In 2001, spaghetti straps were in, denim was in a drainpipe stage, and Stacey Bendet was a University of Pennsylvania graduate roller-blading towards life in the corporate lane. "My parents wanted me to go to law school!" she says of her Chappaqua, NY upbringing family. But she had the creative bug, and she couldn't shake it off–nor could she figure out how to channel it. What to do? "I started designing flash websites," she says.
Bendet began to brainstorm style as she designed web pages for an apparel company. "At the time, I felt there was a serious pant void," she says. So, she designed her first pair of striped pants. "Theory did a great work pant, and everyone was doing denim. But no one was making a trouser sexy, or the focus of an outfit...So, that's what I set out to do." In 2002, Bendet launched a 20-item collection based around that concept at the Russian Tea Room. Within months, Theory's Andrew Rosen invested in Bendet's fledgling business and her pants became a staple at Barneys. She christened her new line Alice + Olivia (so-named for two mothers–her own and that of a college classmate).
Like so many successful contemporary designers, Bendet designs for herself. "It literally started based on me," she says of Alice + Olivia's cleverly cut pants. "The concept was a pant that elongates, lengthens the look of the leg, and raises the butt." As the patterns evolved, Bendet incorporated another trick: "The pants are all cut slim at the hip to suck you in and make your body look leaner and straighter!"
Now, Alice + Olivia is not only a go-to brand for flattering pants, but also dynamic basics. "I try to make sexy clothes for the women who did go to law school," she laughs. She'll finally combine her corporate roots and creative inclinations when she releases Alice + Olivia's "career line" this fall. Meanwhile, a MAC makeup collaboration (set to launch next month) will feature eye pigments, lipgloss, and nail polish in "fun colors" like Partylicious (a shimmery deep turquoise) and I Want Candy (a violent yellow). She previewed her forthcoming Alice + Olivia shoe line last year when she guest collaborated with Payless.
Bendet's business savvy has taken her farther than most of her peers, and she has one ideal partnership in mind. "I'm dying to do collaboration with Amex for their white card," she confesses. "I'm going to keep mentioning it in press until one of them contacts me!"