The Root Interview: Designer Tracy Reese

Tracy Reese (center) backstage at her Fall 2011 show.(Courtesy of Getty Images Entertainment)
Tracy Reese (center) backstage at her Fall 2011 show.(Courtesy of Getty Images Entertainment)

Tracy Reese, one of the top American talents showing at the tents in Lincoln Center this week, made her case for creative and fashionable clothes that women can actually wear. Dashing, ankle-length pleated skirt with a stylish caressing sweater, anyone?

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As always, her dad, Claude Reese, who backed his daughter's business more than a decade ago, and her sister, Leslie, sat in the front row to lead the applause. It's been a challenging and gratifying climb to the high rungs of fashion for Detroit-born Reese. After graduating from the prestigious Parsons The New School of Design in New York, Reese worked for Martine Sitbon in Paris and Magaschoni in New York before launching her own line.

After many setbacks, these days top models, a top venue, makeup by celebrity makeup artist Mally Roncal and a star-studded audience are now Reese's new normal. This season, Gabrielle Union sat front row alongside Veronica Webb and Sophia Bush. Last year, celeb guests included the buzziest couple in town — Reggie Bush and Kim Kardashian; and then there was the first lady choosing a fetching raspberry Reese design to wear for her People-magazine cover.

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Reese now oversees two collections: the signature line seen on the runway this week and the whimsical and more affordable Plenty by Tracy Reese collection. Her boutique on Hudson Street in New York City features two of her favorite motifs, which have become part of her brand — hot pink and chandeliers. The boutique sells the collections, shoes, jewelry and handbags.

On the runway, Reese showed her penchant for feminine fashions and mixed-media styles that are accessible, yet creative. Her program notes referred to a mix of another kind, "allowing glimpses of summer to shine through fall." This meant a lush, toffee-colored raglan sweater teamed with a shimmering sequin skirt or a T-shirt dress that hugged the model's curves (oh, yes, some of them do have those). The dress would be perfect for an 80-degree summer day or for a crisp fall evening with one of the collection's capes flung over it.

The Root caught up with the designer after her show at a reception hosted for her by Circa, the estate-jewelry company.

The Root: Tracy, what was your inspiration this season?

Tracy Reese: It was everything you love about fall. Remember when you used to get excited about fall as a kid? That excitement still hits me. When I went to Premiere Vision [the elite fabric fair in France], there were great fake furs, and they were affordable. Then I saw some great knits, which made me think about how to make them into sportswear. How can we use these knits to make sportswear more comfortable?

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TR: How would you describe your signature?

Reese: Hopefully, flattering. Sure, people would say feminine, girly. Those aspects are there, but there are other aspects, too.

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TR: I loved the way you showed these tough — maybe even a little S&M — shoes as a counterbalance to these soft, feminine clothes.

Reese: Yes. Agnes [Cammock, stylist and fashion editor] came and looked at the boards before the show, and she said, "I hope you're putting those oxfords with that dress?" And I was thinking of the t-strap to give it a soft and long look, but when Agnes said that, I did it, and it turned it into a different kind of thing.

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TR: In the last couple of years, you've really done a lot of expansion. What's going on, and what's next?

Reese: Next week I'm flying to Tokyo to open a store, our first international store. That's a big step.

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TR: What about your home collection? That's a great line.

Reese: Yes, it's good, but we're looking at how we want to continue to do that. We want to bring the price down to a place where it's affordable for our customers.

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TR: You now have your own shoe collection.

Reese: There's the Plenty by Tracy Reese shoe collection and Tiara [the top Tracy Reese line]. They're both doing well. We're in Bloomingdale's, Anthropologie. For handbags, I like one or two special bags each season. I'm very funny about bags. I don't believe in doing a hundred bags a season.

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TR: So what's the bag of the season for you?

Reese: It's the big clutch. And then I'm also doing a shopper. I think you need a big bag to put all your stuff in if you're going to work or out shopping. I could also see doing another shopper. I'm loving this heritage moment. I like a bag like that, a bag that gets better with age.

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Constance C.R. White is a veteran fashion journalist who has worked for Women's Wear Daily, Elle and the New York Times and who until recently was eBay's style director.

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