Their business is all show

Times Staff Writer

The decision by Academy Award organizers to move next year’s Oscar ceremony up four weeks has sent the fashion world into a tizzy. Although New York Fashion Week will be over by then, the Milan and Paris runway shows will not. Which will leave many of the European houses that traditionally dominate the Oscar dressing derby in the lurch, unable to send their people to L.A. to court celebrities.

“Too bad for them,” New York-based eveningwear designer James Mischka said devilishly. He was in town Thursday with Mark Badgley, his partner in business and in life, to be honored by the Costume Council, an organization founded nearly 50 years ago, that works to preserve the clothing and textile holdings of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Not that the Badgley Mischka designing duo needs an advantage. Their first Oscar coup came in 1996, when Winona Ryder chose a blush-colored, bias-cut gown for the red carpet. Jennifer Lopez wore Badgley Mischka to the Academy Awards three years running, beginning in 1997. They put Nia Vardalos in the curve-hugging black gown with sheer sleeves that she wore to this year’s awards, and Ashley Judd, Calista Flockhart and Allison Janney are also devoted fans. The designers have a bridal collection, their own Rodeo Drive store and a perfume in the works.

In 1988 when they launched their eveningwear, which is known for its Old-Hollywood feeling, with Art Deco details and elaborate beading, the intense competition that celebrity dressing has become was still in its infancy. After they presented their runway shows in New York each season, the designers had to produce dozens of videotapes and mail them to potential clients to mull over. But now, celebrities do their own fashion footwork.

Advertisement, the Conde Nast-run Web site that posts photos of an entire collection just hours after designers take their runway bows, “has revolutionized the way celebrities work,” said Mischka. It has become routine to receive calls from Lopez and others, he said, who have spotted dresses while surfing the Internet in their pajamas.

Ricki Ring, chair of the Fashion Circle, the highest tier of membership of the Costume Council, became aware of the designers about five years ago. “I was at my tailor, Antoine’s, on Beverly Drive, and I got a sneak peek at a Badgley Mischka dress he was altering for Jennifer Lopez. It was love at first sight,” she said, adding that she has been trying for some time to get Badgley and Mischka to come to L.A. for the spring event, which honors a different designer each year.

Many in the society crowd that attended the dinner dance, held downtown at the mahogany-walled California Club, broke out their Badgley Mischkas for the occasion. “I’m in the only thing of theirs that I have,” said Nancy Harahan, referring to a fitted black-sequined jacket from “about two years ago” that she paired with black cigarette pants. “And I can’t believe they remembered it!”

“Of course we remember it,” said Mischka, “When you design clothes, they are like your children.”