Carly Cushnie creates beautiful things. The designer has long been a guiding light to many within the worlds of fashion and design. As founder and creative director of her renowned namesake luxury label, her designs became a favorite of figures like Michelle Obama, Beyonce, Rihanna, and Zendaya. Her influence on the Board of Directors for both the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) and RAISEfashion, allows her to open doors for upcoming designers—especially designers of color. As someone who has broken barriers her entire career, the chance to serve as a mentor is both incredibly gratifying and important. Her first love, however, remains design. So after closing CUSHNIE at the end of 2020, Carly found a creative outlet in interiors, where her vision and graceful, tailored style shines through. That is why we were so excited to partner with the designer on styling her client and friend's TriBeCa apartment. The final result is a space that features neutral-toned focal points and a few pops of color. "It feels airy and calm but warm also," noted Carly when we met with her at her client's space recently. We also had a chance to discuss how her aesthetic has evolved from fashion to interiors and her approach to open-concept living spaces. Read on for our entire discussion and to see Carly in her element.
Photography by Silvia Foz
"The apartment is more on the neutral side, but there are pops of color and layers of different textures. It feels airy and calm but warm also. The walls are painted in a soft, blush tone that adds dimension to the room and still enables the furniture pieces to pop."
- Carly Cushnie
You are such a point of reference in the fashion and design world—from running your namesake luxury label to your outfitting of luminaries such as Michelle Obama, Beyoncé, Rihanna, and many more to your more recent work on interiors. Could you speak a bit about your creative journey?
My whole childhood, I grew up wanting to be a fashion designer—it's all I ever talked about. My love for architecture and interiors developed a little later while studying at Parsons. I always looked to art, architecture, and interiors for inspiration for my clothing. Whether it's for shape, proportion, line details, or even color palette, it was always a source of inspiration. And once I was living on my own and able to create my own space, my passion for it just grew and grew. Since closing my namesake label, I've had the time to pour myself into interiors and really explore a new creative outlet that I truly love.
You are refined yet eclectic style is best known for its artful tailoring and graceful, feminine details. Does that reflect your interior design aesthetic as well? How would you describe it?
When I design a collection or create a space, it's always about pulling from different sources and inspirations so that it doesn't feel one-dimensional. I cast a wide net and then streamline the look. So it feels layered but sleek and refined.
We were so excited to partner with you on this redesign for your client. Could you tell us a bit about this project?
I'm such a big fan of Lulu and Georgia because the product is truly exquisite, and I knew it would work so well in my client's space. My client and friend I met many years ago. We were introduced through a mutual friend because she used to shop my ready-to-wear collection at Bergdorf, and our friend thought we would get along great. Fast forward several years later, she moved into her apartment in TriBeCa and needed some help as she's an incredibly busy lawyer. She fully trusted my design aesthetic, so after our initial conversations about what she wanted, she really let me just run with it.
You've created a more neutral-toned space with tons of textural contrast. What was the inspiration behind the look and feel?
When designing a space, it's balancing what would work best for the space while also informing the design with the client's aesthetic and bringing it all together through my vision. The apartment is more on the neutral side, but there are pops of color and layers of different textures. It feels airy and calm but warm also. The walls are painted in a soft, blush tone that adds dimension to the room and still enables the furniture pieces to pop.
What were a couple of your and your client's favorite Lulu and Georgia pieces?
We love how you created vignettes in the open-concept living room. Any advice for those looking to update their own similar living spaces?
When you designate specific areas and give each section purpose, it makes it much easier to build. We need each space to function in the best possible way, but it doesn't mean that each area needs to be closed off. You can still create fluidity while allowing each corner to hold its own. You can keep things fluid through palette and repetition while anchoring other areas in place with rugs and accent tables. The artwork also doesn't always need to be perfectly symmetrical behind a piece of furniture—it can create its own rhythm and bring the space together in an off-beat but unified way.
Originally from London, you've made your home in New York City, specifically Brooklyn. What do you love most about living in NYC, and how does it impact your work?
I love the energy and diversity of the city. As well as the constant air of spontaneity. This city packs a lot into a very small amount of space, but it enables you to become incredibly creative in its limitations. Through both adversity and opportunity, this city squeezes the creativity out of you.
How did/do you approach curating your brownstone? Do you feel as though your work and your at-home decor style overlap?
My brownstone was a much longer process because when we moved in, I definitely took my time, and it was definitely a process of living and learning within the space. But my aesthetic from my home definitely overlaps with my design work. My vision for the project will always be the guide, but I am also informed by the client and the space's integrity itself.
And similarly, what feeling do you want to evoke in people when they walk into your home?
I want my home to feel inviting, layered and relaxed. It's home to a family with two small children, so it's definitely not a museum-type space. I hope it feels elegant and warm but not precious.
You have broken barriers your entire career and been a huge role model for other young designers of color through initiatives such as RAISEfashion. Tell us about the importance of opening doors for emerging Black creatives and entrepreneurs.
I'm incredibly grateful and proud of what I've achieved so far in my career, and so much of that is down to people in higher positions who believed in me and supporters and mentors who helped me make big strides. I want to, in return, be able to do the same for designers of color and their businesses. We are doing a lot at RAISE, from fundraising for grants to mentorships and internships for Black business owners. But there is so much work to do to really support Black entrepreneurs and start leveling the playing field.
What's next for you and your next chapter?
To continue to create beautiful things…