Tracy Russ and Candice Langston started SOLID, a branding, marketing and civic engagement design agency, last year. Based out of a stylish office in Plaza Midwood, the two are a force for good – working with clients such as the World Wildlife Fund, Foundation for the Carolinas and the Knight Foundation. But the do-gooders know clothes convey a message. We caught up with them recently to talk about dressing the part. Answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Tell me about your work and how you work together.
Tracy Russ: Candice and I share similar views and philosophies of how people, organizations and movements connect to change. SOLID really is a manifestation of our shared philosophies. As native Charlotteans and people who grew up in the ’70s, we share a love of Sid & Marty Krofft Productions like “Land of the Lost,” and Charlotte landmarks such as Freedom Park, the old Pterodactyl Club and 704 area codes.
Candice Langston: Not only are we both native Charlotteans, but we’re the same age (47), we’re both only children and we have similar quirks. We’ve been friends for 12 years and had done a lot of volunteer work together before he called me to work with him. The first thing we each did when we started was buy power bags.
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CL: How you carry your stuff is as important as your actual stuff. Last year, I treated myself to a gorgeous Gucci bag that I can use as a handbag, but it also fits my laptop. I’ll have it forever. Tracy’s MCM power bag is supple Corinthian leather that gets us tables at fancy restaurants.
What’s your proudest professional moment?
TR: I served as chief marketing officer for the 2012 Democratic National Convention host committee. Welcoming 35,000 guests from around the world to my hometown was my dream job …
Tracy Russ High school: “Mustangs, baby!” (Myers Park High). College: Guilford. Partner: Ian Leonard. (“He looks great in hoodies, suits and everything in between.) Quote: “If you have to choose what to spend money on, spend it on shoes.”
CL: The first TEDxCharlotte in 2010 was special because it was huge and it was Charlotte’s first “creative conference” of that ilk. Back then, hardly anyone knew what TED was, and people came to it because they trusted me to not waste their time. That day, I wore a sensible black Diane von Furstenberg dress and Bettye Mueller kitten heels that said, “I’m here to help you with registration.”
You actually brought TEDx to town, right? You were more than the nametag girl ... But you mentioned what you wore on that big day. Tell me more about your work look.
CL: I did indeed bring TEDx to town! I was the first licensee and lead organizer. I don’t believe in wearing anyone else’s “uniform.” I wear what I like. My clothes are, like, next-level comfortable. I can’t be groundbreaking if I’m itchy. I love a turtleneck. I feel naked without huge hoop earrings. I also love subtle, humorous details, like the bunny ears and tail on my sneakers. Most days, I feel like Audrey Hepburn crossed with Hello Kitty.
Candice Langston High school: “You can take the girl out of Garinger, but you can’t take Garinger out of the girl.” College: Queens University of Charlotte; MBA and master’s in arts administration from Southern Methodist University. Spouse: Felix von Uklanski. (“He’s also well-dressed.”) Quote: “I can’t be groundbreaking if I’m itchy.”
TR: When Candice won’t allow me to wear my “Star Trek” uniforms to work, I go for a mix of distinctive shoes, fun socks, tailored shirts and jackets along with slim-cut trousers that I’m comfortable in and that fit my creative side. I love suits and will go for a tailored cut, dark color with faint pinstripes that are just enough to impart that I’m not a banker, but not quite Gatsby. Then I go home and put my “Star Trek” uniform on. That may or may not be a joke. Live long and tailor.
How do you dress for a typical day? (Assuming a typical day does not involve you on the Starship Enterprise.)
TR: I find it very difficult to sit still. So, my wardrobe choices have to be flexible, tailored neatly but not constrictive. I loathe the words “slacks,” “synthetic,” “blend” and “shoulder pads,” so you won’t find those on me any day. On days we’re with clients, I go for suits. When it’s just us in the office, I tend to go more casual. Unless I know Candice is going to look amazing. Then I go for suits and fume that men don’t have more choices.
CL: On office days, I’m in “lounge” mode, which usually involves a lot of jersey. We move around town a lot, so I hardly ever wear heels during the day, and I never wear skirts. I love loafers and ballet flats and have dozens of pairs that, to an untrained eye, all look the same. Emma Hope and Ann Mashburn are my favorite places to shop and both are luxurious treats, but I also love Zara. CLTCH is my new favorite place for accessories because they have things no one else has.
Emma Hope and Ann Mashburn? Can you explain for the uninitiated?
CL: Emma Hope is a British shoe designer (www.emmahope.com). Her shoes are made by hand and are dainty and feminine, but they last forever. Ann Mashburn (www.annmashburn.com) is a boutique I discovered in Atlanta that has simple, stylish clothes, shoes and accessories for men and women. It's very modern Southern, and their clothes work for work and everything else.
What advice do you have for someone just starting out in a creative field? How can they look the part?
TR: Don’t buy clothing based on price alone – whether that’s cheap or expensive. Go for fit and fabric. If you have to choose what to spend money on, spend it on shoes.
CL: Pay attention to what the people at the top of your field are wearing – not to copy them, but to understand the mindset. Details matter. Invest in great shoes, and get a manicure.
Do you follow trends?
TR: Trends are for Pantone. I tend to go for looks that actually might be classic, even retro, before I’ll go for anything that popped out of a trend. I have always wanted to wear a Nehru jacket, though. Food trucks: That’s a trend I can go for, though!
CL: Oy vey! It’s all about figuring out which ones are right for you and cleverly working them into your wardrobe. I would never wear anything simply because it’s trendy. I can’t remember the last time I did. Perhaps pashminas?
Tracy, you said Candice won’t allow you to wear “Star Trek” uniforms to work. Does she ever give you fashion advice? Do you offer it to her?
TR: With Candice, no advice is given or required. We did see a vintage party dress while we were in Palm Springs at a consignment shop that I was convinced had to have been Dinah Shore’s. I begged her to get it.
CL: Palm Springs! We do share an obsession with all things Palm Springs. We would catfight over a Pucci caftan. Tracy doesn’t need fashion advice. From time to time, I send him pictures of things I think he should get. Now that you mention it, I would love to see him in a pea coat.
What took you to Palm Springs?
CL: We went for TEDActive, the live simulcast of the TED conference. We were there for five days with a few hundred other TEDx organizers and got to do cool things like have dinner at the Lucille Ball/Desi Arnaz house and sing karaoke in a renovated RV.
Describe your work look in three words.
TR: The right mix.
CL: “Sorry. Not sorry.” At this point in my career, I wear what I like.