Slacking in style

How skateboarder and surfer dude Tracy Feith wheeled out of Dallas to become the latest, hottest thing in haute couture

But after a year or so of drifting up and down the coast, Feith longed for home. He returned to Sherman with the idea of going to school. Back in Texas, however, Feith says he experienced reverse culture shock. "When I was in California, it was a really interesting time in terms of music and subcultural things. I was still really into that, and there weren't as many people around in Texas that were into that."

For a semester or two--Feith does not seem to have a precise recollection of time and space--the would-be designer attended UNT. Feith says he mostly played around at school and only accidentally stumbled into a clothing-design course. "They had this weird class called experimental clothing design," Feith recalls. "I took it, and I really enjoyed it."

The next semester, he took more formal design courses. Michael Faircloth, who now works for Lilly Dodson in Dallas and creates many of the clothes that Texas first lady Laura Bush wears, attended school with Feith.

Sam Ortiz
This $660 Indian wool "Sasha" dress sells at Tracy Feith's Manhattan boutique. It's a bargain. Really.
Elle Magazine
This $660 Indian wool "Sasha" dress sells at Tracy Feith's Manhattan boutique. It's a bargain. Really.

"I was more conservative," Faircloth says. "He was very artistic and a little ethereal. He was very innovative. He definitely had talent." Faircloth also remembers that Feith was "smarter than he acts."

Jimmie Henslee, a stylist for store windows and decor in Dallas who attended school with Feith, recalls the fashion maker had "a very clean sense of design. It was very unusual for a student." Henslee says Feith seemed "hardworking and steady, but offbeat."

Feith, the devout skateboarder and surfer, still had "an All-American, milk-and-cookies look to him," according to Henslee, and didn't blend with the highly stylized, mostly gay crowd of design students.

"I stood out in class," Feith says. "This one guy said to me, 'You look like somebody who might drive a Duster.' But I took that as a compliment."

He started getting entry-level jobs at the garment factories that then peppered Stemmons Freeway. "Even though I knew very little, I was still able to get a job making patterns for at least long enough until they were on to me, and then I'd get another one, and then I began to know something," Feith says. Picking up a few technical courses at El Centro Community College, Feith expanded his education. At the garment factories, he would spend his lunch hour quizzing seamstresses. "I'd go over and say, 'How do you make a pair of pants?' And they'd show me," Feith says. "Something was exciting to me. I felt there was something for me."

Still living in Denton, Feith was spending more time in Dallas, running with a pack of young men who met weekly to skateboard. "He wasn't a very good skateboarder, but he was into the whole feeling," Roach recalls.

From there, Feith eventually found his way to a bed in Jeff Newton's Zorlac factory.

But it was not until months later that he bumped into a girl he knew from UNT and the idea of actually selling his clothes flashed before Feith. The young woman introduced him to two acquaintances. "Oh, this is Tracy; he's a clothing designer," she told her friends. Never one to open his mouth unnecessarily, Feith kept quiet as the two women explained that they were about to open a boutique, Sodade, on Lovers Lane. They asked Feith whether he would show them his work. "We're going to Europe to buy for the store, but when we get back we'd love to see what you do," they told him.

Feith spent all his spare time for the next 10 nights in the garment factory, sewing 13 men's suits--"or my version of suits," he says. His first try at menswear featured torn pieces hanging off sleeves and lapels on what otherwise were traditional suit jackets and pants. He would show the samples and then reproduce the styles that buyers selected.

"When you're young and you're doing things, you think you know how to do things," he says. "Now that I know what I know, I know that I did not know. But you can make something interesting, and it can work." He worked hard. "Once I get going, I tend to keep going until I must stop. I'm kind of like a snowball."

The feverish pitch paid off. Sodade's owners returned from Europe and ordered $2,000 worth of his clothing. "I was amazed," Feith says. "I thought, 'Wow, this is great.'"

Feith used the money to buy a sewing machine. For the next few years, he continued making men's clothes in Dallas, selling to Sodade and other stores. Inspired by the example of his fellow Dallas designer Todd Oldham, he began taking his clothes to New York. For the first trip, he traveled with his dad. Father and son drove to New York, lugging his samples, and stayed at the Grammercy Park Hotel. "I'd call up Bergdorf's, and he'd drive me over there," Feith recalls. Although cold-calling, Feith managed to get a few small shops to buy some items. He was oblivious to any snobby New York reaction to a Texas homeboy.

"It was funny," he says. "I didn't feel it then. I must have seemed like a wildcat, but I didn't care. I have felt it more since."

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