"Truthfully, I've been dreaming of and building a collection in my head since I was in high school," Tracee Ellis Ross, star of ABC hit comedy (and one of my favorite shows) "Black-ish" and fashion professional, told Fashionista at the launch party for her holiday capsule collection with JCPenney. "I was born into the love of clothing, honestly. It's in my genes."
After all, the she is entertainment royalty (you may have heard that her mom is Diana Ross). The triple-threat — who recently showed off her pure fire talents in the "Hamilton"-inspired season premiere of "Black-ish" — impressively forged her own path (and worked her ass off) in the industry. She won a Golden Globe in January for her work on the show — adding to her collection of six NAACP awards and a BET Comedy honor, thank you very much. As for her legit fashion cred, Ellis Ross started modeling in her teens — her walk with the supes in Thierry Mugler's Spring 1991 "Butterfly" collection is the stuff of fashion legend — and also held contributing editor positions at Mirabella and New York magazine.
"I feel so ready for this, with the platform of 'Black-ish' and where I am in my life and career," she said. "It's been a lot of work because I felt very strongly that I wanted to have my hand in every aspect — from designing every piece to choosing the models to finding the photographer and styling the looks and everything was all my heart — which is a lot while you're shooting a show, but it's been fantastic."
The 45-piece Tracee Ellis Ross for JCPenney collection, which launches on Nov. 12, includes a comprehensive range of clothing — from pajamas to athleisure to the very chic persimmon robe-jacket and wide-leg trouser set that the designer wore to the party — accessories, home and gift items. A rack of the hero pieces from the collection were on display on the rooftop of the Nomad hotel, including the very "Glow" fuchsia pailette T-shirt dress she wore around town the other day — with white sneakers — and a sleek, tailored and expensive-looking black tuxedo set that she wore on "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert."
"The main thing that I wanted to put in this collection was a tux, but I didn't know if it was possible at a low price point, because I didn't want anything over $100," Ellis Ross explained. While entrenched in the design and production discussions for the line, she discovered that the addition of pockets (and not lining) would hike up the price. "So no pockets!" she said. Apparel runs from $29 to $74 and accessories from $19 to $24, including the adorable leather-ette (and very leather-like) drawstring pouch she coordinated with her outfit.
"Nineteen dollars!" Ellis Ross exclaimed, as she gestured to her pink version that matched her (designer) heels. Along with accessibility, inclusivity was tantamount to her collection. Sizing runs from small to 3X and the ethos carries through to the marketing campaign featuring a diverse range of women reflecting the collection.
"It was really important to me to have an age range and body-type range when I designed the collection," Ellis Ross explained. "I really believe women are beautiful in all shape, sizes, colors and ages — all of it. Beauty is about the individual. Beauty is about choice. Beauty is about personal desire and what that means to you as an individual. So I really wanted this collection to be joyful and armor-ful, you know? To empower women to feel good in their skin and to feel joyful in their clothes."
Possibly reflecting Ellis Ross's past experience as fashion editor and runway model, the collection's very holiday party-friendly pieces, including the aforementioned "Glow" and a gold sequin-covered midi-length dress, also look forward to the spring 2018 runway. Of course, she also has additional fashion week experience these days gracing the FROW as a celebrity guest, including Rodarte's outing during the Paris couture shows in July. So does Ellis Ross, like many in the industry, lament that fashion week just isn't the same anymore?
"It isn't. It just isn't. I mean for so many reasons," Ellis Ross said. "First of all, there was no runway ... what do you call it? The vogue.com app? Vogue Runway. There was no app. Everyone was sketching. When I was working for Grace Mirabella and Jade Hobsin Charnin [former Creative Director] at New York magazine, they sketched. Grace Coddington still sketches sometimes. It's just a very different vibe and different energy and it wasn't about the celebrities in the front row. It was about editors and selling the line and getting that stuff in the magazines and the right magazines and those relationships. It is very different. It's still exciting to go to a runway show, though."
It's also exciting for us to see her in the front row — and the red carpets and promo outings that she's been just killing, with a little help from Karla Welch. Ellis Ross started working with the uber-stylist for this year's Met Gala, for which she was notably one of the few who actually wore Commes des Garçons. Although the star neglected to mention to her stylist that she was working on a fashion collection.
"I was coming to New York for press and I had my fitting [with Welch] and I brought the key pieces [from the JCPenney collection] I wanted to wear," Ellis Ross said. "We just put them on the rack with everything else to see if they would hold up — and they did."
We'll also keep a lookout for Tracee Ellis Ross for JCPenney pieces on "Black-ish," which is a very fashion-y show in its own right. Yara Shahidi's character, eldest daughter Zoe, interned at Teen Vogue, dad Dre (Anthony Anderson) has a sneaker collection that would make hypebeasts salivate and — in one of my favorite moments — Ellis Ross, as Johnson family matriarch Rainbow, shades her husband for not recognizing the chicness of an Isabel Marant romper.
"One of the things when I created that character, with the writers and everybody and the costume designer [Stacy Beverly in season one], it was very important to me that hair, makeup and clothing-wise that this was authentic," she explained, about the importance of fashion on the show. "That [Rainbow] looked like a woman who had a great wardrobe of clothes that she pulled from and repeated clothing. Not somebody who was styled or had somebody do her makeup."
Also reflecting real, authentic life, the Johnson family members enjoy a little competition over who is the true fashion person in the household. "It's so funny because Dre thinks he's the fashion guy," Ellis Ross laughed. "Because in one of these episodes and I say something like, 'I'm a fashionista' and he was like, 'OK, settle down.''
Tracee Ellis Ross for JCPenney launches on Nov. 12 at dedicated JCPenney shop-in-shop locations and online at jcp.com/TraceeEllisRoss. (The Glow dresses will be available to purchase online at jcpenney.com prior to the launch for JCPenney Rewards members.)