Homegrown designer merges art and fashion

Editor's note: Duff will be participating in the More Unpredictable Fashion show on April 26 at PLAY! Dance Bar. Purchase your tickets here.

You won't find much graffiti in downtown Nashville. Not until Troy Duff's clothing brand takes off, anyway.

The designer began his self-named line "Duff" in Los Angeles in 2003 with eye-popping, hand-painted accessories. Now, Duff is infusing Music City with his one-of-a-kind street art for the forward thinking dresser.

Duff offers a variety of custom airbrushed pieces, from handbags to tank tops to boots. But don't confuse his work for a t-shirt you'd get at Dollywood - Duff's stuff is art.

"I'm just an artist using clothes as my canvas," Duff said.

A trained graphic artist, Duff attained a degree in commercial and graphic design from Nossi College of Art in 1998.

And though he's undeniably good with his hands, at least a part of the success of Duff's clothing line came from a his early acting gigs in L.A. Duff has appeared on film and t.v. and often wore his own brand to film shows including Charmed and the Drew Carey Show.

When a wardrobe department would inquire about his style, he'd slide some clothes their way to include in their fashion libraries. Eventually, he pitched his line to others in the industry as a way to get Duff in front of the masses. It wasn't long before his one-of-a-kind pieces were popping up in expensive boutiques in Hollywood, L.A. and Japan.

So far, Nasvhillians may best recognize him while he's back lit. He said he's best known here for the silhouette of his broad frame and unmistakeably wild dreadlocks which appeared in Apple's iPod ad campaign. Hunky frame aside, Duff is working to show Nashville shoppers that there's much more to him than his outline.

His line can be found locally at Shyne in East Nashville and Duff often receives requests for items through his MySpace and Facebook pages. With steady business through his online social networks, he said he can't decide whether it'd be a wise move to settle into his own store.

"The Internet is working really well for the line," Duff said. "The overhead cost may be too much when I'm selling so well this way."

A true artist, Duff has gone where few others dare even using handbags from Louis Vuitton and Chanel as a canvas. His flame-painted pumps and brazen blazers are fun to gawk at, but modest Nashville shoppers have yet to go where trendier West-Coast shoppers have, Duff said.

"Nashville is so conservative and people are followers," he said. "People tell me my stuff is cool and that they love it, but for someone to step out and wear it is really limited here."

Duff hopes that parents will live vicariously through their offspring if they aren't bold enough to buy his line for themselves. Lately, he's been focusing much of his time on his new line for kids with custom designed denim jackets, skirts, capris and even a onesie (by special order).

"Parents are always buying stuff for their kids and they want their kids to look just as cool," Duff said.

Having already found massive success in larger cities including Atlanta, it isn't fame or fortune that keeps Duff in Music City. It is love that brought him back to be with his sister who battled breast cancer in 2007. Serendipitously, that's also when he reconnected with his high school sweetheart, Natalie.  They plan to marry in June - and it appears that it is love that will keep Duff here, for now.

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