What you can learn from fashion's latest divorce: Don't leave your partner 'high and dry'

Carly Cushnie and Michelle Ochs, the pair who founded Cushnie et Ochs and just celebrated their brand’s 10th anniversary, just announced the end of their professional partnership. (Photo: Getty Images)

Fashion as an industry is one filled with friends — and lovers — turned business partners. It’s when those professional relationships dissolve that the rumor mill churns.

After their 10th anniversary runway show, Carly Cushnie and Michelle Ochs of the brand Cushnie et Ochs were the latest duo to announce the end of their partnership, with Ochs to leave the brand. It was, by most accounts, unexpected. Just days before their last show, the pair gave an interview to Refinery29 about their ascent within the New York fashion scene and where they’re going, implying they’d be around for a while (or at least, it seemed that way).

“It is believed that the Cushnie and Ochs’s relationship had run its course and came to a natural end,” reported Women’s Wear Daily, citing sources close to the company.

While few details have yet to emerge from the dissolution, fashion’s got plenty of other working relationships in its sphere. There’s Brock Collection, the husband-wife team composed of Laura Vassar and Kristopher Brock, who won the Vogue/CFDA Fashion Fund Award in 2016; Marta Marques and Paulo Almeida, the LVMH Prize-winning Portuguese pair behind Marques’Almeida; Humberto Leon and Carol Lim, longtime friends turned industry stalwarts responsible for Opening Ceremony and the creative power behind Kenzo; Mike Eckhaus and Zoe Latta of Eckhaus Latta; Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez of Proenza Schouler. (The list feels endless.) 

Most won’t bother themselves with the details of a dissolved fashion partnership, but there’s plenty to glean from any personal-turned-professional-relationship turned sour, according to experts. Ryan Paugh, author of Superconnector: Stop Networking & Start Building Business Relationships That Matter, notes that while it’s always a gamble to go into business with a friend or significant other, one should always carefully consider whether or not your friend really is the right professional partner.

Zoe Latta and Mike Eckhaus at the end of their spring 2017 show in New York City. (Photo: Getty Images)

“If your friends are exactly like you, they’re probably going to make terrible business partners,” Paugh tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “While on the surface it might seem like a great idea to partner with people exactly the same as you are, what you actually need is your polar opposite: a person with strengths where you have weakness and vice versa. The best business partners are the yin to each other’s yang, not carbon copies of each other.”

Of course, going into business in the first place means documenting exactly how the business is organized (is it filed as a corporation? a limited liability company?) and outline a professional “pre-nup” should your partnership end.

Judith Meyer, a professional mediator and distinguished fellow at the International Academy of Mediators, warns that if you think personal divorce is messy, be aware that business divorces can be just as fraught without the proper documentation.

“Courts won’t be able to figure [the split] out, and hiring a lawyer could end up costing more than the value of the business itself. The lawyer will have to hire an expert witness and accountant to go through personal accounts to figure out who put in what and when and how to balance out obligations to each other,” Meyer explains. The solution? Consult a legal professional and accountant before you go into business with someone from your personal life (or anyone, really), and set up business accounts.

Even if you take the right precautions and have a professional relationship with a friend or partner that flourishes, nothing lasts forever. Just because the business relationship might reach its end doesn’t mean the personal relationship has to, Paugh says.

“Go the extra mile to make life easier on others involved in the split,” she says. “Plan an exit strategy that doesn’t leave the other parties feeling left high and dry. Wrap up projects that you own. Assist in finding a replacement.”

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