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DR. DARLENE C. RITZ and Her One-Way Ticket Home.
It all started when Darlene was just six years old, when on a cold dark night on her way home from tap dance, she and her mother were gazing at the stars. They looked at the sky and envisioned a black velvet dress encrusted with crystals. This was her first fashion moment as she envisioned her mother wearing the gown they had both imagined. In high school, she would constantly find herself “doodling” fashion designs. In college, she went on to pursue and earn a Bachelor’s Degree in fashion design from Colorado State University (CSU). As she became of age, Darlene pursued her passions and followed her dreams to become the person she is today; a mother, a sister, a daughter, an educator, a leader and a brilliant fashion designer.
Ten days after graduating from CSU, Darlene moved to New York with two suitcases and $500 in traveler’s checks. As she was getting ready to embark on her new adventure, her father reassured her that no matter what, if she wanted to come back home he would buy her a one- way ticket home, no questions asked. With the full-hearted support of her family, she was able to pursue her dreams in New York.
Darlene designed women’s sportswear for several private labels, including UNIQLO of Japan. She then moved to Los Angeles to open the West Coast office of European textile Collections where she served as the Director of Sales and Marketing. Later, she would discover that she had a passion for teaching, and went on to educate the next generation of fashion professionals in Los Angeles, San Diego, and Denver.
For the past fourteen years of her life, Darlene has been dedicated to developing other artists while continuing her own education. She went on to receive her MBA and Ed.D. in organizational leadership. As a professor, Darlene is known to be rather strict, but she claims that it’s for her students own good. She takes pride in fully developing her designers and strives to bring out the best of them.
The summer of 2013 was life changing for Darlene. Her biggest role models, her parents, passed away, one after the other. “They were true soul mates,” Darlene said, “My father could not live without my mother.” Darlene would hug her mother’s clothing reminiscing how her mother was her fashion icon and hugging her clothes was like hugging her. It allowed for her to truly reconnect with how influential her mother had been throughout her life. One day Darlene found herself hugging her father’s tombstone crying and telling him she was ready for her one-way ticket home. She was tired and ready to come back to Colorado. The loss of her parents encouraged her to re-evaluate her life, and to live in the moment and love even harder.
A couple of weeks later, Darlene’s father answered her prayers. She was informed that the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design (RMCAD) was looking for a chair for their fashion department in Denver. This was Darlene’s one-way ticket home. RMCAD believes in scholar practitioners and this allowed Darlene to continue practicing her craft as an amazing seamstress and designer. By designing for several promotional activities she created more opportunities for the RMCAD’s fashion design program.
Her most recent designs were showcased at the Red Ball Fashion Show last November ‘16. Her students designed for Massif Aveda’s Hair Fashion Show and Gary Lee Day’s under her guidance. Darlene has also supported her students in “couture construction.” One of her students, Alex Abiola, was chosen to design DiMarcio Slaughter’s Pride Fest wardrobe. He was impressed with RMCAD and their professionalism which has led to further collaborations. As the chair of RMCAD’s Fashion Design department, Darlene has been able to continue to watch her students soar. Two of her students will be participating in the Green is the New Black Fashion Show in Carbondale, Colorado.
As Darlene started settling down in Denver, her best friend Cindy from high school, the very woman that inspired her to pursue a career in fashion design asked her to design her wedding gown. After 30 years of friendship, Darlene felt honored and this reminded her of why she fell in love with fashion in the first place. It was for heartwarming moments, such as watching her friend walk down the aisle, on one of the most important dates of her life wearing her design. This ultimately encouraged Darlene to finally create her own commercial line and label, DCR studios.
Darlene doesn’t necessarily care about the fame. As she prepares to launch DCR studios, her main goal is to make her clients feel good about themselves in the clothes that she designs. “Clothes should fit the body,” she quotes, “and beauty and confidence comes from the person, clothes should enhance that.” An interesting concept about Darlene’s designs is that she specifically bases her sizes off 10, 12, and 14 where most adult women fall. If there were one word to describe her collection she would describe it as an eclectic collection, as she is confident it’s going to be exciting and extraordinary.
So the ultimate question is, what should we expect when DCR studios finally hits the runways? Well, here’s a sneak peak; Game of Thrones meets warrior, meets ice princess, using a mix of materials such as navy suits, snakeskin, corsets, faux fur, and a chiffon cape. And if that doesn’t sound exciting enough, I invite you to go take a look for yourself, as she will be showcasing her designs at Denver’s Unique Week of Fashion and Denver Fashion Week(end) Spring ’17.
When asked what advice can she offer future fashion designers, Darlene suggested, “Find your niche, discover who you are, don’t try to out McQueen, and find where you fit in and build from there.” Besides being a fashion designer Darlene is just like the rest of us, she is a mother, a sister, a daughter, an educator, a leader and a dog lover. She is a brilliant and humble woman who simply loves. From doodler to designer, Darlene is a perfect example of dreams that come true and if we trust, we will always find our ticket home.
Written by Fashion Forward Correspondent, Leticia Rose MSc Fashion Management
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Photos by Teddy G / Xposer Photography