Tracy Reese goes bold, bright, and colorful for New York Fashion Week

theGRIO REPORT - Tracy Reese presented a collection to the Lincoln Center crowd last Sunday afternoon that stayed true to her love of detailed dresses and unique patterns...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

Tracy Reese is an African-American designer who is bringing American style to new heights of modernism and femininity. Now in the same league as brands such as Michael Kors and Calvin Klein, the Tracy Reese collection reflects a rare voice in fashion that blends classic American looks with textured fabrics and challenging cuts, focusing on the silhouette of the dress. But these are not your grandma’s simple A-line garments.

Sexy, glittering, and eye-catching, Reese’s designs capture the imagination with their flourish of sensual luxury. Her presentation for Fall Fashion Week 2012 held last Sunday afternoon at Lincoln Center extended these traditional themes with bold pieces colored in vivid pigments, described by her camp as “optimistic.” Reese did nothing short of amaze the crowd of celebrities and fashion insiders in attendance with her exciting stream of brightly-colored looks.

Backstage before the show, Reese told theGrio that a lot has changed since she first launched her line in 1998. “You know, I think we’re covering more categories,” she said. “When I first launched, I was focused mainly on dresses and I was doing a lot of everything myself from pattern-making, to even sample-making. I had to narrow my focus to one commodity that I felt I could focus on well. As the company grew we layered in more sportwear, coats and midwear. We layered in handbags and shoes.”

Now with extension lines such as Frock and Plenty, in addition to an offering of home goods, Reese has expanded what was first a simple dress collection into a full-fledged lifestyle brand. “We have a lot of nitches where we’ve built followings,” Reese said about the growth of her company. “So that’s really exciting, that’s something I’m proud of.”

Bethann Hardison, who was one of the first successful black models in the ‘70s, has been in the fashion business for decades. Now a modeling agency owner (who discovered Naomi Campbell), Hardison knows how special Reese’s accomplishments are. After the Tracy Reese Fall 2012 collection, the African-American fashion legend praised both the designer’s creativity and business sense. “I loved so many dresses. I’m a dress girl, so I loved [them],” Hardison told theGrio, while also praising Reese’s use of striking patterns.

“I like what Tracy does, because Tracy does things like a retailer,” Hardison continued. “She understands what it is to do a collection, and get into stores, and also make sure her line is a retail success. She also does side lines that are very good, like Plenty. She is someone from the garment district who really learned the trade — and I think that’s wonderful.”

The first black supermodel, Beverly Johnson, who was also in attendance, beamed about Reese’s latest clothing confections. “I loved the collection!,” Johnson enthused. “Just when you think she can’t get any better, she gets better. I just thought it was young and fresh and just so inventive. You just see how really talented she is. And I loved the coats — I just loved everything. So fabulous.”

Fabulous indeed. From the moment attendants walked into the Tracy Reese Fall 2012 show, it was clear everyone was in for an uplifting display. The backdrop for the runway was a layered graffiti-scrawl of overstated prints and patterns, mirroring the bold, batik-like colors to come. When the lights dimmed and the model wearing the first look made her entrance, it became clear that arresting forms of color would rule this collection.

The colorful parade included deep purples, emerald greens, and rich melons. Reese was also very audacious in her cuts and hemlines, opting for unusual feminine shapes ranging from cocoon-style tops to peplum skirts. Hemlines were unusually short and somewhat sporty, but this element was perfectly balanced with fanciful shimmers that kept everything elegant. Known for delicious detailing, Reese delivered the goods in her Fall 2012 presentation, as the deisgner embellished many of her pieces with metallic beading and textured glittering fabric.

The variety presented was also a feast for the eyes and a testimony to Reese’s reliable wearability. Models graced the stage in ready-to-wear pants, sweaters, coats, blouses, dresses and skirts that were fun and flirty. Huge sunglasses, floppy wool baseball caps in cartoon colors, compact purses and geometric, low-slung heels were among the cosmopolitan accessories. There was truly something for everyone, ranging from the severe fashionista to the more relaxed bohemian.Reese also made sure she captured the beauty of diversity in her show by choosing models of different races.

Before and after the runway pageantry, celebrities posed for pictures and chatted it up. Stars in attendance included supermodel Selita Ebanks, who was spotted with BET host Terrence J., and famous actors such as Twilight’s Nikki Reed, Kate Mara of American Horror Story, and Pretty Little Liars’ actress Torrey DeVitto.

A most notable element of the Tracy Reese Fall 2012 collection was the numerous coats in many colors, ranging from orange to purple to gold. Somehow, Reese managed to pull together so many livid shades into ensembles that seemed timeless, feminine and chic. It was easy to imagine her current fans, such as Taylor Swift, Halle Berry and first lady Michelle Obama falling in love with many pieces in the collection.

The excitement backstage after the show was intense — not just for the creative success of the collection, but also because it was Reese’s birthday. After the final model returned from her last lap around the runway, and Tracy took her bow for the crowd of watchers, her whole beauty crew presented her with flowers and sang a rowdy chorus of “Happy Birthday” for the design star backstage.

Professionals in attendance behind the runway’s backdrop concurred that Reese’s talent is something to sing about.

Lysa Cooper, stylist to the stars, told theGrio, “For the last few years, she has really been hitting it right. I think it’s about bringing pretty back. Which sounds funny, but for the last few years, there has been this mix-mash of a very harsh, almost androgynous vibe, and I really love the sort of feminine flow that she has — that she’s always had, actually.

“She’s always kind of held her own. She doesn’t really look at what other people are doing. She just stays true to herself,” Cooper, who also styles shows during Fashion Week, continued. “That’s actually one of the smartest things to do as a creative mind, is really just to stick to what you are doing.”

Reese has done just that, and her professional success is evidence of this wisdom. The respect of her peers is also abundant, as Hardison, an iconic fashion veteran, referred to Reese as “a wonderful human being” and “a really talented young woman” during my backstage interview with her.

True to her personal loveliness and fashion acumen, Reese told theGrio that she hopes her colorful 2012 Fall collection helps women — of all colors — feel beautiful and confident. But as a women of color, she understands their special needs.

“I think my clothes naturally flatter women of color,” she said. “I’m a woman of color and I’ve got certain things that are very important to me in clothing. It has to fit, it has to have stretch and movement. I think a lot of us might be a little bigger down below and that’s on my mind too, but I’ve also got a customer that may be a little narrow down below and maybe broader up here. So I’m excited to design for all women.”

Even though Reese designs for everyone, she understands her special role as an extremely successful African-American designer. Yet she hopes to transcend race through creatively appealing to all women.

”[I]f I can represent the people that don’t necessarily have a public voice, I’m happy to,” Reese said right before her vibrant Fall 2012 presentation. “But… I hate to make it about race ever. It’s about being a woman and a woman in business, and having a broad appeal and that’s how my business has been able to grow.”

Additional reporting by Nakita Austin.