Stacey Bendet Talks Alice + Olivia, Her First Design, and Going to Work in a Ball Gown

Photo courtesy of Alice + Olivia
Alice + Olivia's Stacey Bendet

While other designers might be worried about making clothes directional or intellectual, Stacey Bendet adheres to the "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" school of design.

The founder and creative force behind Alice + Olivia truly loves to dress up every day, and the more sparkles, color, and offbeat accessories, the better.

"It's become a joke in my office—we say, 'Too much is just enough!'" Bendet laughs—and it's a mantra that's earned her an unshakeable spot in the hearts (and closets) of girls everywhere. Even Gwyneth Paltrow's a fan!

FashionEtc caught up with Bendet to chat about her Spring 2012 collection, her thoughts on fast fashion, and her adorable and oh-so fabulous daughters.

When did you know you wanted to be in this business?

When I was in college, I did a semester in Paris. A lot of my friends were studying banking or working in finance and things, but when I was there I knew I wanted to do something in fashion. It wasn’t like I decided to be a designer then—it was a little more organic than that. But I knew it was sort of my calling.

It wasn’t until I started making my own pants that I knew I wanted to start the line. I had taken a sewing lesson, but the first pair I did I had a patternmaker make them. The first couple years were really about learning!

Were you into fashion as a kid?

I always loved dressing up, and I made clothes for all my Barbies. I was always obsessed. There are some funny 1980s pictures of me—my dad said I always had an amazing sense of style. I got to design my first dress for my 13th birthday—it was a really cute little lace A-line dress with a little matching shrug. I, of course, wanted it as short as it could possibly be, but my mom made it be right above my knee!

What do you think you’d be doing now if you weren’t a designer?

I’d be making things, no matter what. I love making things, whether it’s a collage, a shoe, or a dress.

You seem to still get so much joy out of dressing up—do you have a style philosophy?

I love dressing up. My style’s kind of random, which I think keeps things fresh. One day I’ll be in big baggy pants and a tee, and the next day I’ll show up to the office in a ball gown or something—you never know!

Do you have any fashion icons?

I see random people on the streets or in magazines, but it’s never really about emulating one person. We have a pair of pants in the collection, the Eric pant, which was inspired by a pair of my husband’s pants! Sometimes I think, ‘I’m so Audrey today,’ or Marilyn, or Talitha Getty, but it’s always changing.

What are you wearing when you’re not wearing Alice + Olivia?

I’m always either in Alice + Olivia or vintage—or my yoga clothes! I think it’s important to be wearing your own clothes. Part of being a designer is about experimenting with the clothes that you make, and creating things that you don’t have, so I’ve never understood those designers who don’t wear their clothes. I stand for my brand.

Stacey Bendet

Photos courtesy of Alice + Olivia

Three looks from Alice + Olivia's Spring 2012 collection

Do you think people are too conservative in their everyday lives?

It upsets me when people don’t have fun with their outfits and dressing. It’s fashion! I hate when fashion people take themselves so seriously. It’s supposed to be fun! Getting dressed is a form a creative expression, so I try to encourage people to have fun. There are lots of times in life to be serious, but you should have fun when you’re getting dressed.

How do your little girls dress? Do they share your philosophy?

I always—sometimes to my own horror—let them wear whatever they want. [2-year-old] Eloise was a pink and purple mermaid ballerina for Halloween. There was a phase when all she would wear was a tattered Snow White costume. I make her these beautiful custom silk dresses, practically couture, and there she is in this polyester thing with holes in it. [7-month-old] Scarlet still lets me put her in whatever I want.

Tell me a little bit about your spring collection.

It’s really beautiful. The colors are beautiful. There are some softer florals and great printed pants—for our 10-year anniversary we really made a return to the colorful pants, so I’m excited about that.

Your nickname is Staceypants. Who first dubbed you that?

Dani Stahl, from Nylon. She always said, "That’s Stacey with the pants, that’s Stacey with the pants." Now, my husband just calls me Pants.

You recently opened a new store on Madison Avenue. How’s that going?

It’s really fun, it has great energy. Everything else over in that area is so serious and fancy, and then there’s this little jewel box. I think we’re a breath of fresh air over there.

Do you drop in and help out very often?

I don’t know how to use the cash register, but I like to come in.

You’ve added kids’ clothes and accessories to your line—are there any other categories you’d like to expand into?

We’re really focusing on the shoe collection right now. It’s grown a lot. Then we want to open more retail stores here and internationally—that’s more important to us than adding a perfume or handbags. That should happen more organically.

Do you think you’d ever do a collection for an H&M or Target?

I don’t really think that kind of collaboration is good for us. We’re contemporary—we don’t make $3,000 dresses, we make $400 dresses, and an offshoot of that just isn’t right. I don’t agree with it for our brand. Collaborations should be for things we don’t already do—like, I would do a home collection for Target. But to make cheaper versions of the dresses we’re selling, that just isn’t right. And everyone’s already done it!