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Photography by Zack Arias

Clothes of Many Colors

by Candice Dyer | The Atlantan magazine | December 27, 2011

Dressing Dolly Parton requires some tricks that, on the spangled surface, seem counterintuitive.

“She has such a larger-than-life personality that your brain tells you to go big and over-the-top at the outset,” says Steve Summers, the designer behind Parton’s signature rhinestones and Swarovski crystals. “But, at 5-foot-2—or 5-foot-7 in heels—she’s an unbelievably tiny person that could easily be swallowed up by her clothing,” Summers says. “So I’ve learned to start very small—refined and fitted—sticking with monochromes to elongate her, and then I add that Dolly sparkle.”

Summers, 47, began sharing the stage with the famed country music star in 1991 as a singer and dancer at Dollywood. But the country music legend quickly discerned additional talents in his set-dressing. “Dolly liked my eye, so she had me design Chasing Rainbows,” he says, referring to the theme park’s hallmark museum.

Eventually, Parton sent Summers to F.I.T. in New York and appointed him creative director of Dolly Parton Enterprises—making her image coruscate on several fronts. “I read her scripts and coordinate photo shoots and interviews—anything that involves her public persona, which relies heavily on exaggeration. But she is even kinder and more modest behind the scenes than she is onstage—that part of her is very real.”

Summers divides his time between Nashville and Atlanta, where his partner, Mark Williams, heads an architecture firm. They live in Midtown and often shop at St. John Boutique because the “unconstructed suits are easy to alter.”

“Most people don’t have a clear and accurate body image,” he laments, “so they don’t know how to dress to make the most impact.” Unlike his indelibly defined employer, who remains “spectacular and such a beautiful figure to decorate.”

Summers’ Hots
Classically tailored 1950s-era suits, Prius hybrids, lunch at MetroFresh, making your own coffee

Summers’ Nots
Lateness, safari prints, ponchos, reality TV, micromanaging