published Thursday, April 24th, 2014

From Lookout to LA: Chattanooga area woman now designing dresses for the stars

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    Grammy Award-winning country music star Carrie Underwood wears one of Mary Alice Haney's designs.
    Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

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    The Haney collection includes the CoCo, a flowing red gown with an asymmetrical hemline.
    Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

As a child, Mary Alice Haney dreamed of creating beautiful fashions for glamorous people.

It’s no longer a dream.

A native of Lookout Mountain, Tenn., Haney is today a successful clothing designer known for fashions that reflect her reverence to classic designers Cristobal Balenciaga, Coco Chanel and James Galanos.

“I always looked at Vogue growing up and used to trace the dresses when I was a little girl,” says Haney, 42, who now lives in Los Angeles. “I loved movies like ‘Gigi’ and ‘My Fair Lady’ and was in awe of the costumes.

“When I became a fashion editor and celebrity stylist, I was always working with the actresses I dressed to create their own unique style. It was a natural progression for me to start designing.”

But her road to success wasn’t overnight.

From her high school days at Chattanooga’s Girls Preparatory School to college at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, where she went on a painting scholarship (including a year of study in Paris, France, at Parson’s School of Design) to American Film Institute in Los Angeles, where she received a master’s in production and costume design, Haney made a name for herself in the world of fashion.

“I wanted to move to Los Angeles after college, but my parents wouldn’t let me unless I was in graduate school,” she says. Being accepted as a student at the American Film Institute was good enough to get a thumbs up from her parents, Franklin and Emeline Haney, formerly of Lookout Mountain.

Her namesake company, Haney, was launched last December, along with its website, shophaney.com. On the website, her dress designs are individually named — the Amy, the Jessica, the Minnie, the Reese, among others — and range in price from about $1,800 to $6,600.

“I was nervous how my first collection would be received but when net-a-porter.com — promoted on its website as “the world’s premier online luxury fashion destination” — bought it, I knew we were on our way,” she says.

Among her clients are Carrie Underwood, Reese Witherspoon, Amy Smart, Jordana Brewster and Cobie Smulders.

Haney will introduce her fashions in Chattanooga on Saturday at a private trunk show.

“The trunk show is being held by some of my favorite people in Chattanooga, and it’s not open to the public because we needed to keep the numbers down,” she says. “I want to be able to give everyone personal time and attention at every trunk show. However, anyone can reach me and my team on my website to buy a dress and work with us to customize their own one of a kind Haney.”

Elizabeth Forrester, of Lookout Mountain, and a teacher at McCallie School, says she’s not at all surprised that her childhood friend has become a fashion designer. Forrester is serving as a hostess for Haney’s trunk show.

“Fashion has always been a passion for Mary Alice for as long as I’ve known her,” Forrester says. “She has impeccable taste. After being a celebrity stylist in Los Angeles, she found that many women are looking for gowns that are unique and that are perfectly styled for them but don’t want to pay couture prices. I love that her designs are sexy, yet understated. She really understands today’s modern woman.

“We are all so busy with work and children, but when it’s time to go out at night, we still love to put on gorgeous gowns in amazing fabrics and leave the chaos of our day behind for just a few hours,” Forrester says. “Her gowns are designed to make women feel glamorous, sexy and sophisticated, but, because each gown is customizable, women feel confident.”

Contact Karen Nazor Hill at khill@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6396.

about Karen Nazor Hill...

Feature writer Karen Nazor Hill covers fashion, design, home and gardening, pets, entertainment, human interest features and more. She also is an occasional news reporter and the Town Talk columnist. She previously worked for the Catholic newspaper Tennessee Register and was a reporter at the Chattanooga Free Press from 1985 to 1999, when the newspaper merged with the Chattanooga Times. She won a Society of Professional Journalists Golden Press third-place award in feature writing for ...

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