Billy Reid’s Southern Comfort

Billy Reid hasn’t taken your usual designer path. The Louisiana native began his career in NYC before high-tailing it to Florence, Alabama to start anew. Since then, his men’s-wear collections, which have all the refreshing lightness of a mint julep and deft sophistication of Southern manners, have charmed this city’s fashion elite. (He took home the coveted CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund prize in 2010.) Now onto his second women’s-wear collection this Spring 2012, Reid took a moment to go over his upcoming collections, his women’s-wear mentor and why, despite his laid-back air, he’s super focused once he lands in JFK.

Milk Made: The showroom feels surprisingly tranquil considering it’s just a few days before fashion week. Is being based in Alabama calming for you?
Billy Reid: Well, we still come here a lot. I’m kinda here just as much as in the past in some ways. We manufacture a lot in the city, too. But being out in Alabama…well, it’s like another world.

Since you’re spending a lot of time in NYC, what are your favorite places?
Our store is on Bond Street and our offices are across the street, so obviously we spend a ton of time in the neighborhood. I like The Smile. I like that Black Forest ham sandwich they have and I love the egg sandwich. I also love Great Jones restaurant. It’s a nice little dive/hang-out. I usually just grab a Stella because it goes with the cheeseburger. Or the catfish po’ boy is good there, too. They’ve got this South Louisiana feel and I have that connection because I grew up in Louisiana.

How do you keep your sanity during the madness of fashion week?
I try to split it up a bit. I do a super intense week here and then go home to Alabama on the weekends. I think it helps. What’s good about it is, when I’m here, I’m totally focused. In some ways, it’s a very effective way with time.

So you don’t work when you’re home?
No, not usually, but I’m going home this weekend to work on the stage for the show. We start tomorrow. So it’s not like we’re walking away from it all, but it’s just a different side of things.

You’ve had some memorable sets. I remember one for fall where it was all these autumn leaves at Milk Studios. Are you handy?
I’m handy – if I need to be. But my good friend Sam McGill is an excellent carpenter. HE did the office and the store and does all my sets. The only problem is when he’s in New York, people want to hire him. I tell them, ‘um, there’s an agency fee involved with that, the Billy Reid agency fee.’ [laughs]

You’ve built out your women’s-wear collection a bit more this year. Has winning the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund award helped you do that?
It’s helped us in so many ways. The whole experience of going through that and meeting so many interesting and great people. The effect of that has been tremendous.

Were you assigned a mentor?
Yep, J. Crew’s Jenna Lyons. She’s been great. She’s just right up the street. She and I got together to talk about how she can help, and we decided to get her really involved in the women’s line, so she can keep an eye on that. She’ll give ideas on how to tweak things. She has such an awesome style. To be able to have that and to have Jenna take a look at things first has just helped my confidence.

Are you less certain about the women’s collection?
I will definitely second-guess the women’s line over and over and over. It’s because I can’t wear it. And it’s a lot tighter collection too.

You mentioned some of the materials in both collections are used in bedding.
It’s more of a home furnishings inspiration. We were working with this mill for a couple years and we saw these fabrics. It was odd at first, but then we figured it out. When you looked at the surface at first, we thought it wouldn’t work. But developing the fabric has been part of the process.

These fabrics are more functional, is the collection also about discovering the beauty in function?
I just love the idea of mixing, and there definitely is a beauty to the idea that in some ways these are not expensive fabrics on a rack, but they are some of the most unusual. We break them down, soften ‘em up and we add details to them with leather and suede. It’s a wonderful high and low. I love that. I want the clothes to almost have the characteristics of furniture in some ways – how it aged and its lifespan. Make people feel that they can live in them and continue on their life journeys with them.

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