Billy Reid is the founder and designer behind the namesake label that launched in 2004 to the delight of southern sartorialists. Starting at Saks, where he became an executive at the tender age of 21, he moved on to Reebok for the next six years before venturing off on his own. The Louisiana-raised Reid has stuck to his roots, gaining accolades as the guy who brought southern style into the 21st century. In just five short years, the brand has grown from one shop in Florence, Alabama to six spots in the south and another in New York with no signs of stopping there. Reid prides himself on designing pieces that are able to withstand a weekend hunting and a boardroom meeting. We may not be able to attest to the former, but Mr. Reid’s designers are a dream for prepsters everywhere. For that reason, we were ecstatic to talk to Mr. Reid about his brand, it’s future, and how to wear a white suit.
Prepidemic Magazine: What style does Billy Reid cater to and try to create?
Billy Reid: Southern gentility with a modern-vintage edge.
PM: What are your major design influences?
BR: Classic American workwear and sportswear. I love the fabric treatments on hunting gear because they’re made to protect and endure, which is essentially what you want from your own day-to-day wardrobe. I also like the shape of a mechanic jacket, but using a more refined, treated fabric. I also visit a lot of vintage stores and flea markets and you can find the best stuff there. There’s a great place in downtown Florence called Ye Old General Store where I found some dead stock that inspired my Fall 09 collection.
PM: When and how did you know you wanted to get into the fashion industry? How did you rise to where you are today?
BR: My mother owned her own women’s boutique in our hometown of Amite, Mississippi, so I grew up with an appreciation for clothing. When I went to college, I initially started out as a P.E. Major, but I transferred to the Art Institute of Dallas where I focused on fashion design. During that time, I worked at Saks and I learned a great deal about men’s suiting. From there I worked with Reebok International and helped launch the Greg Norman line. In 1995 I founded my own fashion design and marketing company and worked with brands like Fruit of the Loom, Neiman Marcus, and JC Penney. In the spring of 1998 I launched my own label under the name William Reid and from there got a sense of what it means to operate your own namesake label. I took some time off in 2001 and re-launched in 2004 under the name Billy Reid and built a great customer base by opening my own retail stores before going wholesale in department stores. That was important to me because we were able to grow the business and refine our products on more of a grass roots front before going wholesale. It was a great experience to get where I am today and I couldn’t be happier with the future of the brand.
PM: We notice you’re a big fan of the white suit. What’s so special about it to you?
BR: It’s the perfect summer suit. It reminds me of something William Faulkner would wear. It’s a staple of any true Southern gentleman.
PM: With that, how do you suggest someone avoid the Colonel Sanders look when wearing a white suit?
BR: Make it your own. Wear it with the pants hand rolled at the hem and wear a great pair of wingtips without socks. Throw on an old denim chambray button down and make it more casual and less stiff. There’s a million ways to wear a suit and not look like the Colonel.
PM: Do you see yourself as someone that designs what people should wear or designs for what people want?
BR: I design for people who want to own something that will last forever, and to me that’s something that I want.
PM: What did you change in your approach after you were forced to end William Reid?
BR: We decided to re-think the business by directly reaching to our consumer on a regional level instead of relying on a national wholesale business. This way we could not only develop a strong, loyal customer base in varying regional markets, but also offer them incentives to become return customers, such as evening socials and made to measure suiting appointments where I do the fitting. People want value when they’re shopping and the types of events and advantages we offer in the store are valuable to those who want a more developed shopping experience.
PM: What are the staples of your collection?
BR: Tuscumbia Button Down, Rustin Patch Navy Blazer, Aaron Selvedge Denim, and Distressed Roper Boot.
PM: We see crossover with your company and companies like J. Crew – both of you seem to be trying to adopt a more handmade authentic feel. We also see crossover with you and Gant – both of which seem to be taking traditional items and injecting some more outgoing flare into them. Obviously the southern vibe is one thing unique that you have going, but with so many similarities in menswear, how do you continue to carve out a unique niche in
BR: Living in Florence, but having to visit New York periodically informs a lot of what I do. I need to have clothes that work for duck hunting in the delta, but then I need to be comfortable in the design studio in Florence. I also need something that feels tailored for an evening event at the store in New York. I need for my wardrobe to adapt to all of those environments. For example, the men’s trench for Spring is a weather proof wax cotton treated piece that will protect you while hunting, but it can be the rain coat you wear day to day. That perspective is what makes my work stand out.
PM: How do you come up with new designs? With that, what is your process from conception of a garment to selling the garment?
BR: It’s hard to say. Every season is different. For Fall 09, I was at Ye Old General Store and I saw all of that great dead stock material that I had to use. It’s usually an idea that will hit me and I find a way to make it new for each season, but make sure we re-interpret the staples of the brand that keeps people coming back. From there we make edits, sample prototypes are fitted at our various production warehouses all over the country and Italy, and then we do a roll out of two deliveries for the season, so not everything is immediately available and overwhelms the customer. That presents the opportunity to see what the customers are buying and continue to develop those shapes and fabrics for future seasons.
PM: What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?
BR: Nobody ever calls me William unless I’m in trouble.
PM: What’s one thing most people don’t know about the brand?
BR: All of our clothing is handmade in New York and the leather goods are handmade in Italy. Our customer should be aware of the quality that goes into their garment. The best way for them to feel it and trust it as being handmade is to have it made in this country.
PM: What’s your favorite drink?
BR: Pappy Van Winkle, neat.
PM: Not to sound sleazy, but what are you wearing right now?
BR: Make Cornbread, Not War Hat, Iuka Button Down Shirt, a pair of old chinos, my favorite pair of beat up K-Swiss.
PM: If you could wear any outfit and not look out of place, what would it be?
BR: The Union Suit, which I do wear and never feel out of place.
PM: Who are your favorite designers? And what does it take for someone on the street to catch your eye as a ‘well-dressed person’?
BR: I love classic American workwear brands like Carhart and Liberty. Their designs are much more nuanced than what they appear to be. Those brands make pieces to last a lifetime and not every designer can attest to that. People who wear their clothes so much that it becomes part of them are to me the most creative interpreters of personal style. Wearing a boot for a lifetime to see its durability truly tested is not only smart design, but it’s also a smart investment in a wardrobe.