NEW YORK, Feb 1, 2002 (Updated Feb 6, 2009) / — ‘Daddy’s little girl gets cool with a little Diana Ross and Marisa Berenson circa 1972 thrown in’ is how designer Tracy Reese describes the theme for her Fall 2002 collection.

Tracy Reese
Tracy Reese

Happily, what sounds schizophrenic and a tad pretentious translates into an array of voluminous maxi skirts, dresses and little sweaters that make the mouthful worthwhile.

One simply cannot argue with a signature look based on a black, silk-cashmere halter-dress with floral print, full skirt and ruffled hem, and a black granny shawl and cap.

“Stores look flat without some great skirts,” says Reese, dressed in a vintage patchwork skirt and see-through black blouse, at her Manhattan showroom. “I love the idea of getting back to the feminine. You know, some cool, pretty clothes.”

She concedes that the full silhouette is not necessarily the easiest to wear, but points out that after “seasons of looking at each other’s tummy,” women will be “excited” to see new shapes and styles.

“And for fall, the volume will be less extreme and I think that’s when women will be confident to buy the items,” she says.

It’s confidence that keeps this Detroit-born designer poised under fall collection pressure – and in the current market.

“The fall collections are always tough,” Reese, 37, admits, “because there’s very little time between September and February. But I can’t wait [for Fashion Week],” she continues excitedly. “I am inundated with work but I wanted to make a statement with this show, I wanted to show a strong collection. New York has to be exciting now.”

Considering today’s economic climate, however, “exciting” could be quite risky. But Reese, who has designed her eponymous label for six years and the diffusion line “plenty” for four, thinks her company is “in a good market for the current consciousness.

It is fashion but at the same time our clothes offer great value to the customer,” she points out. She tries hard to keep her clothes under $300, explaining, “I have a hard time dropping big bucks for clothes myself. I want my customer to be able to buy something she likes when she sees it without having to think if she can afford it or not.”

And there’s a certain creative freedom Reese is allowed by keeping her prices low. “It allows me to take chances because for, say, $100, a customer will take chances with an item as well,” she remarks.

Reese’s adventures in design began with a summer program at Parsons School of Design as a high school student. She returned to Parsons for her degree, and started on a smooth career path upon graduation.

She worked for Arlequin when Martin Sitbon was designing and later joined Perry Ellis at the behest of a Parsons classmate, Marc Jacobs. Not that there weren’t bumps along the way. Reese’s experience also included a failed attempt at producing her own line at age 23, and designing bridge-wear for five years.

Reese gives a hearty laugh when reminiscing about her first solo attempt. “I was so sure I was ready,” she recalls. “I had the energy, but not the experience.”

When the opportunity presented itself again, though, Reese had the “creative confidence” to jump on it. Since then, she’s made a name for herself with her flirty, perfect slip-dresses and well crafted blouses which are sold at select stores including Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue, Scoop as well as stores in Europe and Asia.

Her dresses have been worn by the likes of Oscar-winner Mira Sorvino and newcomer Carla Gallo. This fall’s collection builds on that theme of sophisticated whimsy, relying on a palette of dark colors mixed with subtle pastels and some bursts of intense color.

Reese has been around long enough to know how the industry is trending, predicting, for example, that “brown will peak this fall along with fabrics that suits it so well like tweed and suede,” and that knits are on the comeback trail.

In a business that often favors flavor-of-the-minute designers over steadily paced talent, that makes Reese something of an anomaly. And that suits her just fine.

“I feel very passionate about slow growth,” she says. “When things happen overnight – what do you have to draw on the following season? It’s scary if you don’t know how you became successful.”

“Having said that all,” she continues with a sly smile, “of course you want the glamour. That’s what fashion is about – you’ve got to have the icing on the cake.”

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