Before Katrina, Tracee Dundas was operating a successful modeling agency called About Faces with two locations, one in New Orleans and one in Lafayette. However, after the destruction wrought by the storm, the city, its residents, and its patrons found themselves uprooted, and Dundas decided it was time to try something new. “I saw an opportunity to reinvent myself and decided at that point in time that, maybe, I should go ahead and close my office in Lafayette and just venture off into something new.”
Dundas grew up in Louisiana in a small town just outside of Lafayette, but her father is from NOLA. “New Orleans has always been like a second home to me,” Dundas said of her love for the city. “It was just the perfect place for me to want to settle down.” However, for a time, she considered leaving New Orleans in favor of finding a position with one of the major fashion weeks in New York City. Before she made her decision, she stumbled across something she hadn’t seen before: regional fashion weeks.
Dundas remembered seeing news of these local fashion weeks cropping up in cities like Charleston, Atlanta, and Dallas. “A light bulb went off, and I thought, ‘Well, wait a minute. New Orleans is this multicultural, multitalented, artistic city that I’ve been a part of all my life, so we should definitely bring the fashion industry back, and maybe producing a fashion week in NOLA would be the way to do it.’” Now, as of March 2013, Fashion Week New Orleans has successfully completed its third year. Of the annual event, Dundas explained, “It’s a series of runway fashion shows embracing our local or Southern-based designers and also the retailers and boutiques.” What makes Fashion Week NOLA unique is its goal of bringing together these designers and retailers on the runway so that they can network with one another. “One of the biggest challenges with designers is that they’re talented and they’re working really hard at their craft, but how do you get an audience? How do you get it out there?”
By inviting retailers, Dundas gave them an opportunity not only to show their latest stock, but also to attend Fashion Week as a buyer. At first, Dundas recalled feeling unsure of how this proposal would go over, but retailers and designers alike loved the idea. “Everyone has been so open-minded, and I’m excited to say that in our first year…about 40% of our designers got some sort of placement in a retail outlet,” Dundas remarked. Another key feature of Fashion Week New Orleans is its open nature – it’s “fashionista-friendly,” meaning that the event is not exclusive to buyers and photographers. Instead, it’s open to anyone who would like to attend.
This past year, Fashion Week NOLA featured two competitions: the Top Design Competition and the Model Walk-Off. The former is an event where 10 emerging designers are chosen to showcase their collections in a competitive format. “It’s fun and it builds excitement to the event, but the winner, at the end of the day, also gets a placement of their collection in a retail store,” said Dundas. This year’s winner, Ashley Gunkel, received placement in the Hemlines boutique for a three-month period, as well as a brand new sewing machine from AllBrands.com and a gift certificate for fabric from Promenade Fine Fabrics. The Model Walk-Off was introduced this year to give models an opportunity to travel and meet with agents in New York and Los Angeles. Dundas partnered with Craig Magleby of the John Robert Power Agency, and under his sponsorship, one male and one female model went on to travel with his group to Los Angeles this summer.
When asked about her personal style, Dundas described her day-to-day wardrobe as “upscale casual,” but it can range anywhere from classic to bohemian. “I like mixing things, and I’m not a label-lover. It’s not about that name for me – it’s about the quality, the craftsmanship, and something that’s unique.” To budding fashionistas looking to develop their own sense of style, Dundas had a few words of advice. “I think you need to know your figure, first and foremost,” she mused. “You need to know your body thoroughly.” Dundas also discussed the importance of keeping a few trend pieces in one’s wardrobe, but warned against over-accessorizing. “Remember to edit,” she advised. “The whole idea about fashion is to look fabulous, but also for you to shine through the outfit you’re wearing.”
Despite her busy schedule – “I’m sort of married to my work,” she joked – Dundas always makes time to exercise and give back to the community. Recently, she started working with children’s hospitals to set up little fashion parties for the kids. “We teach them a little bit about modeling and makeup – a fun little two-hour thing. Nothing big. But it’s just amazing to see the smiles that come on their faces.”
To those looking to follow in her footsteps, Dundas said, “I think if you have an idea or a dream, you shouldn’t let anyone discourage you. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t seek advice or feedback from people, but don’t be discouraged in the process of building your event, your business…There are many hurdles that you need to cross, and I think perseverance means a lot.”
For more information about Fashion Week NOLA, visit the website here and check out its Facebook, Twitter, and blog. Also make sure to check out Dundas on WVUE Fox8 for Fashion Fridays, a regular segment during which she shares with viewers some styling tips, trends, makeovers, and DIY projects.