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Becoming a Professional Fashion Designer

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"New York: Victor Alfaro," in Women's Wear Daily, 4 November 1994.

Spindler, Amy M., "Learning from Las Vegas and Show World," in the New York Times, 5 November 1994.

Odea Fashion

Victor Alfaro, fall 2000 collection. © Reuters NewMedia Inc./ CORBIS.

Min, Janice, and Allison Lynn, "Fitting Pretty: Going for Sheer Glamor, Designer Victor Alfaro Gives Grunge the Gate," in People, 20 March 1995. "Rising Star," in Women's Wear Daily, September 1994. "New York Comes Alive," in Women's Wear Daily, 1 April 1996. White, Constance C. R. "No Show Due to Lack of Finances," in the

New York Times, 8 April 1997. "Milan Haute Hippies and Good Sports," in Women's Wear Daily, 9 March 1998.

Conti, Samantha, "New Deals Focus on Control of Brand," in

Women's Wear Daily, 27 May 1998. "Alfaro, Gilmar to Launch Line," in Women's Wear Daily, 7 December 1999.

Victor Alfaro, known for his "come hither" designs, claims the only fashion design training he has ever had was poring through fashion magazines. Born and raised in Mexico, Alfaro moved to the U.S. as an exchange student to perfect his English and to study communications at the University of Texas. At the time, fashion design was "just a fantasy," but later he applied to the Fashion

Institute of Technology in New York City. After graduating in 1987, Alfaro worked as an apprentice designer, and by the mid-1990s, at the age of 30, he had become recognized as one of the leading designers in the United States.

Bare simplicity and an equally frank sexuality inform Alfaro's dresses for cocktail and evening. Bridget Foley predicted in March 1994 W article, "The heir apparent to Oscar and Bill? Perhaps. Victor Alfaro may be New York's next great eveningwear designer." If Alfaro is the torchbearer of style for New York nights, his role betokens a shifting sensibility, one that pointedly exalts the body, seeks out youth, and takes risks. Skilled in the vocabulary of separates (he worked for Mary Ann Restivo and Joseph Abboud), Alfaro eagerly draws upon the street for inspiration and demands a body consciousness that have made some call him the American Alaïa. In early recognition as a designer for celebrities, photographed by Francesco Scavullo for Cosmopolitan covers in New York, Alfaro flirted with attention-getting vulgarity, though his collections have come to represent a more natural but nonetheless willfully seductive sensuality.

Amy Spindler, in an April 1993 piece for the New York Times, commented, "Victor Alfaro's clothes come with plenty of attitude." The attitude is, of course, of postfeminist women's individuality and options, including a very 1990s' reexamination of the possibilities of seductive, relatively bare clothing in the most luxurious fabrics. One needs a self-confidence approaching attitude to wear dresses and outfits of such body-revealing form, but one also needs a distinct segregation of Alfaro's partywear from day-to-day clothing. His clothes are not for the timid, but neither are they for showgirls. Spindler refers to his "sex-kitten clothes," but their relative austerity, depending entirely upon textile and shape, keeps them from being vitiated by Las Vegas.

Alfaro does however raise provocative issues of women's overt and self-assured physicality and sexuality more than of sexual license. To be sure, short skirts, bared shoulders, lace in direct contact with skin, leather, and sheer skimming fabrics suggest fetishes, but there is always something strangely wholesome about Alfaro's sensibility. Singer Mariah Carey is quoted as saying very aptly that Alfaro's "clothes are fierce." Their ferocity resides in the fact that they define strong women.

According to Ricky Lee (New York Times, 2 August 1992), Alfaro was counseled by one buyer from Chicago that in order to succeed, he should add more suits to his line. But Alfaro rightly declined, knowing he was not creating professional clothes nor daywear basics. He eschews sobriety and, with it, tailoring. Rather, he was responding to sexuality's siren and creating the sexiest siren dresses for young New Yorkers of the 1990s. He is dressmaker to the legendary Generation X. Alfaro was defining a strong personal style and a clientèle that is generationally, visually, and libidinously nurtured on MTV and informed by multicultural street smarts. Woody Hochswender reporting for the New York Times in April 1992, found Alfaro's collection "suggested sex—in a voice loud enough to clear a disco. There were lace chaps and fake snake chaps, worn over bodysuits. Skintight snakeskin jeans were zipped all the way from front to back, reason unknown. Rib-knit sweater dresses were worn with harnesses of metal mesh, Mr. Alfaro's version of the bondage look sweeping fashion."

