Born in the 1920's, in 1949 Herbert Gallen started a company for womenswear and he chose the name "Ellen Tracy" because it sounded nice, actually Ellen Tracy doesn't exist.
He grew up in Patterson, New Jersey, the grandson of a silk mill owner and son of a fabric manufacturer. Ironically, he never planned to become involved in the apparel industry. After graduating from high school, he went to work for an uncle who owned more than two-dozen auto supply stores. Gallen ran his own store before serving a stint in the army, and was still involved in the auto parts business during World War II. Because of wartime restrictions, fabric became difficult to acquire and he recognized a chance to take advantage of his Patterson connections to move into the apparel industry. With fabric procured from a friend, he produced several sample blouses, which he then took to the major department stores located on Manhattan's 34th Street. He visited Franklin Simon and immediately sold every blouse he had, a successful launch of a new business. For the next few years he produced plain-looking blouses, using his wife's name, Betty Barr, for a label. Along with a sales manager he opened a showroom on Third Avenue that also served as a warehouse and shipping point for the blouses he had produced in Manhattan. In 1949, with financial backing from a partner named Mike Brawer, Gallen formed a new company, which he called Ellen Tracy, a name he made up in the belief that a women's line should feature a woman's name.
Ellen Tracy blouses sold $28.50 to $30 a dozen at wholesale to such customers as Oppenheim Collins, B. Altman, and Macy's. As the business began to grow, Gallen hired more people, moved to a larger showroom, and opened a warehouse in Hackensack, New Jersey. Manhattan production also was supplemented by contractors in Pennsylvania. It was not until the early 1960s that the company began to do some manufacturing overseas. Gallen was very much a hands-on owner, involved in all aspects of the business, earning a reputation as a perfectionist. He hired a designer to produce more attractive garments, and over the course of a dozen years went through several designers before hiring a recent college graduate named Linda Allard who over the next 40 years would be instrumental in helping him build Ellen Tracy into an important bridge label. Linda has been designing for the company since then. In 1984 her name was added to the label, it is now "Linda Allard for Ellen Tracy."
Allard grew up on a farm in Doylestown, Ohio, her father a civil engineer and her mother a first grade teacher and 4-H Club adviser. By age ten she was designing outfits for her paper dolls. Along with her two sisters she learned to sew from their mother, who refused to accept anything less than excellent work. As a teenager she began to make her own clothes and although she knew she wanted to involve her life in some way with clothing she was simply unaware that fashion school was an option. Instead she went to Kent State University after winning a fine arts scholarship. There she was able to take a few pattern-making courses, but her art curriculum was essentially geared toward producing school teachers, which held no appeal for Allard. For a senior-year project she held her first fashion show and assembled a portfolio of photographs, revealing both a drive to succeed as well as ingenuity. To find models she approached friends, offering to make an outfit they could keep if they participated in the show, not to mention bought the fabric. She also received a glimpse of New York after winning a month-long internship with Mademoiselle in a guest editor contest.
After graduating from Kent State, with $200 from her parents in her purse, Allard took the Greyhound bus to New York, checked into a women's hotel, and began to search for a job in the fashion industry. She assumed it would be a short-term career, followed by marriage and a life devoted to raising a family. With no contacts and little knowledge, she naively went door-to-door in Manhattan's garment district asking if anyone was in need of an assistant designer. No one was interested, including Ellen Tracy at first. After three weeks, with her money all but exhausted and facing the prospect of returning home, she was asked to return to Ellen Tracy to interview with Gallen. His designer at the time was Dorothy Avazian, who according to Gallen had recently angered him: "She showed me things I didn't like, and the sales manager said there was a girl who was here earlier in the week, and we called her in." Allard's memory of their meeting was vivid: "It was 2 p.m. on September 27, 1962, a fateful day. I sat across from Mr. Gallen and it happened to be a really lousy, New York, rainy, drenched day. I think he felt I was desperate for a job. He looked at my portfolio and asked, 'How much money would you like to make?' Well, I hadn't even thought about that. So I said, 'I would like to make $50 a week.' He said, 'Sorry, but if you'll take $60, you can have a job.'"
Allard became Avazian's assistant and learned the technical side of the garment industry before being allowed to try her hand at designing. After Avazian quit in 1964, Gallen asked Allard if she was interested in taking over the collection, and despite a fear of failure she accepted, becoming director of design. Ellen Tracy at this point was still devoted to the business of producing quality blouses, as well as shirtwaist dresses. It was also a time when women's work attire was a suit, hat, gloves, and high heels, but the 1960s, a decade that produced a wide range of social changes, would soon see a more youthful, casual approach to fashion, one that a young designer like Linda Allard would be well able to exploit. The first move into sportswear for Ellen Tracy was a white ottoman peacoat with brass buttons and sailor pants that Allard designed. The blazer was a major departure for the label, as well as being expensive, yet it sold by the thousands and established Ellen Tracy in the junior sportswear sector.
In 1991 she launched COMPANY, a lower priced line designed for weekend and casual work dressing. Allard also designed shoes, evening wear, and accessories.
After working with Gallen for nearly 40 years, as a loving partnership, Linda and Herbert were married to each other in 2001.
Linda Allard graduated from Kent State University in 1962 and has always kept contact with her alma mater. She has created the Linda M. Allard Medallion Scholarship there and hosts fund-raising galas regularly.
Kent State conferred a Doctorate of Humane Letters degree upon Herbert Gallen in 2003 for his leadership in the fashion industry, and also to express gratitude for sharing his expertise with students at the Kent State Fashion School. He also was thanked for establishing a scholarship and endowment fund in 1985 to support students.
An exhibition of 50 examples of Linda's designs has been presented in Autumn 2004, at Kent State University, running through to January 2005. This shows nearly 40 years of her creativity and fashion success.
To advertise their products, Ellen Tracy use many beautiful models, but one has been with them for many years now, Cindy Crawford, who joined them in 1987. She is very much the signature of Ellen Tracy. In the year 2001 she signed a $10 million dollar contract with Ellen Tracy. Linda Allard said at the time "she is a wonderful face for us".
Ellen Tracy completed their 50th anniversary in 1999.
Charles Nolan (later with Anne Klein) was a designer there for 11 years, from 1988 or so till around 1999.
Elegant, sophisticated looks to take you from the desk to dinner. Ellen Tracy initiated the concept of the total wardrobe for the working woman. Ellen Tracy makes elegant sensible clothes for women, nothing radical or shocking. They realize that 90% of women do not have supermodel bodies and they focus on the customer, not temporary fashion trends.
Those with tailored tastes who have to multi-task, like women who work and travel, or who also have kids in addition to a glam career, like Cindy Crawford and Stephanie Seymour.