Meet today’s FACE of Birmingham, wardrobe consultant and stylist Tracy James of ChicMadeSimple. Tracy has been revamping closets and providing personal shopping services for Birmingham’s women, men, teens and tweens since 2000. She also started the original fashion camp and continues the program today helping young girls develop self-esteem and confidence, while also learning about fashion.
Tell us about your business, ChicMadeSimple, and how you got into the fashion styling business.
I’ve been working as a freelance fashion consultant and wardrobe stylist with my business ChicMadeSimple for 13 years, but I’ve been a fashion fan for as long as I can remember. In junior high biology class, our teacher with a rather sick sense of humor offered bonus points to “make something” out of the rat pelt leftover from our lab dissection. Gross, yes, but I didn’t miss a chance for bonus points. Boys made knife sheaths and pocket protectors. I dyed mine fuchsia (still my favorite color) and made a hair barrette that was the envy of my classmates.
While you would certainly think a rat pelt would rocket me to styling stardom, alas, it took several detours and dabbles in other career interests before I landed in fashion. After my dad died in December of ’97, I was ready for a fresh start. I had some friends at the Parisian corporate office, so I began by assisting with their runway shows and other events. Eventually they trusted me enough with events of my own, so I traveled to different stores producing shows and seminars. Thanks to them, I would fully realize my passion, and in the year 2000, ChicMadeSimple was officially born. The name of my business refers to the educational experience I create for my clients, so that they can learn to shop for and style themselves.
As a wardrobe consultant, what kind of services do you offer and what kind of clients do you serve?
My experience and expertise runs the gamut from fashion events like runway shows and corporate wardrobe seminars, to photo styling for advertisements, editorial and personal use (head shots, family Christmas cards, etc.), to fashion writing for publications like B-Metro and The Birmingham News, to services for individual clients, like personal shopping and What Not to Wear-style closet revamps. Contrary to popular belief, the majority of my clients are not wealthy and/or celebrities. In fact, I operate with the strong opinion that stylists should be accessible to the general public; I serve men, women, teens, tweens and kids alike. So many struggle with deciphering their personal style, finding items that fit and flatter body type, and doing all within a reasonable budget. I adore a challenge, so give me a plus-size woman with only $250 to spend for her 25th high school reunion weekend, and I’ll rise to the occasion to help her feel her most beautiful.
You started Fashion Camp for young girls in the area 6 years ago. Tell us about that.
Six years ago, The Summit approached me about doing something for kids during the summer. The stores became classrooms for the girls who were my students to learn about the importance of individuality, healthy self-expression, positive self-image and grace, along with practical lessons on coordinating, wardrobing, accessorizing, deciphering and communicating likes/dislikes, and manners, just to name a few! I am extremely passionate about relaying to young girls the message that style doesn’t come in a particular size, shape, or price point, but rather that their uniqueness is what makes them the most stylish. Spending time with these young ladies is one of the most rewarding tasks I do all year.
What is your “must-have” purchase for fall 2013?
Much to my dismay, I told myself last fall that this year I would finally replace my all-time-fave, go-with-everything metallic Donald Pliner Couture boots. When I discovered them (maybe 7 years ago?), I liked them so much I bought them in both color offerings (pewter and bronze), something I rarely do. The boots are still super stylish, but are looking a little worse for the wear. During an interview with Mr. Pliner himself a few years ago, I put in my request for a repeat of his masterpiece design, but so far he has only produced similar versions with heels too low for this chick. So let the search begin.
What celebrity’s closet would you most like to have?
Victoria Beckham. Her wardrobe choices are feminine, but with an edgy vibe or fashion forward element. And she shares my penchant for flirty dresses and sky high heels.
What fashion item would you never be caught dead wearing?
As much as I like heels, I am not a fan of the high top, platform, and often bedazzled, sneakers that have been trending. In a word, NO.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
I’m going to give three, not only because they all came from the same friend, but also because I’ve applied them to my life recently.
1) Bet on yourself. Some great things have happened when I’ve stopped second guessing myself and taken a risk.
2) The success you achieve depends on the decisions you make and the company you keep. Every action matters, and being surrounded by positive people who applaud good life choices is invaluable.
3) Just be. Too often, I over think, over analyze and agonize, when in reality I need to step back, relax and just “be.”
What advice would you give to others?
In a word, forgive. As the saying goes, “Resentment is like swallowing poison and waiting for the other person to die.” Choosing to forgive is valuing peace over vengeance and sometimes, fairness. But in my experience it has been the right choice every time. Resentment is a luxury not worth the price.
What is your favorite thing to do to relax?
In town, a yoga class. Out of town, a solo walk on the beach.
Favorite thing to do on a Saturday night?
An intimate dinner party with friends filled with debate, storytelling and laughter.
Favorite local restaurant?
Urban Cookhouse for lunch and Chez FonFon for dinner
What are you listening to these days?
I’m pretty addicted to Pandora, constantly thumbs-upping and downing songs to customize my selections, which are wildly eccentric, from The Civil Wars and Mumford & Sons to the trip hop I often select for fashion events, like Massive Attack, Zero 7, Rob Dougan and Morcheeba. I’m also enjoying Birmingham Mountain Radio, especially now that it has made it to FM. BMR’s Scott Register is to be applauded for what he has done for progressing Birmingham’s music scene.
What books are you currently reading?
I’ve been in the same book club with girlfriends for over 10 years. Our last book selection was The Light Between the Oceans by M.L. Stedman.
If your house was on fire what’s the one thing you would grab?
Honestly, I’m not a sentimentalist, so I would just be thankful to get myself out of harm’s way. In addition, throughout my life, and especially in the past couple of years, I’ve realized that the most important things in life are not ones that can be grabbed in a few seconds. And when you have experienced losing those true valuables (a parent, a marriage, a stepchild, a dog), anything else just seems superficial.
Name three things you can’t live without (excluding friends, family and God).
My dog, big salads, and good sheets.
Thanks for sharing, Tracy! For more information on the services Tracy provides, visit her website ChicMadeSimple.
And a big thank you to Beth Hontzas for today’s fabulous photos. To see more of Beth’s work and follow her blog, check out her website at www.bethhontzas.com!