With his charming, jovial manner and eye for style, this award-winning fashion designer has won praise across the fashion industry since he launched his first collection in 1998. Reid’s clothing combines the comfort and relaxed style of the American South with a sense of fashion that easily moves from New York’s West Village to Charleston’s East Bay Street.
Today, Reid has 12 stores throughout the country. His base of operations, an old bookstore in Florence, Alabama, serves as his design studio and shop. His shops are located in cities like New York; Washington, D.C.; Chicago; and, of course, Charleston.
Reid grew up in Amite, a small town in eastern Louisiana— not exactly the center of the fashion world. But his mother ran a women’s boutique, so Reid developed a sense of fashion at a young age.
Reid released his first collection, a menswear line, in 1998 while living in the Garment District in New York. A women’s line soon followed. By 2001, he had won the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) award for best new menswear designer. He has gone on to win two more CFDA awards—including Menswear Designer of the Year—for his Billy Reid collections, joining Marc Jacobs, Tom Ford and Michael Kors as the only designers to win three or more of the prestigious awards.
Recently, we had the pleasure to talk to the designer about his background and his work.
Though you grew up in a small Southern town, you were nevertheless exposed to fashion at a young age. What is fashion to you?
Fashion is incredibly personal; it’s difficult to say exactly what fashion can be. For the Billy Reid brand, my team and I like to think about modernity and timeliness. Those are contradictions, I know, but we embrace them. We like to make pieces that live with you— things that get better with age—not just comfort-wise, but stylistically as well.
You have stores all over the country. How do you make your designs work in diverse markets, such as the cold Midwest and warm Southeast?
A lot of things go into building a collection. Considerations of style and our own personal and professional ideas are important, but we have to take regional conditions into account as well. A heavy pea coat may be a staple in Chicago, but a person in Charleston may wear one only a few times a year. Still, style is a lot less regional nowadays. We can sell the same pieces in all of our markets.
What drew you and your team to open a Charleston location?
Charleston’s a great city. I’d never visited until we started looking for a location, but I have friends here, like chefs Sean Brock [Husk] and Mike Latta [FIG]. I thought Charleston would be a great market for our collection, since our style is anchored in the South.
Tell us about this winter’s collection.
We focus on weight and textures for winter, pieces that have a lot of surface interest but aren’t too bulky. We will also put more emphasis on knits and mixing materials, like cashmere to cotton or silk to wool.
Besides designing, you host the multicultural festival Shindig every August in Florence. What’s your favorite part?
Everything. It’s a gathering of friends, editors, influencers and musicians. Sean [Brock] has joined us in the past, and we’ve had musical acts like Jack White and Dan Auerbach. It’s a great atmosphere that gives us a chance to showcase our collection and have fun while doing it.
You were born in Louisiana and live in Alabama. Big question: LSU or the Crimson Tide?
LSU all the way. I don’t think I’ve ever missed listening to or watching a game.
M. Luke Yoder is a writer based in Charleston. Find out more at mlukeyoder.com.