The accolades keep coming for Billy Reid, the Louisiana-raised, Alabama-based designer who keeps wowing the New York design crowd with his tailored, comfortable yet elegant approach to fashion. Reid recently won the prestigious Council of Fashion Designers of America Menswear Designer of the Year Award — again — at a glitzy bash at Lincoln Center in Manhattan.
But Reid, the only designer to also win two high fashion honors (the CFDA/GQ award and CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund award) in the same year in 2010, hasn't let all the accolades go to his head. With a laid back demeanor, a result of his gentlemanly Southern background and a humble nature about the vagaries of the fashion business, he's no diva.
"It's certainly not avant-garde. These are clothes you can wear. If you want to buy this suit, you want to have it for a few years and not look like you're outdated five years from now."
Despite winning the CFDA menswear award in 2001 with the William Reed label, he went broke when his business crumbled after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Some lean years resulted, when he made ends meet by doing some freelance work for Fruit of the Loom underwear and TaylorMade golf apparel, but he's come back strong.
In Houston recently for the opening of his new store on Westheimer near Kirby, Reid charmed a large crowd with a down-home party featuring a roasted pig and music by Texas troubadour Hayes Carll. Before the party began, Reid took CultureMap on a tour of the store in a 1920s house that has been painstakinly restored to its original condition and decorated like a comfortable Southern home, with overstuffed furniture, gilded mirrors, worn Oriental rugs, oil portraits of famous ancestors and old photographs.
"We opened Houston in November, 2004, going on nine years, and since then we've been sort of nomads," he says. "This is our sixth store in some way, shape or form (in Houston). But this is permanent. We're not moving again."
Reid opened the original Houston store in Highland Village in 2004 soon after relaunching his fashion business with a group of investors. He relocated to the Galleria, but chafed to get into a more homey location. “We want our stores to feel like home and it’s hard to do that in a white box," he told Women's Wear Daily.
He looked for the current location for over a year before finding the old, often overlooked antiques store next to Chuy's. (Who knew such a structure still existed in Houston, where almost anything old is quickly torn down for a more modern building?)
"We knew if we could get into it and do some renovations to it, it could feel right. Our first store in Florence, Ala., was in an old home," he recalled.
The new two-story location showcases Reid's painstakingly tailored, yet easy-going collection. In addition to the men's ready-to-wear collection, the store features a women's line, accessories for men and women, and men's made-to-measure clothing.
"Within the collection, there are so many different looks, from suits to things we beat the living crap out of," he said.
"It has everything from handmade suits to jeans and T-shirts and sort of everything in between," he said. "I usually start from a very classic American clothing base and then personalize it through fit, detail and fabrication. In the end it still has something that feels familiar and is classic. Yet hopefully through the translation and all the things we develop into it, it comes across as something new.
"It's certainly not avant-garde. These are clothes you can wear. We build it to last, not only from how we make it but through styling. If you want to buy this suit, you want to have it for a few years and not look like you're outdated five years from now."
Reid is one of the few American designers to win such accolades without living in New York full-time. He splits his time between Florence, Ala., where the business is based and where his wife and three children live, and New York, where he shows at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week twice a year. He has traditionally offered presentations, where the fashion press views models in a static tableau, but in February he showed his fall 2012 collection in a full-scale runway show.
"Within the collection, there are so many different looks, from suits to things we beat the living crap out of," he said. "With fall, I really wanted the more polished look to come through with the tailored pieces that we make. So we really took a heavy emphasis on suiting and tailored outerwear.
"And the same thing with women's, showing a more sophisticated and little bit more of a luxe feel to things in fabrication, whether it's cashmere or leather or suede. Men's is such a big part of what we do and women's is definitely smaller but you don't want it to feel like it's an afterthought. So we're really trying to pay more attention to that."
In addition to Houston and Florence, Reid has stores in New York, Nashville, Dallas, Charleston, S.C., and Atlanta, where he opened a new store earlier this month. This fall, he plans to open a store in Austin in the historic Clarksville district on West Sixth street.