Born: 12 February 1964, in Detroit, Michigan. Education: Cass Technical High School; Parsons School of Design, graduated 1984. Career: Design assistant, Martine Sitbon, New York, 1984-87; started own company, 1987-89; designer for Perry Ellis, 1990; freelance designer for Gordon Henderson, 1990; design director, Magaschoni, 1990-95; designed exclusive line for The Limited, New York, 1995; started own company, Tracy Reese Meridian, 1995.
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Tracy Reese's designs have been inspired by a wide variety of sources: a piece of music, a painting, a book, a vacation spot, or a particular city. Reese is known for combining unusual textures and colors, often with a touch of vintage. She claims that she designs for "a smart shopper," but actually designs for shoppers who want no-nonsense sportswear. "My clothes are not basics, and they're not really classics either, but they are, hopefully, essentials." Reese has further stated that she would never design anything she would not wear herself.
Reese hails from Detroit, where as a youngster her mother enrolled her in art classes on the weekends so she wouldn't be bored. Reese's mother, a modern dance teacher, would challenge Tracy by staging sewing contests to see who could finish an outfit first—the loser had to pay for the fabric. Reese attended the well-known Cass Technical High School, where she took her first fashion design class. While she was in high school, she was encouraged to apply for a scholarship to a summer program at the Parsons School of Design. After receiving the scholarship and participating in the program at Parsons, she realized clothing design was the career choice for her, "That's when I knew I wanted to be involved in every aspect of this business, not just stuck in some back room sketching and draping for days." Reese later earned her B.A. from Parsons, graduating in 1984.
After Parsons, Reese was an apprentice to French designer Martine Sitbon for the Arlequin line of clothing. While working at Arlequin, Reese became more than an apprentice, as Sitbon allowd her to sketch designs. With encouragement from friends and family, and financial backing from Reese's father, Claud, she started her own company in 1987. She designed and manufactured a full line of clothing shipped in the autumn of that year, but after the release of her fall 1988 line, the company folded. Her designs were well received and sold at boutiques and specialty stores, as well as upscale stores such as Barneys New York, Bergdorf Goodman, and Ann Taylor. Although Reese was successful as a designer, she did not have enough capital to keep up with the demand, and like many other designers in the late 1980s, her company failed.
Reese moved on to design for the Perry Ellis Portfolio line with Marc Jacobs. She also worked as a consultant with the sportswear designer Gordon Henderson, from whom she learned several key elements about how to succeed in the fashion design business. After about a year, Reese sought a job designing for Magaschoni, the company owned by Magdalena Lee. At first, Reese continued to work on the company's existing line of clothing, which was "not my style," but Magaschoni was a new company with an open mind and growth potential, and after two years, Reese was designing her own label. Lee, who had worked with several prominent designers, said of Reese: "What really impressed me so about Tracy is she knows how to make a better garment." One of Reese's friends, Ellen Greenberg (president of Magaschoni), who offered moral support in Reese's early career, called her line "the jewel in the crown."
Reese typically sketches her design ideas late at night while at home listening to music, and has admitted she cannot "put paper to pencil unless I'm listening to music." She is very impressionable and gets her design ideas from a variety of sources, including fashion designs from previous eras, films, different cities. A recent trip to New Orleans was incorporated and reflected in a subsequent collection. Her eclectic taste in music and her passionate desire to experience new things and visit new places continues to pervade her designs.
After several successful years designing for Magaschoni, Reese left the company to work on her own. She designed an exclusive line of clothing for The Limited in 1995, which funded her first contemporary sportswear label, Tracy Reese Meridian. The Meridian line debuted in the spring of 1996 and the following year she established a second sportswear line, Plenty, inspired by a trip to India. Her collections have been shown at Saks, Nordstrom, Fred, Segal-Ron Herman, and Anthropologie.
—Christine Miner Minderovic