Tracee Ellis Ross has had no shortage of epic fashion moments: her Comme des Garçons look for the 2017 Met Gala, the Rosie Assoulin wrap dress for the 2017 MTV Movie and TV Awards, the breathtaking Chanel Haute Couture gown for the 2017 Emmys… and those are just from this summer. Over the years, the actress has become as beloved for her playful, experimental approach to style as she has for her iconic roles in series like Girlfriends and Black-ish. And yet, Ross had never designed her own clothing collection—until now, that is.
“I really have been dreaming [of] and creating my collection in my head since I was in college and high school,” Ross tells Glamour at the preview for her first-ever clothing line, created in partnership with J.C. Penney. “I always have felt that looking great does not have to cost a lot of money, and that fashion, style, and beauty should be accessible to everybody. So, when J.C. Penney came forward, the timing presented itself. It was just perfect.”
The collaboration, which is timed for holiday and launches on November 12, was announced on October 9—and as soon as Ross started sharing stills from the lookbook and began wearing select pieces while doing press for the new season of Black-ish, people began sharing their excitement. Though we’ve seen a few of the head-to-toe looks, including a pink sequin dress called “Glow” and a tux dubbed “Heaven,” the actress-turned designer is quick to remind us that we’ve only scratched the surface of Tracee Ellis Ross for J.C. Penney: “There are 45 pieces in the line—I only posted, like, five.”
The capsule consists of apparel, accessories and home goods, which are all accessibly priced (the most expensive item in the collection is $74) and sized (the ready-to-wear goes from small to 3X). “I’ll just say that women are beautiful in all shapes and sizes and colors, so it was very important to me not only that people could have access to beauty and style and great clothes, but that they would fit and look good on everyone,” Ross explains. “Just because you do it in a large size doesn’t mean it’s going to work on all body types.”
There are high-waisted wide-leg trousers, wrap coats, stretchy dresses—silhouettes that are versatile, rendered in the bold colors, peppy prints, and luxe textures Ross frequently wears herself. The moment it all clicked for her was when they shot the campaign on a diverse group of models, which Ross casted herself, and saw how the pieces looked on a range of bodies. “I got real teary,” she remembers.
“[The collection] is so me and I have been itching to wear this stuff since I got my samples, but had to wait until October 9, until the announcement.” Now that the news is out, Ross hasn’t wasted any time in wearing the hell out of her own line: She’s been spotted in the sequined “Glow” dress, the “Heaven” tux, the printed “Glorious” dress, and the red wrap coat with matching trousers. And hey, wouldn’t you if you had clothing samples with your name on the tag hanging in your closets for two months? One person she was eager to show the pieces to was her stylist Karla Welch, who she’s been working with since the most recent Met Gala. Ross was traveling to New York to do press, she says, and brought along “the key pieces that I know I wanted to wear, like the tux. We just hung them on the rack with everything else and decided if they actually held up—and they worked!”
For J.C. Penney, partnering with Ross is part of its effort to have “a more contemporary offering,” according to Marvin Ellison, the retailer’s CEO. “J.C. Penney has always been known for more traditional, more career-oriented clothing, and we want to invite in a customer that loves more modern, more contemporary apparel,” he tells Glamour. “We think [Tracee Ellis Ross for J.C. Penney] does that for us.” More importantly, though, both parties share certain values, such as “a vision of helping every woman look fabulous, regardless of her size… and to do it on a great budget—I mean, we wanted to make this affordable for all economic statuses.”
“There’s a way that I use clothes,” Ross tells us. “I feel that clothing can be your armor and also your joy. I sort of [go] between the two: Sometimes it’s how I protect myself and sometimes it’s how I express myself. I feel like this collection has both—the tux is sort of your armor, and the “Glow” dress is your joy. Everything falls somewhere in between on those.” This approach to style goes back to her mother, Diana Ross: “I saw the glamour that my mom created, but, her being in that position, [fashion] gave her voice and choice and agency in her life. So, there’s a real connection to me around how I clothe myself and what it assists me in doing in my life.”
The pieces in this collection aren’t what you would expect to find at your local J.C. Penney, but it’s something you can expect from the retailer in the future, as it adapts to all the new ways people are shopping and engaging with fashion. “Our partnership with Sephora cosmetics has taught us about the millennial and more contemporary customer,” Ellison explains, such as: “if we can offer the customers something that is attractive to her at her budget, she will shop with us. We had this wonderful launch of Fenty Beauty at Sephora inside J.C. Penney, and it was an incredible success that taught us [that].”
We still have a few weeks to go until the official rollout of Tracee Ellis Ross for J.C. Penney (so mark your calendars for November 12.) And the newly-minted designer has a refreshing—and inspiring—point of view when it comes to how she hopes people respond to her inaugural collection: “I hope that women or men, whoever wants to wear this collection, feel empowered and joyful in their clothes—in these clothes—in their lives, and that they take them and turn them into everything they want to feel.”