Known for its high style and iconic fashion tributes to the West, the Double D Ranch brand has garnered admirers from every walk of life. Celebrating 30 years in business, founders Audrey Franz and Cheryl McMullen share what has kept the flame burning through three decades of design.
Even after 30 years in the Western apparel industry, Audrey Franz and Cheryl McMullen, fearless leaders of the Double D Ranch brand, are still blazing a trail and have the stories to prove it. “It was like two or three weeks before the Grammys, and she’s like, ‘Oh yeah, I need something to wear!’” Franz recalls of one of the duo’s recent adventures. The “she” in question is Tanya Tucker, by the way. Franz and McMullen custom-outfitted her for the red carpet and after-parties on music’s biggest night. Reminiscing about the Grammy whirlwind produces many laughs as the sisters talk about handmade suits lost in the mail, flying in a yard of fabric for last-minute alterations, and the grand festivity known as a celebrity dress fitting.
The memories roll on from the Staples Center in Los Angeles to Broadway in Nashville, with Tucker still the main character. “We were shooting at her barn with her horses when she picked up a shirt and said, ‘This needs to be shot on Broadway,’ ” McMullen recalls. “So she loads everybody up on her show bus and I’m like, Oh, my gosh, we’re going down to Broadway with Tanya Tucker.”
These stories could reel in the attention of any country music admirer, but Franz and McMullen count them as another page of Double D Ranch history, a legacy they never knowingly set out to create. One anecdote they’ve told innumerable times is their origin story, a tale of an Indian blanket coat design that unintentionally launched their iconic Western apparel brand.
“We decided we were all going to go snow skiing in Taos [New Mexico] on a super-tight budget. I mean, we all piled into a two-room motel room,” McMullen recalls. “I came down off the mountain into Taos and got a glance of this man in the Indian blanket coat in the grocery store aisle.” Later that night at the dinner table, McMullen brought up the coat sighting, catching the ear of a nearby table. “This man from another table told me, ‘Oh, run down to this store and he’ll make you a blanket coat.’ ” Following the man’s advice, McMullen had her own blanket coat made and brought it back to Texas.
As soon as her father saw the Southwestern souvenir, he told her to take the design to market. With the original maker’s blessing, Franz and McMullen prepared to present the piece to market buyers. “We had a great little presentation there at Dallas Market, and then it just took off,” McMullen says. “We didn’t even know what we were doing, but people were placing orders, and it just got crazy.” With the hype of the original blanket coat still buzzing, people were already wondering what the sisters would be bringing to market next — even though they hadn’t planned on returning. “We were hoping to raise enough money to fund our ski trip for the next year and that was it,” McMullen says with a laugh.
While the birth of Double D Ranch wasn’t planned, the growth of the brand was certainly not by accident. The sisters were raised authentically Western and have used their many adventures as creative fodder for fashion collections from season to season. In fact, the underlying themes of their 30th-anniversary collection all pay homage to the people, places, and experiences dear to the Double D Ranch brand and those standing behind it. Dubbed I Go Back, the fall collection is full of hidden significance from colorways to garment names. As McMullen elaborates, “It’s going back and looking at things that have influenced Double D Ranch for the past 30 years,” McMullen says. “What has influenced our design aesthetic; what has put us here?”
In pondering that question, Franz and McMullen have dug into the roots of the journey to this milestone, noting every moment that signified a turning point or nudge of encouragement in business as well as life. Some of these influences stem from their South Texas upbringing, with deep family connections to both the people and the land. Others come from an appreciation of culture discovered through years of study and travel. To understand how these broad themes materialize in well-thought-out design, one must only listen to Franz and McMullen explain the vision of each of the four collections within I Go Back.
The I Go Back Collections From Cheryl McMullen
“Matagorda basically represents Audrey, [our sister] Hedy, and my growing-up years. It’s very ’70s-influenced, as well as by the places we’ve traveled. Lots of quarter horse racing and Native American history comes in, and because we were so close to the Mexican border, Mexican influence comes in as well.”
“Cody is based around not only Buffalo Bill Cody, the showman, but also a trip we took to Cody, Wyoming, to the Buffalo Bill Museum early on in our business years. That trip and museum have influenced our aesthetic and design throughout the past 30 years.”
“Nashville is basically the soundtrack to us growing up — not only the music coming out of Nashville but also the outfits. Think Nudie suits, things like that.”
“Taos is where we originally started and got the blanket-coat idea. [The collection] again is influenced by Native American blanket patterns, Millicent Rogers, and the Millicent Rogers Museum in Taos.”
While the design direction points to retro motifs in I Go Back, the collection is designed from a clean slate — no direct re-creations. “I didn’t want to go back and repeat anything that we’ve done in the past,” McMullen says. “There are little nods throughout each collection to the original blanket coat or the original scout jacket. It will look familiar but it will also look fresh.”
Even after 30 years of knockout collections, Double D Ranch continues to stump marketers with its ability to innovate and create in such a small niche as Western apparel. “We’ve never been able to put a label on what Double D is,” McMullen says. “There is definitely a rock ’n’ roll influence to it. There’s a Western influence to it, there’s Spanish, Native American, Americana. ... It’s a part of our heritage and who we are — it’s truly our DNA.”
As for the woman wearing the clothes, McMullen has her more defined. “I think she’s a very strong, daring woman. I think she’s not afraid to put on a jacket with fringe or a pair of statement boots. Our customer is not a wallflower.”
Nothing speaks to that definition of the Double D Ranch customer quite like the group of women Franz and McMullen have pulled together on social media, specifically concentrated on their Double D Addiction page on Facebook that boasts over 6,000 members. “The [Double D Addiction] page has been really great for us to see real people wearing the clothes, and seeing how they’re putting things together,” Franz says. Market research aside, the group has served as a meeting place for women and even a few men who admire the Double D Ranch brand and the culture around it. Members share favorite pieces from their personal collections, seek style advice, and get a first look at upcoming designs during live collection reveals. Real-life friendships have even developed as Addiction members travel together to Double D Ranch headquarters in Yoakum, Texas, or on group retreats throughout the year.
To all who appreciate its no-wallflower culture that connects free-spirited women everywhere, the brand signifies something more than the clothes on their backs and boots on their feet. It’s the spirit of the West itself and the community it creates.
Looking at what might lie ahead on the horizon of the next 30 years, Franz and McMullen seem steady in their vision. It’s all about staying true to their roots, their quality, their Double D Ranch community, and the Western culture they lift up with each passing collection.
From our November/December 2020 issue.
Photography: Images courtesy Double D Ranch