Mizrahi Protégées Velasco Andersson Are the New Big Thing

For many time-challenged New Yorkers, dressing up means getting to the dry cleaner before going to dinner at a restaurant with a velvet rope at its door. Lucky for the fashion world, a select group of young New York women have wardrobes that transcend the dictates of dry cleaners’ hours.

Several weeks ago, Brooke de Ocampo, one of the youngest women named to the most recent International Best Dressed List, asked her friend Willy Lima to help her find the perfect dress to wear when she co-chairs the Winter Ball, a benefit for the New York Botanical Garden, on Dec. 10. Ms. de Ocampo said the dress needed to be special both in its design and its politics. No overt vote of favoritism. Michael Kors over Oscar de la Renta, say, or Badgley-Mischka rather than groovy Gucci. Mr. Lima, a fashion director who recently left Bergdorf Goodman to inspire the movement of merchandise at Jeffrey’s downtown, recommended the new design team Velasco Andersson.

New, yes, but not new to fashion. Rogelio Velasco handled private clients and special projects for Isaac Mizrahi for 10 years before Mr. Mizrahi closed shop in September 1998. Annica Andersson-who is known socially as Annica Andersson-Paganakis-directed Mr. Mizrahi’s sample room for the 11 years the designer was in business.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” Ms. de Ocampo said recently. “Willy was so excited, and he was right. These dresses aren’t like anything out there right now. They are so simple, but so elegant and luxurious. And the colors! The dresses are like ice sculptures.”

Mr. Velasco and Ms. Andersson-Paganakis, in business for only four months, are the New Big Thing in town. Bergdorf Goodman has bought their spring 2000 collection and will launch it in February with window displays and a trunk show. Jeffrey’s is negotiating to sell the collection as well. Editors from Vogue , W and Harper’s Bazaar have assessed the Velasco Andersson collection at Greg Mills Ltd., 230 West 39th Street, where the designers have desks in Mr. Mills’ 10th-floor showroom. Mr. Mills, a fashion industry consultant who represents several clothing and accessories designers, was the first president of Isaac Mizrahi.

“Rogelio and Annica are very special,” observed Elizabeth Saltzman, the fashion director of Vanity Fair . “Who do they compare to? Beene and Blass, maybe. Beene for the construction, and Blass for who the customer is: women who love elegant clothes.”

“Ice sculptures was my line,” laughed Mr. Lima at his office at Jeffrey’s. “It doesn’t mean cold and aloof. It’s the construction, the colors, the attention to detail and the architecture of the dresses that make them clean, not minimal. Young and fresh. There is something about the dresses women find soothing and, at the same time, whimsical.”

“Our dresses are about curves. Circles on top of circles on top of circles. I don’t think you have a side seam here,” Ms. Andersson-Paganakis explained at Mr. Mills’ showroom earlier this month.

There were lunar shades of lavender, pink and silver, and other crystalline colors. Like figures frozen on a carousel, the mannequins seemed stopped in time. Mr. Velasco raised the hem of a long, ice pink duchesse satin dress he said was similar to the dress he and Ms. Andersson-Paganakis have made for Ms. de Ocampo. The lining was a floral silk.

“We’re focusing on the cut of the fabric, trying to manipulate different lines. The manipulation of straight grain with bias cuts melts into the body. I prefer the word sculptural to describe the clothes, not architectural,” Mr. Velasco said. “We try to make the woman feel comfortable in her clothes. Give her an inner confidence. Our dresses do not make huge statements. They do not wear the woman. The woman wears the dress.”

After Mr. Mizrahi closed, Mr. Velasco unenthusiastically took a job at another company, and Ms. Andersson-Paganakis consulted at several firms. One afternoon about six months ago, they met for coffee and happened to bump into Mr. Mills that day on a street corner. “You’ve got to get out there and do it yourselves,” Mr. Mills told them.

He offered to help them create a business plan and gave them space in his showroom. Without salespeople, backers or a publicist, Velasco Andersson is a small business of three people including Mr. Mills. The designers have orders for about 125 spring 2000 dresses, which will retail for under $3,000 each. Prices for made-to-order evening clothes begin at about $10,000. They recently made a wedding dress embellished with silver chains, “like a medieval princess,” Mr. Velasco said.

When they convened in Mr. Mills’ showroom to design their first collection, Mr. Velasco and Ms. Andersson-Paganakis did not begin with a high concept. “We didn’t sit down and exclaim: ‘It’s about Courtney Love in Locust Valley,'” Ms. Andersson-Paganakis laughed.

“We began by draping the fabric on the model,” Mr. Velasco recalled. “The draping lead us in our direction, and we had one dress. That one dress began the collection.”

Ms. Andersson-Paganakis, a Miami native, has two children, 10 and 5, and lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Mr. Velasco, born and raised in Mexico, lives in the East Village. They both are graduates of the Parsons School of Design. Ms. Andersson-Paganakis’ interest in fashion began in high school when she started making her own clothes. “I was the New Wave girl,” she said. “A lot of hand-painted things.” An older sister studied environment design at Parsons.

Mr. Velasco was a young, professional dancer with a Mexican folkloric performance company. “I ended up doing the costumes, and realized I loved fashion design,” he said. From studying engineering in college in Mexico, he transferred to a fashion college in the Dominican Republic. In his junior year, he won a scholarship to Parsons, where he finished school. Both took their first job with Mr. Mizrahi.

“They’ve sold to Bergdorf’s already? My heart is bursting with delight,” said Mr. Mizrahi who is planning a one-man show on Broadway next year and who recently optioned The Extra Man , a novel by Jonathan Ames. “We were babies in fashion together,” Mr. Mizrahi said. “I taught them everything I knew, and they taught me everything they knew.”