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This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Carly Cushnie has had a busy two years. At the same time a global pandemic was threatening her eponymous label, Cushnie was welcoming her second baby girl. “I gave birth in April 2020—right at the beginning of all this mess, when no one really knew what to do and going to a hospital was pretty scary,” says Cushie. While COVID-19 eventually forced the closure of her 12-year-old brand, Cushnie never stopped creating and says she’s found a silver lining in it all. Here, Cushnie reflects on her namesake label, how she got her start, and shares what’s next.
Kristen Maxwell Cooper: Did you always know you wanted to be in fashion?
Carly Cushnie: Yes, I always wanted to be in fashion, ever since I was really young. I always sketched. I always picked out my mother’s clothes and had opinions. And it was just something I always loved growing up. And whenever I was sketching things, it was always dresses and things like that. I grew up in the U.K., and so everything I was doing education wise through high school was really geared towards eventually going to study fashion design. So even when I did my A-levels, which are like your senior exams, basically your equivalent of SATs, but you pick your subjects in the UK. So when I did art, it was all these sculptural dresses that I made. And so everything was really geared towards going into fashion.
KMC: You had your clothing brand, Cushnie, for 12 years. Is there a moment you’re particularly proud of?
CC: I’ve been fortunate enough to have some incredible moments. I’ve dressed some incredible women, celebrities from Beyoncé to Michelle Obama and everyone in between. But some of the most special moments are seeing a random person in your clothing for the first time. Like someone who spent money and parted with their money and chose your dress over dozens of others to purchase, and those moments, to me, were really special. Or moments when stores are selling out of something and want to reorder it. It’s those smaller moments, well, I don’t want to call them smaller, but they’re less flashy. But they really make you think, ‘okay, I’m doing something right.’ And that feels really good.
KMC: What advice do you have for women in particular who are trying to start a business?
CC: Whew, there’s so much. And there’s so much that I have learned over the years. I started the business right after college, and I think my blissful naivety was a bonus in the beginning. I think you’re sort of very brave when you’re that young—I can say I’m not as brave now. But for women starting out, it’s important to have whatever it is you’re doing—your niche, your style, your point of view—have it truly defined. Have your story behind it, be able to speak to it with passion, and to always go with your gut and to trust your own instincts. I think that’s very important because so often we end up listening to people who we think know more, and sometimes they don’t necessarily do. And I think women in particular are very intuitive so it’s really important to stay in tune with yourself.
Also, I’d say not to be afraid to ask for help when needed. I think people sometimes feel nervous to reach out to certain people, but you can be so surprised how helpful other people can be.
KMC: COVID obviously had huge impacts on your business and resulted in your decision to close the brand. Two years later, is there something you learned from that moment or a silver lining?
CC: I mean, it was definitely this weird, challenging time where no one knew what was going to happen. It was just incredibly unknown and uncertain. Initially everyone thought it was going to last for a month or two.
And there were struggles that we were juggling with at the time, but for me, I was also pregnant with my second child. And so I gave birth in April 2020—right at the beginning of all this mess, when no one really knew what to do and going to a hospital was pretty scary. But I had said to my husband right before COVID that I was actually looking forward to just taking some time at home. I knew it wasn’t going to be a huge extended maternity leave or anything, but I was looking forward to also spending some time with my eldest daughter. I just felt like I needed to be at home a little bit more. And so I definitely got what I asked for. But there was a silver lining in that we did get to hunker down and be at home and be a family. And it gave me time to sort of recalibrate, take a step back and reflect on the things that I wanted to do, things that I’ve learned along the way through having my business, and the mistakes I’ve made. And to reevaluate what’s important to me and what I wanted to do going forward. I think so often when you’re on this work treadmill, you sort of just keep going and you don’t really have time to just stop and think and say, ‘okay, now let’s reevaluate this and how can we do this and that better?’ Especially when it’s a small company and you’re wearing many hats, and you’re also a wife and mother. You rarely get a chance to reset. I felt like that the pandemic sort of gave me that time, and [the time] has been really good for me and allowed me to also explore other projects, and take my time and have flexibility and be with my family, and still be creative in a different way.
