Jeanne Dudley Smith’s design career started in the eighth grade and has brought her clients from debutantes, graduates and brides throughout the country, to high profile clients like Reese Witherspoon and Princess Grace. Yes, it is Nashville’s own Jeanne Smith who designed the dress that Princess Grace (Grace Kelley) is wearing in the official portrait hanging in the Throne Room in Monaco. A Nashville treasure, we are thrilled to feature Jeanne and her company, Jeanne’s Fantasia, for today’s FACES of Nashville.
What made you decide to embark on this career path?
I loved to draw dresses growing up, and when I was in the eighth grade at Parmer school I decided to draw a dress for every girl in my class. This was the key to popularity for me. One day that same year, a rep came from Stephens College and told us all about the design school there. So I signed up that day, and after high school I did go and loved every moment there. I was reading WWD every day at 14 and Town and Country magazine by then, as well.
Would you name three highlights of your career thus far?
The day I got a big order from Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus in the same day. Also the day I attended the Valentino show in Rome held on the Spanish Steps after attending art school in Italy. And, two years ago I was honored at the Tennessee State Museum for my designs and I donated some gowns to them. I was honored at a fashion show and party by the Museum and the Bal d’ Hiver.
Any advice for a young person trying to make it on their own with their own business?
I always say what my dad taught me, “Never give up.” If you have a disappointment in business, learn the lesson it carried and act on it. Use your intuition and go with it. I have had many girls work for me who have had great careers as well.One went to work for Alexander McQueen and several others to houses in Paris.
With all your travels to Mexico to check on your garments, do you find the country safe?
I have been to Mexico over two hundred times.Now I feel safe because I use common sense and do not go to dangerous areas. In fact, there are times I feel safer there than in Nashville. I tell people who are worried not to go because it can cause a problem just feeling uneasy, then acting that way. I have always said I take fear by the hand and say, “Let’s go.”
What books can be found on your bedside table?
I have all the big fashion books in my office and lots of fashion magazines near my bed. Now I am using Twyla Tharpe’s book called The Creative Habit. I have always felt that books on visualization are most helpful — if you can see it in your mind it is easiest to create it. I imagine my employees doing a perfect job on their work.
What is your “must-have” purchase for the rest of the year?
To be in the field, I do not have lots of wants. What I have wanted to add to my closet this season but am not finding because they were “IN” seasons past are a paprika belt and kelly green one. Also, long pants of a good cotton in bright colors. I often find all my wants in a consignment shop, very high end, called Victoria’s Closet, in Cashiers, NC.
Where is your favorite place to eat in Nashville?
Favorite place(s) in Nashville?
I love to go to Belle Meade Plantation. It has a wonderful atmosphere and memory for me of walking home from school on the grounds and pretending it was my home.
We love jazz clubs in Nashville, like F. Scott’s, and the Nashville Jazz workshop down in the old packing plant by the river is probably the best kept secret ever… what a place for Nashville Music lovers. I also, of course, love the Nashville Ballet, the Symphony and Opera. My other secret place — though not so secret anymore– is to go to the Alan Lequire Studio on Charlotte and see the Maestro at work!!!
Favorite attribute about yourself?
I think my main asset is being able to meet a lot of people and turn them into friends. I love putting people together and collecting them like jewels, because that is what they are.
Can you share a memory about how Nashville was versus how it is today?
I can remember when people could let their children go all over the neighborhood and stay out all day without a worry. I remember when we went roller skating at parties and ice skating at the park.
Name three things you can’t live without (excluding friends, family and God):
I cannot live without my car and my cell phone. My car takes me to wonderful places. My passion is travel and I have a creed to look for beauty in people places and things…wherever you go.
If you would like to inquire about a dress (she made my daughter’s 6th grade graduation dress and it wasn’t far more than the J Crew one I almost bought her) contact Jeanne at #615-352-1726. She works with women around the country.