By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
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At night, while his dad stayed at the hotel, Feith checked out the New York club scene, keeping his eye on the clothes.
Back in Dallas, business was improving, and he opened his own shop in Oak Cliff near Bishop Street. He had taken up with a new girlfriend, Jocelyn Munster, who designed store-window displays and was tight with the Todd Oldham crowd. Friends say she helped Feith break into certain professional circles. Feith says that she has "a good eye," but that it was always his and only his business. Munster didn't return messages seeking comment.
In the early '90s, Feith frequently visited New York to pitch his designs. With several assistants helping him with sewing and pattern-making, Feith created a women's line. Unlike today's designs, the clothes were darker, sleeker, and more structured. He had mini-skirts, hooded jackets, and hip-hugging pants. When he went to New York, Feith would sleep on friends' couches and carry his garments to stores. By 1993, he was invited to share space in a New York showroom where store buyers could come year-round and order from the samples hanging there. His women's line was selling better than the rest, and Feith and Munster decided it was time to move to Manhattan.
In the spring of 1993, Feith produced his first runway show at The Supper Club. The fashion equivalent of a Broadway play's opening night, runway shows cost at least $40,000 to produce but draw hordes of buyers and generate press attention--not all of it necessarily good.
The results of Feith's first show were decidedly mixed. The models appeared in slinky, scoop-necked dresses made out of fabric imprinted with newspaper headlines. (Feith says he saved newspapers for years to produce this line.) The clothes ultimately sold well, and the newspaper-print fabric ignited a trend. But much of the press coverage focused on the high-heeled footwear and newspaper-covered catwalks that had his models falling like so many dominoes.
"I'm sure Feith's clothes were just lovely, but I never really noticed," wrote Robin Givhan, a reviewer for Knight-Ridder. "I was too busy wincing every time the women tried to walk in those ridiculous shoes."
Feith laughs now when he recalls the episode. An established shoe designer had promised him that he would produce footwear for the show, but backed out at the last moment. A friend just starting in the business offered to help out, creating "huge, huge platforms," Feith recalls. "I remember The New York Times. They gave me a pretty good review, but they said I was a misogynist for putting all the women in those torturous shoes. I would have made shoes for the guys if I had the time."
Another disastrous show came in November 1994, when Feith made the controversial decision to show his collection in a Times Square strip joint. Some of his models quit at the last minute when he told them that they were expected to pole dance as well as strut on the catwalk.
"What messages were the models sending who refused to pole dance in Tracy Feith's presentation in Show World's Big Top?" Times fashion reporter Amy Spindler asked. The reporter thought Feith's "shirtdresses in sparkly sheer patchwork fabric, satiny black short dresses tied at the waist, python printed bustiers and shells with jackets on top, and pretty clinging halter dresses" were appealing. But, she noted, "The sexiness of the clothes hardly needs to be underscored by models swinging above the audience on slick poles."
For Feith, the strip club was like setting his show in a John Cassavetes movie, he says. "It was a spectacle," he says, still sounding a little impressed by the whole affair.
Yet by the time of that show, Feith knew that he was leaving the fashion business. He is characteristically hazy about the timing and doesn't dwell on parting ways with Munster, but sometime after the show they broke up, and he quit making clothes. For old friends back in Dallas, the development wasn't surprising. Some suspected that she had helped fuel his ambitions.
Feith says only that he had tired of the pace of the business. "You always had to have something new," he says. "The ideas were important to me. I was getting disillusioned. It was getting so this wasn't so fun. I was, like, killing myself. I was making shows that were very personal. They were more than fashion shows. These ideas were so important to me...They weren't just disposable."
Whatever the reason, Feith wanted out of the fashion business for a while. "I just kind of stopped," he remembers. "People would call, and I would say, 'I'm not doing that anymore.'" He traveled, played, and took odd jobs when he needed money.
He stopped taking orders and started taking acting classes. He wrote a little. For money, he occasionally helped out with the styling on commercials or made clothes for films.
He began a relationship with Susan Wignet, his current girlfriend and business collaborator, a former dancer who has designed fashion shoots. "I've got all the energy. She is the organized one," Feith says of Wignet, who is expecting their first baby next month.