TRACEY & DOUGLAS
A Dynamic Duo
Photographer: Kelvin Slade
Hair/Makeup: Kellie Vizcaya Johnson
Wardrobe: by Douglas Says
Tracey “Africa” Norman’s historical modeling career has come full circle over the past few years. Once Tracey shared her story with NY Magazine in 2015 about being discovered by photographer Irving Penn for Italian Vogue; being featured on that groundbreaking Clairol box; and later being outed and thus blackballed as a result of a photoshoot with Essence Magazine, it went viral. Since then Tracey has taken her place as a pioneering figure in the LGBT community, and rightfully so. Tracey was featured on the cover of OUT Magazine’s OUT100 issue as a “Legend.” She’s been recognized by Baltimore Black Pride, NYC Black Pride, The Better Brothers Truth Awards, and several other organizations. And finally, Tracey even reunited with Clairol as she was featured in their “Color As Real As You Are” campaign for Nice’n Easy. All with her BFF, designer Douglas Says by her side.
Often referred to as “The Dynamic Duo,” to call the two just friends would not be an accurate assessment of their connection. Tracey shares her thoughts about their friendship. “He has been with me through the bad and the good times. He has lifted me, encouraged me, supported me, and most of all he has given me unconditional love. He has adopted me into his family. He is and will always be my younger brother.” Chances are, when you see Tracey at an event, she is most likely wearing one of Douglas Says spectacular designs.
Style insiders recognize Douglas Says as one of the best kept secrets in fashion. One of the most important, yet under exposed designers in the business. A classically trained designer, Says’ garments make even the most beautiful women shine brighter. His designs reflect a very classic, elegant aesthetic with a modern, contemporary feel. Douglas’ work has appeared in Essence Magazine, Black Entertainment Television’s (BET) “R.I.P. The Runway,” in various indie films and several fashion shows throughout the world. Stories of his annual fashion shows in his hometown, Newark, New Jersey are EPIC!
We had a chance to chat with the “Dynamic Duo” about their friendship, their working relationship, life, and more.
SWERV: The two of you are often referred to as “The Dynamic Duo.” How do you feel about that title?
Douglas: When I first came across the title it was along side a photo of us, it made me smile, I think it’s because of the mystery that surrounds Tracey and the longevity of our friendship.
Tracey: OMG that’s so funny to me that we’ve been labeled “The Dynamic Duo.” To be honest with you I had no idea that people were saying that about us. Here’s the thing about titles, most times they’re hard to live up to. However, whenever me and any designer are invited out, it’s fashion etiquette to represent the designer by wearing his clothes. Which comes from my training as an international model.
SWERV: When did the two of you first meet?
Tracey: I remember I was booked to do a fashion show in Newark, we were backstage and Douglas asked me to wear one of his garments in the show, and sometime later I did a shooting in his clothes. Who knew that years later I’d become one of his “Douglette’s,” which is what the group of his favorite models were called. Around that time, I became his muse.
Douglas: Before we officially were introduced I’d only ever silently viewed her as she was whizzed in and out of dressing rooms at the bigger Jersey fashion shows. I first met Tracey at the end of 1979, she did a photo shoot for me wearing my clothes, however the photographer never released one single image until 2008. Later Tracey and I re-linked again in 1983 when she did my first fashion show, just after returning from Europe. Then again in 1987 and since that time to now, we’ve grown from friends to family.
SWERV: How would you describe your friendship?
Douglas: We’re as close to each other as anyone can be, we are chosen family.
Tracey: I’d describe my friendship with Douglas as an unconditional loving relationship. He’s been there for me through my ups and downs. He manages to keep me grounded. Recently he helped me through the deep depression of losing my mother. I was feeling as if I no longer had a purpose. Feeling alone and lonely, once I opened up and expressed my feeling with him, he was able to talk me off the ledge and make me smile again. What you don’t know is that Douglas is borderline stupid funny, so with his personality he was able to take my mind off of the haunting thoughts I was having of suicide. His encouragement and my faith in God, knowing that there aren’t any mistakes, and everything happens for a reason. Douglas and I have been friends for 32 years.
SWERV: Douglas – Tracey always looks amazing in your clothes. What makes her the perfect muse?
Douglas: Her love and understanding of clothing has been a great contribution to me at times, as well as her view on some of my items. She gives them a whole new feeling, which is a part of her personal style.
SWERV: Tracey – How does it feel wearing a Douglas Says original?
