Southern Comforts: It's Billy Reid's moment in the Big Apple
If anyone can instill a little down-home gentility in downtown Manhattan, it’s Billy Reid. The soft-spoken designer has wooed a slew of hipper-than-thou New Yorkers with an enticing brew of seersucker, whisky and barbecue block parties held right out on the sidewalk.
That’s right — they come for the southern preppy wardrobe. They stay for the pulled pork.
Born in Louisiana and now based in Alabama, Reid has always had a bit of a push-me/pull-you relationship with the Big Apple. He moved there early in his career, then left after 9/11, then returned in 2008 to establish his flagship boutique. Last February, during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, GQ magazine dubbed him this year’s “Best New Menswear Designer in America."
The title came with a $50,000 prize, mentoring by industry veterans and the chance to design a limited-edition collection for Levi’s, which launches at his Galleria store Friday night (during Fashion's Night Out) and Bloomingdales.com.
“Well, they’re all winners,” said GQ creative director Jim Moore, referring to the competition’s six finalists. “But Billy Reid — we just felt this was his moment.”
Reid isn’t the first designer to hop the Mason-Dixon and make a splash in New York. Geoffrey Beene hailed from Louisiana. Lela Rose, from Dallas. And even Marcus Wainwright and David Neville, the British duo behind the edgy Rag & Bone label, credit the artisans and seamstresses of a (now defunct) Kentucky denim factory, where the pair first learned the art of jeans-making.
But Reid’s line — primarily focused on menswear, though he has a smaller women’s collection, too — seems the most unabashedly regional, blending Southern charm with an indie, bluesy, rock ‘n’ roll vibe.
“The line is definitely influenced by my upbringing, and a product of the environment in which I live,” Reid says. He has no intention of relocating to New York for good, he says. He and his wife are raising their three kids in Florence, Ala., — his wife’s hometown. But he has to spend a fair share of time in New York, so it’s nice to have the shop there feel like home.
Reid has six stores — including the one at the Galleria and another in Dallas — but in designing the New York outpost, he went all out.
He set up digs on Bond Street —a quiet, cobblestoned block nestled between Greenwich Village and the Lower East Side. The two-story shop is a treasure trove of recycled and reclaimed materials, from old chandeliers to repurposed church pews.
And it’s stocked with his signature tweed suits and trucker hats, wingtips and vintage tees. Some of the tags on his pieces seem clipped from Southern maps and atlases: There’s the “Tuscumbia” long-sleeve, woven plaid shirt; or the “Ponchatoula” slub jersey polo.
And his collection for fall is like a glossary of menswear trends.
What’s hot for fall? Plaids, chunky knits, slim fits, Americana and lots and lots of gray, notes Tom Julian, trend expert and author of the Nordstrom Guide to Men’s Style.
And then there’s the boot. “It’s THE accessory item,” Julian emphasizes, “from rugged and sporty to biker or vintage.”
Reid’s boots span a variety of looks, from the rough-and-tumble Bayou boot to the Beatty — sleek, sophisticated, in sueded vintage leather.
But it’s Reid’s hospitality that wins over clients as much as the clothes. And that’s present even if he’s not — like at promotional events where they serve small-batch bourbon and shrimp. Or his annual Big Apple Bar-B-Q Block Party, with pork shoulder sliders and microbrews. (How sticky-fingered customers don’t get BBQ sauce all over the racks of clothes is a mystery.)
At Fashion’s Night Out Friday night, the global initiative to spur interest in shopping, all Billy Reid shop locations will participate in the fun. From 6 to 11 pm, the shops will serve up refreshments, Heineken and live music — plus the opportunity to purchase for the first time his new line: Levi’s Workwear by Billy Reid. Expect woven shirts, wool trucker jackets, and a casual twill hunting coat.
On his website — billyreid.com — you can link to a list of some of his favorite musical groups, like Drive-By Truckers, The Dexateens, Miles Davis, The Clash, Wrinkle Neck Mules, Led Zeppelin. The list is as eclectic as the Billy Reid brand, which this fall offers moleskin blazers and herringbone vests, bold plaid button-downs, bowties, even a (bright red) union suit.
“When we make a piece of clothing, the goal is to make it someone’s favorite piece,” he says.
Think “heirloom,” he notes. And made to last.
“We want our clothes to be something you’ll want to pass down.”