Born: Akron, Ohio, 27 May 1940; grew up in Doylestown. Education: Studied fine arts, Kent State University (Ohio), 1958-62. Family: Married Herbert Gallen, 2000. Career: Design assistant, Ellen Tracy, New York, 1962-64, then director of design, from 1964; Linda Allard label introduced, 1984; design critic, Fashion Institute of Technology, New York; visiting professor, International Academy of Merchandising and Design, Chicago; board of directors, Kent State University. Member: Fashion Group International, Inc., Council of Fashion Designers of America. Awards: Dallas Fashion award, 1986, 1987, 1994. Address: 575 Seventh Avenue, New York, NY 10018, USA. Website: www.ellentracy.com .
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Linda Allard is the woman behind Ellen Tracy. In fact, there is no Ellen Tracy—there never was. The company was founded in 1949 by Herbert Gallen, a juniors blouse manufacturer, who invented the name Ellen Tracy for his fledgling firm. Gallen hired Allard in 1962, fresh out of college, as a design assistant. She quickly expanded the line to include trousers and jackets. Two years later, she was made director of design, and a new Ellen Tracy was born. Since then, under Allard's artistic leadership, Ellen Tracy has become synonymous with top-quality fabrics, clean lines, and the concept of a complete wardrobe for the working woman.
Allard grew up in Doyleston, Ohio, in a 100-year-old farmhouse with five brothers and sisters. Allard was taught to sew at a young age by her mother, and quickly began designing garments for her dolls. "Even before I could sew, I was always designing clothes for my paper dolls," she said. After receiving a fine arts degree from Kent State University in 1962, she moved to New York, where she received her first job offer from Gallen.
Shortly after Allard joined the firm, Ellen Tracy moved away from junior clothing to apparel designed for the newly established female workforce of the 1960s. Allard was one of the first designers to address the shifting demographics, creating a professional look, stylish yet appropriate for the workplace. Eventually, by the mid-1970s, the company moved into the bridge market. The bridge collections (which filled the gap between upper-end designer lines and mass-market brands) have since become the fastest growing area of the women's fashion market, key to Ellen Tracy's success, with the company's volume nearly tripling over the following decade.
As the creative force behind Ellen Tracy, Allard transformed the company into one of the key anchor designers in the bridge market. To give the collection more of a designer feel, Allard's name was placed on the Ellen Tracy label in 1984. Nonetheless, Allard believes high fashion has little relevance to most women's lives. "The extreme end of fashion is overrated," she has commented. "It gets a lot of coverage by the press, but it doesn't mean anything to a lot of women. We mean more to real women."
In the 21st century, working with a 12-person design team, Allard was responsible for the entire Ellen Tracy line. To her, designing begins with an emphasis on high-quality fabrics and specific color grouping: "We start with color and a sense of the flavor of the collection. Will it be fluid or rigid, soft and slouchy or tailored? The focus is on easy dressing and effortless shapes. We develop the fabrics first, finding the texture that expresses the attitude we feel, and then comes the styling. Fabrics make the collection unique." There are three Ellen Tracy collections each year. To ensure the clothes work well with each other, each garment is sold separately. "The modern woman buys a wardrobe of jackets that work well in a variety of pairings," Allard explained.
Ellen Tracy, Inc. has grown to be one of the top 10 womens' clothing companies in the United States. After 50 years, Ellen Tracy remains a dominant label and can be found at prominent department stores such as Lord & Taylor, Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdale's, Macy's, and Saks Fifth Avenue. Perhaps the essential element for its success is customer loyalty. Ellen Tracy has been able to identify its primary customers, largely made up of career women, and Allard keeps design and quality consistent. As Allard told Janet Ozzard of Women's Wear Daily, "We deal in investment clothing, although we do try to offer some fashion because our customer does demand [it.] I think it's one of the reasons we keep constant: we study our customer, we have the same viewpoint. I design for a woman who has a career or a profession and wants to feel fabulous in her clothes, but it isn't the be-all and end-all of her world."
The increase in sales and popularity of Allard's designs was also due to the growing need for stylish, comfortable, and no-nonsense wardrobes, since the number of women who hold professional jobs has increased dramatically. Allard's designs are not necessarily considered to be cutting edge; she merely includes up-to-date styling and leaves out any, as Women's Wear Daily described, "glitz or sleaze."
Another key element to Allard's success has been her ability to diversify. Allard launched a petites division in 1981 and four years later debuted a successful dress unit. To cater to the more leisure-oriented customer, Ellen Tracy introduced its latest expansion, a sportswear line called Company, in the fall of 1991. Allard said her intent is to provide "the same level of quality for the woman who doesn't need strictly career clothes, or whose career offers more fashion choices than the tailored suits we're known for." In 1992 a fragrance line was launched, followed by the introduction of plus-size clothing and a collection of sophisticated evening dresses. Ellen Tracy also has licensing agreements to produce scarves, shoes, eyewear, hosiery, and handbags.
Allard lives and works in Manhattan and spends weekends in her new country home in Connecticut, set on 60 acres of rolling countryside. She designed the house with her brother, David, an architect. The house is a 5,500-square-foot Palladian-inspired villa, complete with studio and guest quarters. "When we were designing my new house," Allard explained, "I challenged my architect brother to take strong classical designs of the past and make them livable for today."
When asked in an interview with Women's Wear Daily if there was a missing ingredient in her life, she replied, "I've always thought about the idea of having children, but I think children need to be nurtured, and I don't think you can do that from five to six at night." Additionally, she commented, "From the age of ten I always wanted to design. I never excluded having a family, but my work is so demanding. I'm happy I have a lot of nieces and nephews, so I can enjoy family life and kids." Allard did make room for a husband, however: on New Year's Eve 1999, Herbert Gallen, Ellen Tracy's company chairman, proposed to Allard, who said "Yes."
updated by Christine MinerMinderovic