Tracey: The first thing I feel when I put on one of his garments is the ease of comfort and the feel of the quality of fabric against my body. I immediately stand tall with a sense of elegance and an overwhelming feeling of sexual femininity as I glide across the floor in all of his beautiful creations, which are one of a kind. And that in itself makes you feel special, giving one a sense of pride when wearing the clothes. Douglas’ designs for daytime are very sporty and flirty with a hint of elegance and an undertone of sexual excitement. The evening wear is full-on glamour mixed with sexy fitted dresses, exotic, unique long flowing gowns with beautiful trains and capes flowing behind as a model walks down the runway, all with an exciting burst of color.
SWERV: How would you describe your working relationship?
Douglas: Trusting. We both trust each other even if one of us is being hard headed at first. In the end, we both know that the other only has the best intentions in mind for the other.
Tracey: In the beginning, ours was your typical model/designer relationship. As a model you don’t have an opinion, you do what you’re told and wear what you’re given. But once our friendship started to develop I had an opinion and he had his. Yes, there were times we bumped heads (LOL, LOL, LOL). However now our working relationship has come full circle, he creates beautiful things with me in mind to wear for TV , cable and social nights out together. I love watching how far he’s come in his creativity and workmanship. It’s amazing to sit there watching him create a fantastic one-of-a-kind Douglas Says dress for me. His inspiration inspires me still to this day.
SWERV: Tracey’s story has been widely recognized over the past few years. How do you feel about this resurgence?
Douglas: Of course, I’m very happy for her and excited that she’s continued to support me by wearing my clothes with every venture.
Tracey: It’s amazing how everything has come full circle for me. I’m glad I listened to Douglas when he encouraged me to tell my story to New York Magazine, because after telling my story others followed like The London Times and Marie Claire Magazine (South Africa). Thankfully my story has helped with awareness in knowing that girls like me have been around since the beginning of time. I think what made my story special was because of me being a darker skinned woman of color, having landed those jobs. Which may I remind you, that every other working African American model went out on the casting for at the time. Yet I was booked and signed the contract with Clairol. That’s amazing when you stop and think about it, my legacy has been built from two major signings, Clairol’s hair color box and Ultra Sheen cosmetics. And now Coming back to work is a humbling blessing, everything’s come full circle for me, Clairol’s reemergence has me back appearing on national television. I also recently did a commercial for Lexus car company, as well appeared on India’s international cover of Harper’s Bazaar, with fashion pages on the inside. And another cover for Out Magazine, and still more great things coming out.
SWERV: Tracey – since Clairol and Italian Vogue have both recently re-appeared back in your life, would you be open to once again working with Essence Magazine?
Tracey: I would absolutely love to work with Essence Magazine again if that should ever happen. I would truly have come full circle in my modeling career, but since my story has been told not many Black publications have reached out to me. I’m not sure why.
SWERV: Please share one of your most memorable moments together.
Tracey: One of the funniest memories for me was this one particular collection where Douglas was obsessed with halters, and I’ve personally never liked halters. I always thought that halters made a girl’s back look larger than what it is. Yet he insisted on me wearing it in a show, so I’m walking and trying to make my back look as small as possible. So I’m arching my back and pulling my shoulders closer together, I felt that I looked ridiculous. At a later date, he photographed me wearing that same halter dress, once again I’m pulling the shoulders back, trying to be sexy in front of the camera. That was the good, the bad and the funniest day working With Mr. Douglas Says.
Douglas: Wow, off the top of my head, one night in the beginning of us hanging out back in 1987, she invited me
to her house for dinner, she made spaghetti. We sat down to eat, the sauce was so spicy that I was sweating with each bite I took. Then out of nowhere I saw something fly across the room. I looked over at Tracey and she had snatched off her wig and threw it clear across the room while letting out a sigh of relief. We looked at each other and fell out laughing.
SWERV: Douglas – what would you like people to know about Tracey?
Douglas: Well after growing together, I’d say I’ve never known someone so unselfish, funny, supportive, without any under lining jealousy. It always surprises me the response she gets when we’re out at a Ball. I’m always her escort, almost even invisible, therefore I see all the expressions, everyone’s always in awe of her.
SWERV: Tracey – what would you like people to know about Douglas?
Tracey: I would love for people to know that from the very first day that I met Douglas, I felt a sense of generosity and overwhelming feeling of kindness. He’s someone who will give you his shirt off his back if you needed it. I should know because in the beginning of our relationship and his admiration for me, he spoiled me. I knew I didn’t want to take advantage of that kindness and therefore I had to teach him to say no to me. Because I felt there was something more than just a model and designer relationship. Over the years I’ve seen people take advantage of his kindness and generosity.
SWERV: What’s next for you two, collectively and individually?
Douglas: I’m going to fasten my seat belt and ride the big ride until the wheels fall off.
Tracey: As far as Douglas and I, I’m happily working with him backstage doing makeup and helping him style his collection. There are a few things coming in the future, however I’m not able to mention them just yet.
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