2010 was an exciting year for Florence, Ala., based designer Billy Reid. He is the first to win both the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA)/GQ award and the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund award in the same year.
This is no small feat: Reid was chosen over such buzzed-about young designers as Prabal Gurung, Richard Chai and Joseph Altuzarra.
For the CFDA/GQ award, which goes to the year's top menswear designer, Reid received a $50,000 cash prize and got to design a one-of-a-kind collection in collaboration with Levi’s. For the CFDA/Vogue award, which recognizes a top emerging designer in menswear, womenswear or accessories, he received a $300,000 cash price and was granted a design collaboration project with J. Crew.
Reid is also a very important part of the Houston fashion scene: Unlike many designers, he chose to open a store in Houston long before opening one in New York. His collection, which puts a sophisticated and contemporary twist on classic Southern haberdashery, has resonated in the Houston area. I am a particularly big fan of everything Billy Reid: I love both his designs and down to earth personality.
He is taking risks and making bold decisions in his clothing, and his monumental achievements and significance to Houston deserve some recognition. In an e-mail conversation, Reid told CultureMap about why he went into Houston before Manhattan, his personal (sneaker) style and the new direction of men's fashion.
CultureMap: Tell me a little bit about yourself — where did you go to school, where are you from, and what did you do before you started Billy Reid?
Billy Reid: My mother had a women's boutique in our small town of Amite, Louisiana where I grew up. Her shop was located in my grandmother's old home and she influenced my path to the industry at an early age. I started school at Southeastern Louisiana University and later went to art school at the Art Institute of Dallas.
CM: Tell me a little bit about the history of the brand.
BR: We launched in late 2004. I had originally started my own collection, William Reid, in fall of 1997, and had some unfortunate circumstances that forced me to close that business in 2002. After taking some time off and taking on freelance projects, I was approached by some friends with the idea to re-launch a collection by way of a new business model; by building through our own shops.
Typically, wholesaling to other stores is the first step. This strategy gave us the opportunity to control the shopping experience, the environment and message and essentially helped us build a foundation of good customers. It also gave me the freedom to build product without limitations. In other words, if we wanted to put it in the shop, then we'd make it and sell it.
CM: Obviously, you have been rather well received in the fashion community, winning both the CFDA/GQ and CFDA/Vogue awards this year. What do you think makes your collection so appealing and popular?
BR: I'm not sure if I'm the best person to answer that, but thank you. I try to focus on the clothes and make something we believe in. It's great when folks like it and support it and I feel incredibly fortunate to get do what I love.
CM: From where do you draw your inspiration? What kind of things do you look at when you are trying to create new pieces?
BR: Inspiration comes from so many places that a singular description is difficult to pinpoint. The process of being attracted to something, learning about it and expressing it and watching it come to life is what I enjoy the most.
CM: How would you describe the style of your designs?
BR: Its classic American clothing with a personal take that makes it what it is. We try to put as much integrity as possible into everything we do.
CM: Recently, there has been a resurgence of classic Americana and workwear styling in menswear. This influence is apparent in your designs. Do you think this is just another trend or here to stay?
BR: American menswear is rooted in the classic. What has been successful of late has been the evolution of American heritage and how it relates to today's customer — whether that be workwear or classic tailored clothing. Continuing to build on these roots with authentic products and branding will be an important factor. We will need great products and great brands to emerge.
CM: You only have six retail locations in the U.S. — one of which is in Houston. What made you pick Houston as opposed to other larger cities like Chicago, Boston, L.A., etc.?
BR: Houston seemed like a natural market for us logistically in regards to managing the shop and building a business. LA is a long way form Florence, Alabama.
CM: I always take people into the Houston store just to check out the décor — it complements the clothes perfectly. How much influence did you have in the interior design of the store?
BR: We want the shops to feel like you're visiting our home, so the decor and interior we take very personally. Having one voice, rather it is the clothes or the interior, helps things feel together.
CM: One of my favorite things about your brand is that it is distinctly Southern, yet still modern and sophisticated. How do you maintain the balance between your Southern heritage and designing pieces that appeal to people in, say, New York City?
BR: I travel back and forth between Alabama and New York a lot. Those two worlds coming together are a huge influence to me, so having things that work well in both places comes naturally. We try not to force it and just be ourselves.
CM: One of the prizes for your CDFA/Vogue award is collaboration with J. Crew. Can you tell us anything about the collaboration?
BR: All the details are not squared away yet, but we love what J. Crew has been doing as of late. We look forward to working with the folks there.
CM: What aspects of American fashion excite you the most right now?
BR: Fashion seems to be on the radar screen of even the most "non-fashionable" guy. Men are typically resistant to change. We have noticed that frivolous shopping is being replaced with a more thoughtful approach. There is a focus on the piece and whether or not it really fits into their life. There are guys out there that are all really different and offer something unique that answers that question.
CM: Who are some other designers that you admire?
CM: Can you tell us a bit about your Spring/Summer 2011 collection?
BR: When I was working on the spring 2011 collection my head was on the Gulf Coast, so there is a huge dose of that reflected, whether that be cotton suiting or lightweight fishing shirts. I grew up with the Gulf and it is still something I love dearly.
CM: How would you describe your personal style? When and how did it develop? What are your favorite pieces of clothing that you own?
BR: I'm a traditionalist. I like to own things that have longevity, so some of my favorite things to wear are a pair of beat up K-SWISS shoes that I've had forever and a well-tailored navy blazer. I like things that get better with age. Not sure how it started, but it's just a mindset I have always stuck with.
CM: Why have you chosen to base your company in Florence as opposed to New York or L.A.?
BR: My wife is from Florence, and we decided many years ago that this is where we wanted to raise our family. We shape our work around our life, not the opposite. It wouldn't work for everyone, but it's how we've chosen to do it. We are part of this community and we appreciate that aspect of our life.
CM: Can you tell us a bit about how and where your products are manufactured?
BR: We build most of collection in the USA and Italy. We put everything we have into the making it the best it can be. The product is the first priority always.
Feeling inspired to learn more about Billy Reid and his designs? Visit his website, or his namesake store in The Galleria. While it primarily focuses on menswear, the Houston store does feature a small selection of the women’s collection.