Tracy Reese launched her namesake line about 10 years ago, and more recently launched a less expensive line called Plenty by Tracy Reese.
She's defined her label with designs that look feminine but not frilly. Her collections are carried in department stores and her flagship store in New York, which opened last spring.
She talked with The Oregonian's Vivian McInerny by phone before her show.
For Tracy Reese, the fashion is in the fabric
Q: Why did you get into fashion design?
A: It was a combination of things that I loved to do. I loved sketching, and I loved sewing. As a child of the '70s, I didn't realize I could make a career out of it.
I went to a summer program (at Parson's) for high school students, and it opened my eyes to the fact that it was a huge business and I could make a living.
Q: What kind of design were you doing as a student? Has your style evolved from that?
A: It was the '80s and everything was big. Big shoulders! (Laughs.)
Now it's dresses, blouses, pretty coats and really special sweaters that fall into the blouses category because they have the same look and feel of blouses.
You have to play into your strengths, and that means doing a lot of what you love most because that is usually what you are going to do best. You have to keep your ear to the ground and to get the perspective of other people. Sometimes you see yourself as one thing and the market sees you as something else.
Q: How do you see the Tracy Reese line?
A: It's for someone who wants something special. We don't make everyday things. Everything is special and unique. It's colorful, romantic and it's feminine.
Q: There are few African American fashion designers. Do you feel any obligation to be a role model or mentor?
A: I think everyone has a certain amount of responsibility, and young people always have questions. But you can't devote yourself to it every day all day.
I think I have a responsibility (as a designer) to stay relevant, but I don't put additional pressure on myself (to be a role model or mentor). My goals are in line with what I need to do (for the business).
Q: So what are you showing for spring 2008?
A: We're tired of all the major volume, so things are going closer to the body, going back to classic silhouettes like bias cut dresses.
We're bringing in more pants and palazzos and flares.
And beautiful color, striking colors like sunset yellows and cobalt blues all the way into inky blues. It's a really dreamy, beautiful palette. Also, classic black and white with accents of henna and peacock. It's a really clear and clean palette.
Q: What inspires you?
A: Sometimes it's a location, certain decorative arts. A lot of times I am inspired by incredible interiors, the mix of color.
Fabric is the very first starting point. I think some people look for the fabrics to suit their inspirations --you can start from so many different directions --but the fabric fair (trade show) is the jump-off point for me.
The tough part is being on a really tight schedule. You have to make it happen whether you are feeling inspired or not. There is such a pleasure in the design process, to have an idea and see it through the whole process from sketch . . . to the finish. But the pace is a little hectic.
Q: What is it like the days before you stage a show at fashion week?
A: There is a lot of begging. (Laughs.) Begging with the factories to get samples finished, and begging to get samples back in-house so we can start getting the looks together for the show, and partnering with everyone to get what we need.