinctively do for each other without interrupting or the slightest gesture for help. "We had a nice long run with them, but we needed a parent company where we would be the focus and priority," he said.

As soon as Candie's stepped in to the rescue, some eyebrows were raised that a company known for its racy Jenny McCarthy ads was buying a well-known designer brand. But the designers said they were drawn to Cole's enthusiasm, entrepreneurial spirit and non-Seventh Avenue mentality. Instead of "Sell, sell, sell," he advised them to reposition the company as a licensing and marketing one instead of a manufacturing entity. "It wasn't a matter of doing the same old thing with someone else's money," Mischka said.

Cole has also been instrumental in helping them "sniff out" strong licensing partners. First up was Groupe JS International, the manufacturer that is producing Badgley Mischka couture and eveningwear. Bridge and designer sportswear collections are planned for spring 2007, but details are still being ironed out.

Next month, Badgley Mischka relocates to a showroom at 550 Seventh Avenue, the only address on Seventh Avenue they were interested in occupying. That's a real milestone for their 17-year-old business, so much so that it is hard to imagine them as the struggling Parsons School of Design students they once were. Before going out on their own, Badgley spent two years at Donna Karan and Mischka did the same at Willy Smith, where the designer's limo was always at the ready parked at the loading dock.
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