Explaining his relative restraint and deliberate avoidance of vulgarity in his fall/winter 1993-94 collection to Foley, Alfaro said, "I

didn't want it to look cheap. Buyers see every trick in the book, and they want clothes that are wearable." Alfaro has consistently made unencumbered clothing, emphasizing minimalist sensibility and cut and employing luxurious materials. In these characteristics, he is a designer in the great American tradition. His distinctive deviation from this tradition might seem to be his hot sexuality, the body-tracing and body-revealing simplicity of his clothes—but again and again, 20th-century American designers have been dressing advanced new women of ever-increasing power and self-assurance.

In 1996 Women's Wear Daily claimed Alfaro's collection was his "best ever." The same year, he designed a line of coats, manufactured by Mohl Furs, featuring an ink-dyed Persian lamb pea coat, a leather trench coat, and a camel hair coat lined with mink inspired by photography of Jacques-Henri Lartigue. Despite his talent and popularity, Alfaro was experiencing financial difficulties and seeking financial backing. He entered into a licensing agreement with Italian manufacturer Gilmar in 1998 which allowed him to make long-term plans, be more involved in the manufacture of his garments, and to have a ready place in the European fashion scene.

His first collection shown under the agreement with Gilmar was well received. Merging Milanese chic with American-styled sportswear, Alfaro created a less revealing collection he "claimed to have started with the idea of a rich hippie, but in the end, this collection had little to do with a redux of counterculture references." True, his pieces were more boxy and full than his previous lines, but keeping to his unique and sensuous style, Alfaro added rabbit mules as a finishing touch. For the fall of 2000, Alfaro and Gilmar debuted their new line, Vic., which sells for nearly half the price of Alfaro's signature line. Alfaro told Women's Wear Daily (7 December 1999), "The Vic. line will be a little bit more on the fashion side and forward. It's still a designer collection; it's just another one of my personalities."

Alfaro is creating the postfeminist fashion sensibility, consummately beautiful in execution, infinitely skilled in construction, and assertively avant-garde. Even as some critics dismiss his work as offensive, Alfaro is a true fashion risk-taker and visionary. He is defining and dressing today, and will dress hereafter, the bravest woman of the future.

—Richard Martin; updated by Christine Miner Minderovic

ALLARD, Linda

American designer

Born: Akron, Ohio, 27 May 1940; grew up in Doylestown. Education: Studied fine arts, Kent State University (Ohio), 1958-62. Family: Married Herbert Gallen, 2000. Career: Design assistant, Ellen Tracy, New York, 1962-64, then director of design, from 1964; Linda Allard label introduced, 1984; design critic, Fashion Institute of Technology, New York; visiting professor, International Academy of Merchandising and Design, Chicago; board of directors, Kent State University. Member: Fashion Group International, Inc., Council of Fashion Designers of America. Awards: Dallas Fashion award, 1986, 1987, 1994. Address: 575 Seventh Avenue, New York, NY 10018, USA. Website: www.ellentracy.com.

Janet Kantrowitz

Linda Allard, designed for Ellen Tracy's spring 2000 collection.

© Fashion Syndicate Press.

Publications

On ALLARD:

Books

Stegemeyer, Anne, Who's Who in Fashion, Third Edition, New York, 1996.

Articles

Daria, Irene, "Linda Allard: Growing up with Ellen Tracy," in Women's Wear Daily, 2 June 1986.

Caminiti, Susan, "A.K.A. Ellen Tracy," in Savvy, October 1988.

Kantrowitz, Barbara, "The Real Designer Behind that Ellen Tracy Label," in Newsweek, 24 October 1988.

"Linda Allard," in Accessories, December 1988.

Ozzard, Janet, "The Prime of Linda Allard," in Women's Wear Daily, 14 December 1994.

Schiro, Anne-Marie, "Designed for Retailers and Real Women," in the New York Times, 5 April 1995.

"Comfort Zone," in Women's Wear Daily, 18 February 1999.

didn't want it to look cheap. Buyers see every trick in the book, and they want clothes that are wearable." Alfaro has consistently made unencumbered clothing, emphasizing minimalist sensibility and cut and employing luxurious materials. In these characteristics, he is a designer in the great American tradition. His distinctive deviation from this tradition might seem to be his hot sexuality, the body-tracing and body-revealing simplicity of his clothes—but again and again, 20th-century American designers have been dressing advanced new women of ever-increasing power and self-assurance.

