>A SIT DOWN WITH DESIGNER B. MICHAEL – FASHION’S “UNDERGROUND COUTURE DESIGNER”

26 Jul

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Text, Vivian G. Kelly

We’ve always been intrigued by this designer ever since attending some of his first shows @ 9 years ago. Hundreds of fashion shows later we still remember two of his outfits: the black “Audrey” dress, and the hot pink “Judy Jetson” number. We count seeing those outfits coming down the runway as “fashion moments”.

Just before leaving for Mercedes-Benz Miami Swim Week, we had the opportunity to sit down with B. Michael and his business partner [and longtime fan & client] Attorney MIRA LUKOVIC MULLINS at her spacious downtown apartment. The space is where B. Michael’s well-heeled couture clientele come to select models from the collection, which will then be made-to-measure. “B” as Mira fondly calls him, has an air of aloofness and propriety, which we’ve come to associate with couture, which is after-all an art form. The slight initial stiffness and Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses slipped off once the designer began showing the clothes he’s justifiably proud of. He multi-tasked with ease, answering questions, all while selecting outfits for Mina [who’s also a perfect size 2] to model.

A Q& A WITH THE DESIGNER

THE FASHION EXAMINER:: We reconnected with you because one of our former students at AAU [Academy of Art University], Amaka Nwigwe, contacted us about your showing at the Fashion On the Square event. The event sounds like it’s quite the big deal in San Fran.

BM: This time, it’ll be a big posh event. There will be a gala reception, we will have wonderful clients of ours as well as what Y’Anad, the PR for the event is organizing.

FE: Who’s your client? Who’s wearing couture these days?

BM: My client has a busy life. She wears me to boardroom, to lunch, to cocktail, black tie, and the red carpet.

FE: What’s your best piece ever?

BM: The black dress from my first collection – Italian double face wool crepe. I also have a black suit called, “The exit suit”.

FE: Haute couture is somewhat shrouded in mystery. The term is often erroneously applied to clothing that is not technically “haute couture”, as defined by The Chambre Syndicale. What’s the real couture process?

BM: I require at least 3 fittings. We start with a muslin then a shell fitting, and a fitting with the lining.

FE: Is everything done in America?

B. MICHAEL: The Atelier workroom is in Long Island City. The client comes to West 12th Street for the fittings.

FE: How do you address the plus size issue?

BE: With my clothes I can fit up to any size. It’s not like I’m offering size 2 – 14.
I have women who are 0, 2, 14, 20 and they all look wonderful in the clothes, as they’re made to fit them perfectly.

FE: What retailers carry you?
[*Note: the retailers listed below carry a sample. Once the client makes her selection, the process begins; she selects her color, etc.]

B.MICHAEL: Saks Jandel in Chevy Chase, the John De Medeiros International on Worth Avenue in Palm Beach.
There’s a big event in Nov. with John we’re involved in.

FE: What collections do you have at this time?

B. MICHAEL: Homme is a new project; I want to do it properly, give it a proper launch. In the meantime, I’ll put be putting 4 men’s looks in my 35 look women’s collection. Men’s will be made to order.

FE: Who’s your guy?
BE: He’s very tightly wound, but he’ll wear a dinner jacket while unwinding, The cut is very tailored but twisted just a little bit.

FE: Do you design a lot of clothes for each collection?

B.MICHAEL: No! Eleanor Lambert said to me, “Edit your collection”. Years ago, I did 60 looks which was in 1999, but that was then. When you show your first collection it is the most euphoric moment of your life and you’re not thinking of things like the number of looks.

FE: Did you ever trip in the course of designing or showing a collection?

BE: Yes! In my 2nd collection, ego kicked in, I got great reviews, and I made a mistake and showed all short skirts which is not my aesthetic. They didn’t sell either!

Fe: You mentioned that you were restructuring?

BE: B. Michael America will be the Umbrella Company.
B. Michael Signature is the demi-couture collection hanging in the store, B. Michael New York will launch in Jan. 2010.
Going forward, B. Michael Homme will be called B. Michael Menswear.

FE: What are you doing to grow the business?

BE: We are growing – we are launching a RTW collection in store with a major retail partner in Jan. 2010. It will be a different animal
It will be $250 dress, very affordable.

FE: How are you coping with the recession?

BM: When I built this collection I felt it was important to make pieces that are gorgeous but somewhat timeless. You need to get some mileage out of it. So, I introduced some peridot green. For this collection, I bought European fabrics. I have to for what I do. It’s all about the fabric.

FE: How do you advertise?
BM: I’ve been called the underground couture designer. We’re very careful about what we do. Fashion on the Square is the right type of event.
The point of couture is that it works with any body.

FE; Would you do Target if they approached you?

BE: If I could maintain the standards and integrity of my designs, yes.

Fe: Succession is always such a fraught issue. Look at what’s happened over at Blass. They’ve never really recovered after Mr. Blass passed away.

Be: My daughter is in the business and helps me. She acts as the liason between the clients and me.

We look forward to reading about The Fashion on the Square event, and will post something in the coming week on The Fashion Examiner. Stay tuned!

WHERE TO FIND B. MICHAEL’s DESIGNS
Saks Jandel – 5510 Wisconsin Avenue
Chevy Chase, MD 20815
(301) 652-2250

John De Medeiros International –
150 Worth Ave # 136
Palm Beach, FL 33480-4480
(561) 659-5424

PHOTO CREDITS
Images of Mira Likovic Mullins, VGK
Runway Images, from B. M’s Facebook photo gallery

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