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NEW YORK — With the launch of her resort line and a swimwear collection to match, things are getting sweet for Tracy Reese.
This story first appeared in the September 12, 2002 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Reese, who will show her spring line next Wednesday at the Gallery at the Metropolitan Pavilion here, opened a corporate showroom this year and more than doubled annual sales from around $5 million to $12 million.
A Parsons School of Design graduate, Reese runs two contemporary sportswear lines: Tracy Reese, a higher-end and sophisticated line that she said “tends to do very well on the Upper East Side” of Manhattan, and Plenty, a funkier and “more downtown” collection.
“Tracy Reese is feminine and very uptown. It’s also sold mostly to specialty stores and is about 30 percent more expensive than Plenty,” Reese said. “Plenty is like the brother. It’s more casual, funky and trendy. There’s a lot of denim and it’s very item driven.”
Reese’s current business has been around for about six years, but many remember the designer from her first attempt at running her own firm starting in 1987, when she was only 23.
“I had the energy and the drive to run the company,” she said. “I thought I knew everything, but I learned quickly that I really didn’t and knew I had to learn more about business.”
Reese closed up shop shortly after and began working at Perry Ellis, where she was hired to design Perry Ellis Portfolio and worked alongside Marc Jacobs and Tom Ford, also designers at the company during that time.
“I knew Marc from school and he told me about the position at Perry Ellis,” she said. “I really learned a lot there, but I was used to a mom-and-pop business structure, where I was the one person working on one project from start to finish. It wasn’t like that there. So, I learned that working for a big corporation like that wasn’t for me.”
Reese left Perry Ellis and went to work at Magaschoni, where she designed suits and other bridge items. She traveled regularly, attended fashion shows and learned the business of fashion.
“When I left Magaschoni, I was ready to start my own thing again and I knew I was not going to work for someone else,” she said.
With the support of her family, Reese opened a small signature dress collection. The line did well, but not well enough to support her lifestyle, at least not right away. Through her lawyer, Reese was introduced to Om Batheja, an accountant who became a business partner with Reese.
“We really work well together and he is the reason I started Plenty,” she said. “Being a native of India, he believed in Indian manufacturing. So, I flew to India, bought some fabrics, designed some things and had such a great response at Coterie. I did better with that small group than I ever thought I would, so we launched Plenty to have it produced there, which it still is today.”
Since the company went corporate just last year, Reese said she was able to open her own showroom for the label, at 275 West 39th Street in the garment center, which she wasn’t able to afford before.
“We used to have the line in with other lines at the White Room showroom,” she said. “It was good at the time, but being corporate means you can really concentrate on your own collection and a private showroom is needed for that.”
Being a corporate business also means that Reese has room to grow, and she intends to do just that. While there are no set dates for more launches, she said she is interested in developing the label into a lifestyle brand. She hopes to have a fragrance and a line of shoes to work with the two lines, and also sees a Plenty home collection in the future.
“We do all our own prints, so I think it would be great to have a home collection for Plenty,” she said. “So once we have fully developed the line to become a known label, I will look into that for sure.”
For now, the designer’s main concentration is the launch of the new swimwear lines: one for Tracy Reese and the other for Plenty. She said she has always incorporated bikini tops within her spring and summer lines, but after buyers asked for full bathing suits, she decided to provide just that.
“I’ve always loved the look of the bikini top with a pair of pants,” she said. “This year, I just wanted to pump up the offerings and launch full swim lines. It’s not only about the swimsuits though, it’s about the coverups, as well.”
Buyers also asked the designer for a resort collection, Reese said, so this year she has designed a line of true resort clothes. The swimwear, she said, was just a major piece of resort.
“You need bathing suits on vacation,” she said. “That’s what resort is.”
Reese said that as far as brand recognition is concerned, people are familiar with it and the longer she is in business, the better her relationships are with the stores she sells. For example, when Saks Fifth Avenue picked up the line, buyers only purchased pieces of the collection. Now, they are planning to open a complete Tracy Reese section in select stores.
“The older I get, the more I learn to respect my customer. I am the customer, my friends are the customer,” she said. “Our customer is giving, she is willing to try new things, which makes it so much fun for me to design for her. Today, I have a business I completely understand. I am comfortable with it and I love what we are able to do.”