“My goal as a designer is to make everyday clothes in timeless and flattering designs that become wardrobe staples, clothes you reach for in your closet a hundred times.”
– Tracy Popken
I don’t know precisely when the term vintage took over the modern fashion world. It seems like it happened overnight, but in reality, it took years for vintage shopping to go mainstream. In my early years of high school, thrifting was the craze. Fast forward a decade or so, and everyone, not just indie actors and band members, was leaning toward all things retro. Average thrift stores were left behind for vintage boutiques. People educated themselves on the fashions of specific time periods. Soon, the new (old) style was born. Or rather, reborn.
Tracy Popken understands this evolution. The Dallas designer started her business as a seamstress, tailoring, repairing, and restyling the personal vintage collections of her clients. Over the last three years, she has progressed into replicating clients’ favorite pieces for more frequent usage. She now also designs custom clothing, offering her own line of made-to-measure pieces inspired by timeless vintage silhouettes.
I was first introduced to Popken after her successful showcase at The Pin Show 2013. I wanted to put on one of her dresses, run away to Italy, and pretend I was Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday. That’s always a good sign.
This Friday, July 26th, the urge will surely return when Popken teams with fellow local designer pal and vintage lover Eric Renteria. In anticipation of the duo’s Summer Soirée, I spoke with this seamstress extraordinaire about her favorite eras, design process, and more. Read on for my interview, plus brand-new images of the Popken modeling her latest looks.
DFW Style Daily: How did you get involved in the fashion industry? Did you always want to be a designer?
Tracy Popken: “I sewed with all the women who mattered to me. I was never much obsessed with fashion, and could never have been mistaken as stylish in high school, but I always felt a yearning for clothes that expressed me better than what I could buy. During my freshman year of college, I realized sewing and design was the thing I always got excited about, no matter how hard I worked, or how many times I failed before getting it right. So, I changed schools to major in Fashion Design at the University of North Texas. While working a winter break job at the much-missed Dallas vintage store Ahab Bowen, I fell in love with the quality of design in vintage clothes. I found an expression of my own style in the classy clothes of decades past. After graduation, I decided to build my own business around those clothes, and the fabulous people who love them.”
Where do you find most of your inspiration?
“The inspiration for my custom clothing line comes from my clients, their unbelievably vibrant lives, and their personal vintage collections that I repair and re-style. I regularly see 70-year-old dresses that, after a few careful repairs or changes, are as flattering and relevant as anything you could buy at Neiman Marcus today. That deeply inspires me. I want to make clothes that will be cherished and worn long after I’m gone, like the gorgeous vintage clothes I work on for my clients.”
You call yourself a “purveyor of vintage style.” Why do you think vintage clothing is still relevant, and do you think it always will be?
“Trends change, and the amount of skin we like to show certainly changes, but quality fabrics, flattering silhouettes, a neckline that compliments your face shape, and so many other aspects of great design are timeless. When I was studying abroad at Central Saint Martins in London, the teacher said, ‘You can sit in the vintage markets, and if you know which designers’ assistants you’re looking at, you can tell what styles that fashion house will be emulating next season.’
“With fashion history references in all the new designer collections, and photo spreads in Vogue that could practically be clippings from your grandmother’s editions, a vintage design doesn’t always necessarily look its age. Many of my clients are incredibly stylish. A number of them are professional stylists, and they love to integrate vintage clothes into their wardrobes. Add to that the fact that the most high end designer labels today have a comparable level of detail and quality often found at a bargain price in vintage clothing, and I can say, without a doubt, that yes, there is and will always be value in vintage clothes.”
When you’re reworking a vintage garment, how do decide which details to update and which to keep the same?
“I talk extensively to my clients about the impressions and feelings they want to evoke through their wardrobe, and how they will move while wearing any given item. Then, we do whatever it takes to attain that goal.”
What was the last item of clothing you purchased from a modern retail store?
“That’s tough! Probably lingerie. I have a special place in my heart for the Nordstrom lingerie and hosiery department. The next project I have rolling around in my mind will be a line of custom silk slips, glamorous robes, slinky sheer shorts, sheer organza crinolines, and perhaps even bras and corsets.”
What is your favorite era in women’s fashion?
“The 1940’s. The combination of wartime practicality and classic femininity made for clothes that are undeniably sexy and very wearable.”
Do you have any favorite vintage shops here in Dallas?
Visit our Events Calendar for more information on Tracy Popken and Eric Renteria’s Summer Soirée on Friday, July 26th. All photos, credit Jarrod Fresquez.