THE LADY BEHIND THE RUNWAY
TRACEE DUNDAS: THE BRAINS (AND BEAUTY) BEHIND NEW ORLEANS FASHION WEEK
by: lori leday
Having penciled me in between an endless number of email correspondence and meetings, the morning I met up with Tracee Dundas, her downtown office held an “OMG- fashion week is in a month and there is still a million things to do” vibe. After all, it practically takes a small village to produce a week of runway shows, events, and after parties. Because I have had the pleasure of working with Tracee on several different occasions in the past year, her astounding work ethic and humble character were nothing new to me. Even if you don’t know Tracee, these characteristics can so easily be seen and felt in any production or project she curates. What I was, however, eager to learn through this interview, was the journey it took to become the woman who began New Orleans Fashion Week, opened her own modeling agency and has her hand in almost every fashion related event in the city.
Tracee dundas has a lot of trouble turning down a job. “Styling is something that I love to do and a world I’ll try to remain in as much as I can. It keeps me in contact with what’s happening. I’ve also worked on film in the past, and try to keep a foot in the door as much as I can with that as well. I hate turning anything down, but right now my priority is New Orleans Fashion Week. Because I do love what I do, anytime we are producing any event, while it can be time consuming, it always becomes a fun social.”
Believe it or not, she doesn’t shop. “But, I work. So, if I see something, I’ll grab it. But I don’t like trying on clothes so you won’t catch me in the fitting room. I think I do tend to march to my own beat style wise. While I love trends, I’m not a trend follower. I usually pull away from it. I’m not a label lover, brand lover, or designer lover, but I do get extremely excited when I find something dirt cheap.”
Hurricane Katrina actually played a role in the start of New Orleans Fashion Week. “When Katrina hit, I didn’t have to close my modeling agency, but I did have to refocus it. I moved back to Lafayette (my hometown) for a period of time, but quickly realized I had taken a step back. God has a way of making things happen, because I was eventually able to lease the building space in Lafayette, close the agency there, and move back to New Orleans. I was looking for something to do, and decided at this point that I was going to figure out a way to get to New York.”
But that didn’t happen. “I had it all figured out. My husband and I don’t have kids, and I have lots of friends and family in New York. I was even willing to take on an unpaid internship at that point in my career. While I was putting a plan together and exploring avenues to send my resume and get my foot in the door, I stumbled across a fashion week happening in Portland, Oregon, and then I saw one in St. Louis, and another in Charleston, South Carolina. Then I thought, ‘wait a minute, I live in a multi-creative, phenomenal city, I work in fashion, and have experience producing small events. I can do this.’”
Three years in the making. “The first fashion week was in 2011. The whole thought and planning process started in 2008. By 2009 I was having conversations. That year and the next, I really started putting it together. It was a tough time for me, because my mother was diagnosed with cancer. She has been an angel in heaven constantly for me. I was taking care of her and planning everything out. It was scary leading up to the first one because I really wasn’t sure if I had enough designers and how to plan even three days of events.
Why is it important for you to have designers and retailers show at NOFW? “The initial year was honestly because I was nervous that I didn’t have enough designers, so I thought that bringing in some high-end boutiques and some really trendy fashions as well would be the way to go. Then I quickly recognized that there is a common thread. Giving local retailers an opportunity to show on the runway was equally as important as designers. That first year what I observed sort of happen organically was that designers started connecting with the retailers. So afterward, I did a survey where I went to every retailer that was invited or showed on the runway, as well as designers, to get their feedback so I could understand how to build and grow for the next year. By the numbers I saw that we had a 40% placement of designers into the retail outlet which I thought was amazing. So while that may have been only one item, for a designer, it’s a start. You can’t expect to just be on the top, it takes some effort so just getting your foot in the door is a big deal. Getting a retailer to recognize a designer who before that was only selling to their family and friends is huge.
Tracee was ready for that all too cliché question. “When did I know I wanted a career in fashion (laughs)? That is a cliché question, and luckily I have a routine answer for it. Well, growing up in the country with three brothers, you tend to be one of the boys. We lived by the bayou, so I went fishing, dug worms, and played football.”
Those are some good skills to have. “I think it made me well rounded, but at some point this thing came in the mail about modeling classes, and my mom decided that I should take them so that I could become a bit more prim and proper. It was through that process that I became introduced to fashion, fell in love with it, and decided that I would incorporate that into my career. So, through high school I did modeling and in college I studied apparel design and fashion merchandising.”
And she put those merchandising skills to use…merchandising cigarettes. “Everyone in my family was a smoker, but I wasn’t allowed to smoke. Ironically, I landed a corporate job with a fortune 500 company merchandising cigarettes. While the pay scale was much larger than a fashion job, my love still remained in that field and I was doing a lot of other things personally on the side. I was living in Lafayette and while I continued to work my corporate job, I also opened up a modeling agency there on the side.”
I was promised the full story over cocktails one evening. “I was fired from my corporate job. I got a new boss who found out I had a modeling agency and felt as though I should be giving 120% to my corporate job. It was scary, because I lost my paycheck and didn’t know what I was going to do, but it ended up being a good thing. It forced me to go where my heart wanted me to go. And through the support of my family, I decided to pursue my agency full time.”
The fashion/entrepreneurial route can be scary to pursue. “I think that most of us that have studied fashion or entered into this industry are looking towards the end of a rainbow. We want to do something that will keep us in the creative flow of things (designing, styling, or merchandising) but then the reality of money, bills, and a steady paycheck hits. But, sometimes you do have to burn the candle from both ends. It doesn’t happen overnight. It has to start at the ground level and build. My advice to anyone taking that route, is perseverance.”
for your tickets to nofw visit: http://fashionweeknola.com/