In 1996 Women's Wear Daily claimed Alfaro's collection was his "best ever." The same year, he designed a line of coats, manufactured by Mohl Furs, featuring an ink-dyed Persian lamb pea coat, a leather trench coat, and a camel hair coat lined with mink inspired by photography of Jacques-Henri Lartigue. Despite his talent and popularity, Alfaro was experiencing financial difficulties and seeking financial backing. He entered into a licensing agreement with Italian manufacturer Gilmar in 1998 which allowed him to make long-term plans, be more involved in the manufacture of his garments, and to have a ready place in the European fashion scene.

His first collection shown under the agreement with Gilmar was well received. Merging Milanese chic with American-styled sportswear, Alfaro created a less revealing collection he "claimed to have started with the idea of a rich hippie, but in the end, this collection had little to do with a redux of counterculture references." True, his pieces were more boxy and full than his previous lines, but keeping to his unique and sensuous style, Alfaro added rabbit mules as a finishing touch. For the fall of 2000, Alfaro and Gilmar debuted their new line, Vic., which sells for nearly half the price of Alfaro's signature line. Alfaro told Women's Wear Daily (7 December 1999), "The Vic. line will be a little bit more on the fashion side and forward. It's still a designer collection; it's just another one of my personalities."

Alfaro is creating the postfeminist fashion sensibility, consummately beautiful in execution, infinitely skilled in construction, and assertively avant-garde. Even as some critics dismiss his work as offensive, Alfaro is a true fashion risk-taker and visionary. He is defining and dressing today, and will dress hereafter, the bravest woman of the future.

—Richard Martin; updated by Christine Miner Minderovic

ALLARD, Linda

American designer

Born: Akron, Ohio, 27 May 1940; grew up in Doylestown. Education: Studied fine arts, Kent State University (Ohio), 1958-62. Family: Married Herbert Gallen, 2000. Career: Design assistant, Ellen Tracy, New York, 1962-64, then director of design, from 1964; Linda Allard label introduced, 1984; design critic, Fashion Institute of Technology, New York; visiting professor, International Academy of Merchandising and Design, Chicago; board of directors, Kent State University. Member: Fashion Group International, Inc., Council of Fashion Designers of America. Awards: Dallas Fashion award, 1986, 1987, 1994. Address: 575 Seventh Avenue, New York, NY 10018, USA. Website: www.ellentracy.com.

Linda Stegemeyer

Linda Allard, designed for Ellen Tracy's spring 2000 collection.

© Fashion Syndicate Press.

Publications

On ALLARD:

Books

Stegemeyer, Anne, Who's Who in Fashion, Third Edition, New York, 1996.

Articles

Daria, Irene, "Linda Allard: Growing up with Ellen Tracy," in Women's Wear Daily, 2 June 1986.

Caminiti, Susan, "A.K.A. Ellen Tracy," in Savvy, October 1988.

Kantrowitz, Barbara, "The Real Designer Behind that Ellen Tracy Label," in Newsweek, 24 October 1988.

"Linda Allard," in Accessories, December 1988.

Ozzard, Janet, "The Prime of Linda Allard," in Women's Wear Daily, 14 December 1994.

Schiro, Anne-Marie, "Designed for Retailers and Real Women," in the New York Times, 5 April 1995.

"Comfort Zone," in Women's Wear Daily, 18 February 1999.

Ellen Tracy Fashion Collection

Linda Allard, designed for Ellen Tracy's spring 2000 collection. © Fashion Syndicate Press.

Socha, Miles, "Ellen Tracy Has a New Bridal Line," in W, March 2000.

Linda Allard is the woman behind Ellen Tracy. In fact, there is no Ellen Tracy—there never was. The company was founded in 1949 by Herbert Gallen, a juniors blouse manufacturer, who invented the name Ellen Tracy for his fledgling firm. Gallen hired Allard in 1962, fresh out of college, as a design assistant. She quickly expanded the line to include trousers and jackets. Two years later, she was made director of design, and a new Ellen Tracy was born. Since then, under Allard's artistic leadership, Ellen Tracy has become synonymous with top-quality fabrics, clean lines, and the concept of a complete wardrobe for the working woman.

Allard grew up in Doyleston, Ohio, in a 100-year-old farmhouse with five brothers and sisters. Allard was taught to sew at a young age by her mother, and quickly began designing garments for her dolls. "Even before I could sew, I was always designing clothes for my paper dolls," she said. After receiving a fine arts degree from Kent

State University in 1962, she moved to New York, where she received her first job offer from Gallen.

