Stacey Bendet on Clothes, Ashtanga, and Trying to Blow Up Soho House
Gossip columnist and debut novelist Deborah Schoeneman talks to Alice + Olivia fashion designer Stacey Bendet about starting a hip couture business, the nightlife as day job, and getting booted from Soho House for throwing "mini-explosives" at people. Real estate … Read More
Real estate heiress Jamie Lefrak introduced me to Stacey Bendet, 28, six years ago, back when she was Stacey Weiner. She didn't get married; she just got famous as a fashion designer and decided her mom's maiden name was more chic.
We met at the now-defunct nightclub Suite Sixteen. At the time, Stacey was wearing a ton of eye makeup (she still does) and I didn't take her too seriously. Then she started talking about graduating from Wharton and writing computer code.
When she eventually gave up UNIX for fashion, she invited me to her first show, at the Russian Tea Room. (All the naughty young socialites were strutting around holding flowers to cover their naked tops while they modeled her pants. I think Paris Hilton was in the show).
Since then, we've hit many Manhattan nightspots together, all of which have cooled off or died during the years. But Stacey remains red hot. Just ask any of the guys I've set her up with.
What was the first thing you ever designed?
My bedroom, when I was five. My mother made me live with the lavender carpet for about 15 years. I hate the color lavender to this day.
How'd you get started?
I started designing clothes for myself in college, sexy tops with hand-beaded straps, wrap skirts—almost bohemian in style. Right after school I was building websites, and one of the companies I was working for was a startup that housed four different clothing lines. I was in the office every day and was inadvertently learning a lot about starting a clothing line. I decided I wanted to make my own pants in the cut of a jean but with fun graphic fabrics. I researched some pattern makers, built some crazy upholstery fabrics, and had my first samples made.
When did you start your business?
I started making pants in the fall of 2001, and then officially launched at Barney's in January of 2002. They placed their first order after one of the buyers attended my “Just Pants” show at the Russian Tea Room. I had models walking in pants carrying coordinating bouquets of flowers over their breasts.
How did you finance it?
My ex-partner and I were financing it. I had built around 20 websites over the course of a year or so and was using the money from that. She had her dad's credit card. The initial investment was relatively small: I leveraged my website development skills and bartered to get a lot of things done for free/trade.
Were any designers your inspiration?
I mostly wear my own clothes and vintage stuff, but I am always inspired by 1970s YSL and Ossie Clark. There's also a small store down on Howard Street called Opening Ceremony that I shop at for inspiration sometimes.
Where are your clothes sold?
The collection is sold in around 500 stores around the world, in addition to our alice + olivia stores in Los Angeles, East Hampton, and Manhattan.
Which celebs wear them?
Janet Jones (Wayne Gretsky's wife) bought one of our Grateful Dead hockey player dresses over the weekend. We have a ton of celebs in our clothes: Mena Suvari, Alanis Morrissette, Cameron Diaz, Mischa Barton, Charlize Theron.
How much money does your company make?
We will do approximately $12 million in sales for 2006.
What are some of your most popular items, and what do they cost?
Our pants are definitely our best-selling item although, for spring we have been selling tons of leggings. Hello, ’80s.
What's your daily schedule like?
During the week I try to go to bed by 11. I wake up at 4:45 and have some cereal and head down to Eddie's Ashtanga class on Broome Street. I have a car pick me up at 7:20, and I run home, shower, and get to the office by 7:45. I am usually at the office until 7 or 8 and then have dinner with friends or go out for a bit.
You used to frequent Soho House until you got kicked out for throwing mini-explosives on guests. Do you miss the place?
They weren't exactly explosives, they were bang snaps. Legal noisemakers often found in party supply stores or on random streets in Chinatown. And I will go out on a limb and say that it is one of the more innocent substances to enter Soho House. I still go once in a while. I am just a suspended member or something.
Is having a nightlife a job or a pleasure at this point?
Totally depends on the night. There are definitively evenings when I am out because I have to be, but there are also nights when I find myself at Bungalow 8 at 3 a.m. and I'm pretty sure it is not having any sort of favorable effect on pant designs.
I was having a conversation yesterday about when Hiro first opened and it was just the small upstairs bar with great rock ’n’ roll music and a cool crowd. There's nothing really like that right now. Or maybe I am just getting old. I dunno.
Is there such thing as bad publicity?
I think there is, but it's only really bad if you harp on it. Most press is pretty ephemeral, people forget. One time I was quoted as saying I don't make pants for big girls. I got a lot of shit from that, but I didn't say anything untrue.
What other bad press have you gotten?
One time the [New York] Post had a picture of me in a pineapple bikini saying I looked like an off-the-boat Russian model in need of a meal. Whatever.
You travel to Hong Kong alone to check on your factories and buy great designer knockoff bags one week; you're on the benefit circuit a day later; the following week you're climbing up the sea bluffs in Montauk at a beach bonfire and beating all the boys to the top. You're kind of an urban superhero.
I love Hong Kong. I think it's because it's the most productive city in the world. You can make anything, start anything. There is such a buzz there, an entrepreneurial energy. My L.A. boyfriend asked me what I would do the other day if I sold my company. I said open a great Ashtanga Yoga studio in L.A. And he said, "Nah, you'd open 20." Sitting on the beach to me is boring. I like making things.
So you've got a boyfriend?
Yes. Michael Eisner's son Eric.
Do you have any enemies or rivals?
Rivals? Totally. This guy Spiros in my yoga class. He's kicking my ass in 3rd series Ashtanga.
Paris or Nicole?