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For a lot of people, Danielle Brooks’ most memorable look might be the khaki fatigues she wears as Taystee Jefferson on the Netflix series Orange Is the New Black. Others may remember her modeling for leather jacket designer Jeff Cafone, or previously for Christian Siriano’s collaboration with Lane Bryant; the most dedicated fans may even have dutifully pinned the custom Sirianos she’s worn on the red carpet. Now, Brooks is trying something a little different — designing her own line with luxe plus-size purveyors Universal Standard.
The capsule collection is part of the brand’s ongoing Tria project, in which plus-size influencers work with Universal Standard designer Alexandra Waldman to create the pieces they’ve always dreamed of wearing but haven’t been able to find in their size. (Previous collaborators include models Candice Huffine, Georgia Pratt, and Katy Syme).
For Brooks, this meant well-tailored, upscale overalls (when news of the line first emerged in September, Brooks said she’d spent years searching for a pair “that weren’t too baggy in the crotch [and] that presented some type of wow factor”), an asymmetrically pleated shirtdress for dressing up or down, and a multi-way sweater dress with a flawlessly draped neckline.
“When we started to compose our wishlist of people we’d like to collaborate with for the next Tria Collection, Danielle was at the top,” Waldman tells Racked of her quadruple-threat collaborator. “She is so wonderful in every conceivable way.”
The feeling is mutual for Brooks, who calls stepping into the role of designer “exhilarating.” The team at Universal Standard made her feel like her voice mattered, she says (a rarity in an industry that often completely disregards plus-size women, celebrities included), and helped guide her through making her vision into a reality.
For many brands, the collaborative design process might be relegated to sketches and swatches. Not the case for Universal Standard and Brooks, who worked together meticulously to ensure proper fit and feel for a broad range of bodies. “There’s a lot more body diversity once you get into bigger sizes,” says Waldman. “We developed something called micro-grading, where we grade patterns differently between every size instead of using a formula. We also develop our own fabrics, most of which have built-in stretch, and put a lot of thought into the engineering of each piece.”
Brooks tells Racked that she loved “working with all of the luxurious fabrics and so many beautiful colors, and putting the clothes on my own body and making sure that they looked great — but most importantly, that they were comfortable, too.”
Want the Brooks look? The actress says she plans on styling her overalls (black brushed cotton twill, $120) “with a cool pair of Doc Martens, either a sheer top or a black turtleneck depending on the weather, and maybe a pin or two” — and her sweater dress (black or aubergine cashmere/wool, $190) with a white collared shirt and patent loafers, just like she did on her Universal Standard shoot. “The beauty of this dress is its versatility,” she says. “The neckline has enough material for you to rock as a hoodie, which I love!”
But it’s perhaps the shirtdress (black, rose, or teal cotton poplin, $110) for which she’s most excited — and with good reason.
“This piece comes to life when you add a really cool chunky necklace and knee-high boots,” she says, “or you can go casual and wear leggings or jeans underneath. And it has pockets! Who doesn't live for pockets?!”
The US x DB collection comes in sizes 10-28 and is available starting November 14th at Universal Standard.