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This interview with Tracy Reese about the Summer 2020 collection took place over the telephone, a few weeks into stay-at-home, social distancing measures to slow down the spread of COVID-19. Tracy has always designed clothes that are unapologetically enchanting and feminine and this newest collection is no exception. However, the new time we are in, demands new considerations and fresh honesty as we determine who and what we value, what we are committed to, how to resolve dilemmas, and most importantly how to energize ourselves even in the midst of sadness and grief.
Tracy Reese: My hope is that we emerge from this stronger somehow and smarter, more empathetic….and realizing we have a duty to be good custodians to this planet and to our fellow woman and man, to our fellow people. I think we’ve lost sight of that.
I feel like the world is….on pause until we wake up. When you look at all the things that have happened….from school shootings to natural disasters- in just the past year alone - and people are barely fazed at all. It’s like nobody even remembers those Amazon fires anymore. We’re just hardened cases: people barely even look up. It’s a conversation for a minute but then we move on.
In this pause, we have a chance to re-think it all. Sometimes we keep doing the same-old, same-old because it’s all we know. We don’t know how to do things differently….and we’re afraid to try. Everybody around us is still doing things the same way, and when you go against the grain you feel so out-of-sync with the culture. In business, if everybody is pursuing economic growth then you feel crazy not also pursuing economic growth. So much is about money and the economy and making more money and everybody having to report greater earnings every quarter. But the world can’t sustain all of that. It’s not the point. It’s not the point of life, but we’ve sort of let it be the point.
Tracy: It’s definitely a lot less hectic. I have time to be more thoughtful about what I’m designing and why. Even thinking about: Where is this meant to be worn? How is this piece meant to be integrated into someone’s life?
Tracy: For me, fabric always comes first. I’ve been focusing on textiles as a way to create more sustainable or earth-friendly clothing. So most of what’s in the collection is made from organic linen and organic cotton. I am also using some of the cellulosic textiles like tencel and cupro, which are derived from more sustainable forestry. Those are the fabrics that are more drapey; they’re more silk-like.
Tracy: In terms of assembling all of my inspiration I think certain things just reach some sort of “max point” in your consciousness and then you realize, “Hey! These are the things that are inspiring me right now. How can I adapt them into ideas for clothing?”
I had the opportunity to meet Simone Leigh last year - which was incredible! She invited me to a talk at the Guggenheim, which I attended with Thelma Golden - a super-treat! It was an impressive gathering of intellectuals in the art world (women of color), so that was easy to be inspired by.
Simone Leigh’s work is so beautiful and the shapes played into some of my favorite themes for Summer. Honestly, I’m always thinking about flowers! Some of her pieces have these little curlicues, these rosebuds, that are the hair of the figures that she sculpts. Black women’s hair.
With Cy Twombly there was an exhibit of his work at, I believe it was at Gagosian. I’m so glad I went to that exhibit. Seeing so much of his work in one space was really beautiful, and I was inspired by his use of color. I saw flowers in a lot of the abstraction and it felt fresh and modern to me.
We’re producing a blouse and a dress in Rosebud Print for the Summer 2020 collection that goes back to Simone Leigh. Actually, it is the combination of the little rosebuds of her sculptures and a painting by Cy Twombly that looks like a spiral, but it feels like a flower, and it’s bright yellow and orange. The combination of those two inspirations informed some of the prints in the collection and then when I went into the story, there was indigenous art that sort of echoed the Twombly and it was just another way to express the same shapes.
With Elizabeth Catlett, I had already sketched the collection and colored it in with a working palette of pinks and jade, yellows, and oranges. I looked at everything and I thought, “there’s an opportunity to take these clothes in a second direction.”
I was attracted to the boldness of Elizabeth Catlett’s strokes, and the clarity of line and volume in her pieces. There’s a purity of shape that comes through in her sculpture and linoleum cuts. It’s very stripped-down, and very….I want to say “honest and true” but those aren’t the words I’m looking for. I used her work as the inspiration to envision a second life for the styles that I had originally created.
I also want to mention the photography of Malick Sidibé. The inspiration I took from his work is more of a mood. There is a lovely, natural formality to some of his pieces that feels very personal, yet with a great sense of moment. That’s a mood that I want to instill, or infuse in all of my pieces - not just this season, but all of the time. I want the clothing to feel personal, and for there to be a sense of moment as well, so it doesn’t just feel like “more stuff.”
Tracy: I asked myself, “do I need to have multiple pants silhouettes in this collection?” These crop trousers kind of did the trick, and I liked it with all of the tops. That’s part of sustainability, too. I may do a tighter edit where I don’t have to have dozens of styles to express an idea.
When we talk about sustainability, it’s in every facet of the work so every season I don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Maybe there are some styles from last season that I want to explore further, either by adding embroidery or changing fabrication, or moving a blouse into a dress silhouette. It’s less taxing for development because we work with what we already have. The ideas aren’t dead. You don’t have to scrap everything and start from scratch every season.
Tracy: That’s always been my goal. I mean, every now and then you’re just infatuated with a particular trend and you want to “go there,” but that can’t be the meat of the collection. I want these pieces to last; that’s at the heart of sustainability as well.
This is clothing that I want to buy! Each piece is special, in the art that inspired it, the care with which it is created and the ever- in- vogue design. I have accumulated so many, too many garments! Now I only want special, favorite pieces. Hope for Flowers speaks to me.💖