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The Modern Man Driving Southern Gentleman Style

The Alabama designer on the changing South, New York and more.

Brett Warren

Walk into a Billy Reid retail store, and you’ll notice one thing: the warm colors, leather chairs, books and the offer to have a cocktail fulfill the same charms as entering the foyer of a Southern home. Billy Reid is known for his distinct use of Southern style and locally sourced materials, and there’s a strong argument that Billy Reid is the primary force in modernizing the traditional “Southern Gentleman” style. We recently caught up with him to discuss Southern creatives, design, and what’s inside his closet.

Q: After 15 years of living in Alabama, how has your process and outlook changed?
A: To me the process really doesn’t change philosophically. The collection has to start with an idea of what the clothes should stand for and try to put as much integrity as possible into the product and effort. I believe that fashion is not regional and the garments I wear in Alabama are the same pieces I wear in New York and Paris.

Q: How do you choose to profile Southern creatives (chefs, musicians, etc), and how has associating with them changed your brand?
A: It’s a natural process. They could be customers, friends, people we’ve met or admire — there’s really not a set agenda and we profile folks from all over. We see these relationships more from a community perspective that connects our customers and followers to other folks doing some really cool things, whether that’s art, photography, food, music, etc. It is inspiring to support one another and to be part of something that can make a difference on many levels.

Q: How has Florence changed since you started doing Shindig, and after basing your operations there?
A: There’s a vibrant energy fueled by youth and creatives moving to our community. There’s been a cultural uptick throughout our town. It’s something that has always been here in regard to the musical relevance of Muscle Shoals, and that is thriving in the hands of a new generation of artists having major success. Every day there continues to be momentum that has been adding the stepping stones to our wonderful community.

Q: Does sourcing cotton from Alabama set you apart from other brands touting locally sourced materials/production?
A: It’s something that we can’t do in every garment we make, but we continue to seek more local production opportunities. It’s something that feels right to do and if that sets us apart then that’s a good thing.

Q: In your time in the South, before and after your time in New York, how have you seen Southern culture — food, style, etc. — change?
A: I have had the opportunity to blend in both New York and the South almost as a dual citizen. Both places, and the world in general, are changing. People seem to be more curious and appreciative of craft, realness and pride. It’s absolutely a new South in regard to creative energy.

Q: What are some common misconceptions about Southern culture?
A: The usual misconceptions…slow, close minded, banjos and fried chicken. Yes, I love fried chicken! The South gets overlooked for its cultural contributions to the world like the blues, jazz, and our food. We’ve built rockets, space shuttles, and we throw a damn good tailgate.

Q: How is your work redefining (or evolving with) what Southern style and culture stands for?
A: I don’t know if we think of what we do as Southern style or culture. We are based in Alabama and I’m a southerner, but I don’t think of designing clothes that are southern or for southerners. We are developing textiles in Paris, Tokyo, Italy, and manufacturing in California, New York, Chicago, and other points. I believe that focusing design from a personal point of view comes first and if it evolves, or redefines, something, then that’s lagniappe.

Q: How do contemporary style (silhouettes, etc) and traditional southern style come together in your latest collections? What is your inspiration for this interplay?
A: We don’t approach it that way. We strive for an uncomplicated ease and a feeling of real and livable luxury. The influences each season come from so many inspirations, like trips to Ireland, witnessing beautiful knitting techniques, the colors of washed down seaside towns, postmodern furniture, to name a few…at the end of the process, we are striving to make a great garment that we hope becomes someone’s favorite piece.

Q: The Billy Reid man — where might he go out for drinks and dinner, and what would he wear?
A: I like more laid-back and out-of-the-way spots. I got my hangouts in the neighborhood in NYC like the Bowery Hotel, Great Jones, Alimentare… I’m not a big planner in regard to wardrobe unless it’s for a special occasion or event, and I travel constantly. I have go-to pieces that work whatever the occasion. My closet is fairly small, so I stick to quality over quantity and keep versatile pieces in the rotation.

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