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Portage attorney juggles legal practice with life on the red carpet

May 31, 2017
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Mark Roscoe remembers the scene clearly: His mother, a plus-sized woman, repeatedly coming home from the store empty-handed and in tears after failing, once again, to find clothes that both fit her body type and were fashionable.

But there’s another scene Roscoe recalls just as well: His mother, smiling as she donned the clothes he hand-crafted for her, taking in her reflection in the mirror and finally feeling beautiful.

The emotional satisfaction of improving his mother’s self-esteem led Roscoe to an important realization in his career. He no longer wanted to invest in people only through his work as a family law attorney in Portage, but he also wanted to invest in their lives through the clothes they wear. That decision led to the creation of Mark Roscoe Couture, a clothing line based in Roscoe’s northern Indiana home that has been featured on multiple celebrities walking the red carpet in New York and Los Angeles.

Roscoe began practicing law in 1983 and eventually settled into family law with a focus on mediation services. Helping families resolve their issues peacefully, especially when children are involved, was a good fit for Roscoe’s personality type, considering his background in psychology. About 60 percent of Roscoe’s practice focuses on mediation rather than traditional litigation, he said.

But the law was never Roscoe’s only source of income. He’s been working in the world of fashion for roughly 30 years, beginning his career as a model in Chicago and doing work for television and movies for about 15 years. Then, he transitioned into casting, opening an agency in Chicago that for about eight years specialized in casting movie extras.

fashion-roscoe-keegan-michael-key-2-1col.jpg ... to Keegan-Michael Key. (Photo courtesy of Mark Roscoe)

But it wasn’t until about 20 years ago that Roscoe taught himself to design and sew to help his mother. He then began doing smaller fashion jobs for his friends and neighbors, and his reputation continued to grow. About five years ago, he took the plunge and began pursuing his design business aggressively.

Now, though Roscoe is humble, his current client list gives him reason to brag. For example, William Shatner likes his ties. Alice Amter of “The Big Bang Theory” fame has worn his gown on the red carpet. And comedian Keegan-Michael Key has sported Mark Roscoe Couture tuxedos to both the daytime and technical Emmy Awards.

“The word is getting out, and we’re kind of getting our name out there,” Roscoe said. “It’s a process, and it’s rolling in the right direction.”

Roscoe’s expertise in both the law and fashion are the keys to his success, said longtime colleague Tracey Tarantino, executive director of Illinois-based Zzazz Productions.

Describing the designer as a “human spreadsheet,” Tarantino said being a legal and design professional requires Roscoe to strictly adhere to self-imposed priorities and deadlines, a challenge he tackles with ease, she said. Further, Tarantino said Roscoe can put his legal knowledge to use in his design work by understanding the ins and outs of running a business.

Roscoe handles much of his own legal work for Mark Roscoe Couture, and he said he also finds ways for his design work to inspire his law practice. For example, tapping into the creative side of his brain while working on a difficult mediation can help him think of unique options he can present to his clients to bring their case to a peaceful resolution.

The attorney’s willingness to be both analytical and creative in the world of fashion has led to his success, Tarantino said, including Zzazz Productions shows where his work has been seen by as many as 1,200 people at once.

“He’s extremely creative, but he also can be cranial,” said Tarantino, who has also employed Roscoe as a model. “That’s a very exciting combination.”

But even with obligations on the East and West coasts, Roscoe said he still considers his work as a family law attorney his primary business. Early in his fashion career, Roscoe said he was able to keep his design work separate from his legal practice, but widespread publicity on the Internet has made that separation much more difficult to obtain over the years.

But luckily, Roscoe said his clients are supportive of his work in the fashion industry, a fact he attributes, in part, to the positive reputation he has built in the fashion world.

Shelli Wright Johnson, a Portage attorney who shares an office building with Roscoe, said he is a perfectionist who never settles for less than the best in his work in both the law and fashion. Roscoe is willing to sacrifice sleep if it means adding a little something extra to a legal brief or custom-made gown, Johnson said, yet can come to work the next morning with a positive attitude and no sign of fatigue.

“He’s the personification of exceptional without the attitude,” she said.

But surprisingly, Roscoe said finding time to pursue his passion for both the law and fashion has not been an issue. Though there are times when sleep is a luxury, his love for both lines of work motivates him, even when he would rather take a break.

“When you have an interest that brings you a level of joy when you actually pursue that, there are enough hours in the day to do so,” he said.

And with a national reputation for his design work, Mark Roscoe Couture is now seeking to give back in honor of the woman who inspired his career — his mother. Roscoe’s mother died from cancer about 12 years ago, so he now partners with “A Silver Lining Foundation” on an annual fashion show. All of the proceeds from the show are donated in his mother’s name to Silver Lining, a Chicago-based organization dedicated to “dignified, respectful and equal access to quality cancer education and services for all.”

Despite his professional success, including a regional Emmy win for best commercial for his brand, Roscoe said he doesn’t work for the accolades, and Tarantino and Johnson said he is the last to seek the spotlight for himself. Instead, the attorney-designer said the emotional satisfaction of being both a lawyer and a designer make his busy schedule worth the effort.

“I think people shortchange the quality of their lives because they think they can only be one thing,” Roscoe said. “Life is not a dress rehearsal — this is your life.”•

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