Shortly after Allard joined the firm, Ellen Tracy moved away from junior clothing to apparel designed for the newly established female workforce of the 1960s. Allard was one of the first designers to address the shifting demographics, creating a professional look, stylish yet appropriate for the workplace. Eventually, by the mid-1970s, the company moved into the bridge market. The bridge collections (which filled the gap between upper-end designer lines and mass-market brands) have since become the fastest growing area of the women's fashion market, key to Ellen Tracy's success, with the company's volume nearly tripling over the following decade.

As the creative force behind Ellen Tracy, Allard transformed the company into one of the key anchor designers in the bridge market. To give the collection more of a designer feel, Allard's name was placed on the Ellen Tracy label in 1984. Nonetheless, Allard believes high fashion has little relevance to most women's lives. "The extreme end of fashion is overrated," she has commented. "It gets a lot of coverage by the press, but it doesn't mean anything to a lot of women. We mean more to real women."

In the 21st century, working with a 12-person design team, Allard was responsible for the entire Ellen Tracy line. To her, designing begins with an emphasis on high-quality fabrics and specific color grouping: "We start with color and a sense of the flavor of the collection. Will it be fluid or rigid, soft and slouchy or tailored? The focus is on easy dressing and effortless shapes. We develop the fabrics first, finding the texture that expresses the attitude we feel, and then comes the styling. Fabrics make the collection unique." There are three Ellen Tracy collections each year. To ensure the clothes work well with each other, each garment is sold separately. "The modern woman buys a wardrobe of jackets that work well in a variety of pairings," Allard explained.

Ellen Tracy, Inc. has grown to be one of the top 10 womens' clothing companies in the United States. After 50 years, Ellen Tracy remains a dominant label and can be found at prominent department stores such as Lord & Taylor, Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdale's, Macy's, and Saks Fifth Avenue. Perhaps the essential element for its success is customer loyalty. Ellen Tracy has been able to identify its primary customers, largely made up of career women, and Allard keeps design and quality consistent. As Allard told Janet Ozzard of Women's Wear Daily, "We deal in investment clothing, although we do try to offer some fashion because our customer does demand [it.] I think it's one of the reasons we keep constant: we study our customer, we have the same viewpoint. I design for a woman who has a career or a profession and wants to feel fabulous in her clothes, but it isn't the be-all and end-all of her world."

The increase in sales and popularity of Allard's designs was also due to the growing need for stylish, comfortable, and no-nonsense wardrobes, since the number of women who hold professional jobs has increased dramatically. Allard's designs are not necessarily considered to be cutting edge; she merely includes up-to-date styling and leaves out any, as Women's Wear Daily described, "glitz or sleaze."

Another key element to Allard's success has been her ability to diversify. Allard launched a petites division in 1981 and four years later debuted a successful dress unit. To cater to the more leisure-oriented customer, Ellen Tracy introduced its latest expansion, a sportswear line called Company, in the fall of 1991. Allard said her intent is to provide "the same level of quality for the woman who doesn't need strictly career clothes, or whose career offers more fashion choices than the tailored suits we're known for." In 1992 a fragrance line was launched, followed by the introduction of plus-size clothing and a collection of sophisticated evening dresses. Ellen Tracy also has licensing agreements to produce scarves, shoes, eyewear, hosiery, and handbags.

Allard lives and works in Manhattan and spends weekends in her new country home in Connecticut, set on 60 acres of rolling countryside. She designed the house with her brother, David, an architect. The house is a 5,500-square-foot Palladian-inspired villa, complete with studio and guest quarters. "When we were designing my new house," Allard explained, "I challenged my architect brother to take strong classical designs of the past and make them livable for today."

When asked in an interview with Women's Wear Daily if there was a missing ingredient in her life, she replied, "I've always thought about the idea of having children, but I think children need to be nurtured, and I don't think you can do that from five to six at night." Additionally, she commented, "From the age of ten I always wanted to design. I never excluded having a family, but my work is so demanding. I'm happy I have a lot of nieces and nephews, so I can enjoy family life and kids." Allard did make room for a husband, however: on New Year's Eve 1999, Herbert Gallen, Ellen Tracy's company chairman, proposed to Allard, who said "Yes."

—Janet Markarian; updated by Christine Miner Minderovic

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