Of all the fashion designers I’ve admired, Tracy Reese holds a special place in my closet. Back in the 90s when she launched her eponymous brand and her diffusion line Plenty, it was novel to discover a woman designer who was young, gifted and Black like me.
Her clothes were always joyful, with exuberant color and lush fabrics such as colorful silks that evoked India. I bought everything of hers that fit. My most treasured piece is a turquoise silk dashiki embellished with African beads and cowrie shells; I keep it wrapped up like a wedding dress so it lasts forever.
So when I had a choice this Wednesday between going to Napa to meet a big name cult winemaker or Anthropologie Palo Alto to meet Reese, it was no contest.
Reese greeted me warmly “Hi I’m Tracy,” with a big smile and handshake that ended with a little squeeze. Dressed in a black sleeveless dress with white lacing in back, ornate Mexican silver earrings, and furry slides, she looks like one of my fashionable Michigan cousins.
Reese came to the West Coast to debut her new capsule collection Hope for Flowers, and talk about all the changes she’s made in the past couple years. She moved her design business to Detroit, her hometown, after parting ways with her longtime backer. As she discussed in a recent New York Times piece they disagreed on the direction the business should take, so she dissolved the Tracy Reese brand.
“The release from that has been so cathartic for me,” Reese said, during her interview with Rebecca Brown, senior editor of shopping at PopSugar. “It’s given me time to think about how I wanted to focus my time and energy going forward.”
Through her work on the board of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, she did a virtual residency in sustainability. That led her to thinking about how she could build a sustainable brand with living wages and eco-friendly textiles that are made to last instead of being discarded quickly.
“When I design for fall, I’m pining for spring.”– Tracy Reese
The result is Hope for Flowers, and she turned to Anthropologie, her partner for 20 years, for the launch.”I believe in slow and steady growth. I believe in relationships and friendships,” said the designer, whose best friend Terrie took photos with fans. The collection is understated, with graceful, feminine lines, lots of vintage details and of course, flowers. The deep colors and greens feel right for cool weather, but can transition. “When I design for fall I’m pining for spring,” Reese said. “That green is still living in my heart.”
The black corset dress Reese wore (the Maria!) is made from organic cotton; so is the white Victorian-style blouse with openwork framing the bodice. Other pieces are from ethically sourced silk, cupro and lyocell. The pieces cost a bit more than her, but are made to be treasured and worn for years.
Hope for Flowers isn’t 100% sustainable yet; there are so many steps to sort out from the cotton being grown, harvested, milled into fabric, dyed, cut and sewn. Currently, everything is made in China at a factory Reese has worked with for a while. She’s seen how they treat and pay their workers so she feels comfortable working with them. But she wants to shift some of the line’s creative work to Detroit, by employing sewers from Flint and other locals for finishing work like embroidery or custom fabric from Detroit Denim.
Between the openness she’s found working in the Midwest, and getting off the hamster wheel of shipping out new clothes every month and doing seasonal shows, Reese is feeling renewed. “When you open the door all the creativity floods in,” she said. “I’ve come to a particular time when I’m not afraid to slow it down. I want to enjoy the process more.”
And then the crowd dissolved into exploring the collection, nibbling more cheese and charcuterie from the gorgeous spread created by Terrain Cafe and trying things on. The Maria dress is a heavy cotton duck that could work year round, with short boots in fall or sandals in summer. As I was leaving long after the event ended, I noticed that Reese was still there, thanking store associates and doling out hugs and selfies.
Here are some of my favorites from Reese’s new line exclusively sold at Détroit is the New Black and Anthropologie; look for new pieces coming soon.