If old-fashioned southern hospitality and integrity is what the fashion industry needs, it need look no further than Billy Reid. A welcome deviation from the often self-absorbed work-only mentality that can be all to easy to slip into as a designer, Reid’s choice to raise his family in Florence, Alabama stemmed from an overarching desire to build his work around his life, and not the other way around. Dedicated to infusing every design he mints with a degree of both modernity, personality, heritage and quality, Reid sits down for our latest “A Conversation with” feature to discuss the South, his goals, 9/11, and his thoughts on the collaborating.
Southern hospitality… is something that was instilled at a very early age and hopefully remains for generations to follow.
Based in the South… I was born in Amite, Louisiana, but my wife is from Florence. We decided that we would raise our family here and structure our work around life, not life around our work. So, it is a bit of an unconventional path for fashion design, but it works for us. We set up our headquarters on the main street of our town and we work hard to be a vital part of our community and build with it. It is something we believe deeply in.
I would describe my aesthetic as… It is a modern, and personal approach, to classic American clothing. I spend most of time between Florence, Alabama and New York City. It is those two worlds blending together that is at the heart of the collection. We try to build it with as much integrity as possible and strive to make things that get better age and live with you.
The goals behind my work… I enjoy the work and creative process and also watching our company and team grow. We are based on the main street of our hometown of Florence, Alabama, and being a part of our community there is tremendously gratifying. We just want to continue building and making clothes.
The contemporary scene for menswear… American menswear is in a very good spot right now with tons of great clothing. I think the CFDA and the editorial fashion community in menswear has been so supportive of the effort and it has created a terrific environment to be a part of.
Leaving New York after 9/11… Surreal and tragic. I was certainly personally devastated, as we lost our business which was growing well. So many people lost much more than that though. I am fortunate to have had a second and third chance.
Designing for men and women… We want them to be girlfriend and boyfriend. The men’s has a very strong identity, masculine and is a fully built out collection head-to-toe. The women’s is a more focused assortment, so we want to give her clothes that give her just as much, or even more, game than her man. That balance is what we strive for each season.
If you come to Florence, Alabama… Our area has a rich music heritage — The Stones, Dylan, Aretha, Skynyrd and hundreds of other notables have recorded here. Recently, The Black Keys, Band of Horses and Alicia Keys cut records here. Sam Phillips and W.C. Handy are from here. We enjoy sharing that history with our guests. We have a beautiful historic downtown with a little sandwich shop, Trowbridge’s, which hasn’t changed since 1918. Also, we are on the Tennessee River, so time spent on the water is a nice treat as well. We love it here, which is why we choose it is as home base.
The sustainability of American-inspired fashion… American-inspired fashion in general should sustain just fine. For us, we just try to make clothes we believe in and inspiration comes from all over the place. We don’t focus on if it’s “Southern” or “American,” but rather put the thoughts toward the collection itself and being true.
A Billy Reid collaboration… The relationship must be something that happens naturally. We’ve been fortunate to have worked with some terrific folks like Levi’s, K-Swiss, Stetson and J.Crew, and each project has been a different approach, but they worked well for everyone involved because it wasn’t forced.