The trench coat, a bona fide Badgley Mischka, was pale blue with paisley swirls, a notched collar and dramatic gun flaps on the chest. It was on clearance. For $15.
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A few days later, I was on the phone with both Mark Badgley and James Mischka, telling them that while attempting to research their line, I ended up buying their trench. They responded with glee.
"A trench coat can be kind of basic," said Mischka. "But we tried to make ours a femme fatale trench coat."
It felt like a Counter-Earth in which folks who do their own laundry could act all Hollywood and get away with it. In truth, the trench coat was from HSN, the St. Petersburg home shopping mecca turned major celebrity getter. And Badgley Mischka, one of the most famous American design duos in the world, have made regular pilgrimages to Tampa Bay for two years to promote their American Glamour line on HSN. When their schedule allows, they grab a hotel room along St. Pete Beach or sneak off to Palm Beach, where they keep their show horses in the winter.
Badgley and Mischka are both 51. They've been a couple for 28 years, a design duo for 25. They're known for embellished, ultra-feminine evening wear, red carpet dresses worn by Eva Longoria, Taylor Swift, Oprah Winfrey. Charlotte York wore their wedding gown on Sex and the City. Blair Waldorf wore their pumps on Gossip Girl.
They could have spent the rest of their lives solely covering rich people in baubles. But high-fashion labels have spent a decade trickling into Target and Macy's and to the masses, to working women and bloggers who have developed sophisticated style knowledge. Ignoring that population is a risky strategy nowadays, and on HSN, it's impossible.
"There used to be a stigma that you were just in it to make money," said Mischka. "There are more reasons than just to make money, though making money is of course an important one. We get direct feedback on-air and direct online comments about all our clothes from the people who purchase them. It's basically like doing a giant trunk show for a weekend and talking to our customers."
"James and I are used to being in the dressing room at Neiman Marcus with a customer one-on-one," said Badgley. "So when we were all of a sudden on television reaching millions and millions of women within minutes of bringing products on air... It's mind boggling."
Their relationship with HSN started long ago. The men have been friends with HSN CEO Mindy Grossman since 1985, when Mischka and Grossman worked together at a menswear company.
"We got along super-well then and we stayed in touch ever since through her career development and throughout ours as well," he said. "When she headed over to HSN, she started talking with us about putting Badgley Mischka on HSN."
"I think we talked about it for a couple years and sort of formulated what it should be," said Badgley. "The brand, the look, et cetera. And we all agreed on the right timing. ... When we first went on we were very nervous. It was like filming Gone With the Wind. There were so many people, so many crew and cameras and this and that. When you're watching on TV it looks very calm and quiet and still, but when you're there it's a lot of action. We were thoroughly overwhelmed."
They've relaxed into a routine with American Glamour, clothes, accessories and handbags priced for the HSN customer, sized universally. There's a chiffon caftan for $79.90. An art-deco dolman sleeve sweater for $59.90. A red maxi dress with an embellished neck for $79.95. Each piece has a touch of opulence associated with Badgley Mischka, an attempt to bridge the runway disconnect, to dazzle women who call in from the middle of nowhere.
"They are extremely intrigued by the runway and all that type of thing," Badgley said. "The key difference is that they want it to be made easy for them. No woman, I don't care where she is or what her lifestyle is, she just doesn't have time and certainly not always the resources to emulate those looks down to the last detail. She's professional, she's got children, she's running in a million different directions at once."
Their job is solving problems, Mischka said, whether it's for a celebrity or a model or a mom.
"If you've got $35 to spend on a top, that's the challenge that we've got to answer for you."