KMC: And that’s one thing you said when you closed, Cushnie, that you were going to continue to create. And you’ve done that. You’ve obviously done a partnership with Summersalt. You did a partnership with American Girl Doll. Tell me a little bit about those partnerships.
CC: It was so great to partner with Summersalt—I love, love the collection. I love what Summersalt is doing and how they’re so conscious of how they manufacture and the fabrics they use. And I love the fit, because that can be so incredibly challenging, and they’ve gotten that down so well. It was really great to be able to work with them and do a collection with them.
And then I did a project with American Girl Doll that was recreating their historical dolls and sort of reimagining their outfits for today but staying true to who their characters are. That was a lot of fun.
And then I’ve also been doing a little bit of work in interiors. It just came out in Elle Decor, but I did an apartment in Tribeca where I partnered with Lulu and Georgia on much of that space. And so that’s been fun. And then I have some other fashion partnerships coming out this year that I can’t share yet, but it’s been fun to dip my toes into different things. And I’ve been loving continuing in fashion, but also working in interiors as well.
KMC: As a working mom of two girls, what’s your advice for other working mothers?
CC: I can give advice, but I probably don’t even take it myself. I think sometimes we beat ourselves up for not doing things perfectly and getting it all done. So I would say probably don’t beat yourself up and don’t compare yourself to people that you see on Instagram because none of that is real. Being a mother is really hard and I had no idea. Even friends have said, ‘Oh, yeah, it’s wonderful, but it’s hard’ but you just have no idea until you actually are going through it yourself. But all I can say is, schedule time for yourself. It’s not even something that’s going to happen every day, but I think if you can carve out something that you do for yourself, whether it’s making sure that you get to go have dinner with your girlfriends or you get to get that facial in or get your nails done or meditate or exercise or something that you do for yourself, I think it’s really important. And if on occasion you can get a night away, that’s important too. To sleep not under the same roof as your kids, like once in a blue moon, is really the key to surviving. Whether you get a hotel room for a night or stay at a friend’s for a night. It’s really good for the soul.
Favorite vacation spot…
I do love to go to Mexico—a lot in different parts of Mexico. My husband is Mexican and I feel like there’s just so much to discover there. There’s such a rich culture in terms of food, architecture, and design. From beautiful cities to gorgeous beaches, there’s so much there. I love going back there.
What book has stuck with you?
I recently read The Vanishing Half and I really loved that book.
Must-have skincare product…
I do love Vintner’s Daughter serum—I use both the serum and the essence. So the duo or the serum.
I have been wearing Van Cleef & Arpels Gardenia Petale for, like, eight years.
What is your fashion uniform?
It’s generally high waisted jeans, probably a black turtleneck, black blazer, and black boots.
What’s your favorite movie?
I’d say when I was a child, I was obsessed for some reason with My Fair Lady. I love that movie. But in terms of fashion, there were movies that I loved, like, I always thought Rene Russo looked fabulous in The Thomas Crown Affair. She looked so chic and just gorgeous. And Gwyneth Paltrow in A Perfect Murder with Michael Douglas—her and the apartment are just gorgeous.
What is your self-care ritual?
I’ve been trying to get hydro facials once a month to just get me on that routine. I do like to get acupuncture. That is something that has really helped me, whether it’s with being stressed or feeling anxious. I also did it throughout both my pregnancies, and that really helps. I used to love going to SLT and other workout classes, but since the pandemic, I haven’t been back to a gym so I work out at home. I do Melissa Wood Health workouts because she does a lot of short, quick ones which are great for moms. And I am a fan of a good sheet mask at home.
Last show you binged watched.
I’m currently watching Crash, which is great. And I binge watched the other scandal show, Inventing Anna. It’s so good. And personally, I love watching New York on screen. It’s always such a fun city to watch—just the energy. And you’re like, ‘Oh, they’re shooting there and they’re shooting there.’ They reference real places, and it’s just so comical in that sense.