Jesse Call (née Smith) earned the nickname “Grace” as a child because she was so clumsy, and says she’s just as clumsy as an adult. “I didn’t have any grace about me. When I started designing these clothes people would joke with me and say, ‘These clothes are so graceful and you’re so not!’”
Western Grace, Call’s line of women’s apparel—flowing skirts, tailored jackets and vests, lace and silk tops, as well as some leather cuffs and belts—is a far cry from how the overall-wearing tomboy dressed growing up in a small Ohio farming town. “I didn’t have a care about being girly or anything like that. If I couldn’t wear it with boots I wasn’t going to wear it!” Call says.
Call continued to struggle with expressing her own personal style as an undergraduate. “I would want to wear my cowboy boots and look nice, and dress nice, but I would search all over—go to every shopping mall and every store I could think of—and not find what I had in my mind or [that I] had envisioned wearing with cowboy boots.”
It was then Call realized she could use her love for art and build the garments of her dreams. “It just kind of meshed together,” she explains.
Call and her husband have worked on cattle ranches since 2009, in Nevada, Wyoming, Colorado, and now, New Mexico. When she needs a break from sewing, she goes out and works on the ranch.
“Most of my inspiration is from working out on the ranch with my husband, and just kind of living the Western lifestyle,” Call says. She also finds inspiration from the old Western films she and her husband love to watch. “Sometimes people will see something of mine and they’re like, ‘That kind of looks like something John Wayne’s girlfriend would wear.’”
Call learned a lot about the functionality of Western clothing while working through a Wyoming winter. “I had to make some garments to wear out in negative 20 degree weather, so I would maybe use more silk and wool fabric. But now that I’m in New Mexico and it’s warmer, and especially for my stores in Fort Worth, silk and wool aren’t so great.”
Call sources most of her materials on biannual trips to Los Angeles and says she tries to get everything American-made, even though it means less profit. Sometimes the fabric itself inspires her designs, but most often her garments start in sketch form, occasionally alongside magazine clippings. Call creates her own patterns, which she says is more difficult, but allows her to develop the entire product as her own.
She has spent up to sixty hours on some pieces, such as the 30-pattern jacket currently in her workshop. All in all, a single design typically takes months to get from paper to hangar.
One of Call’s top selling items is the Tinkerbell Skirt, which she says customers from twenty-five years to seventy years old love. Other popular items are the Wool Herringbone Vest and Long Ruffled Skirt in black.
“I don’t think you can ever have enough of great classic pieces that you know you’re going to invest in, that you’re going to have for ten or twenty years, and they’re not going to fall apart or go out of style,” Call says.
After graduating at the top of her class at Columbus College of Art and Design, and working as a pattern maker in Denver, Call made the life-changing decision to pursue a one-year internship with world-famous fashion designer Manuel.
“You can learn so much from just sewing and repetition, but learning from someone who’s been sewing for sixty years is just off the charts,” Call says. “If you’re going to present it—if it has you’re name on it—it has to be the best of the best. He really instilled that in me,” she adds.
Call founded Western Grace in 2004, but has only been working full time for two years. She now partners with a handful of wholesale suppliers to create exclusive looks for their elite customers. In the last year, however, she says her business has transitioned to primarily retail.
“I don’t think anything good happens overnight, and I feel like if it would have happened overnight, I wouldn’t appreciate all the sweat and tears that I put into it. But I tell God every day that if I become famous tomorrow I’d still be humble and I’d still be thankful!” Call laughs.
Western Grace apparel can be purchased online at www.westerngrace.com as well as in select retailers in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Denver, Colorado, and Fort Worth, Texas. Prices range from $200 to $2,250.