A true rockstar is a natural showman who exudes the kind of be-yourself-confidence on stage that every guy aspires to bring to their everyday lives. Of course, being the master of a drum kit or set of belting vocal chords is one of the ways musicians become aspirational, but this self-confidence is often caught up in what these men wear too, whether that be the bold sequins of glam rock gods or plaid-shirt-and-leather-jacket combos of the indie era. More so than perhaps any other avenue of celebrity, musicians use clothes to project and reinforce their personality, their truth. Maybe that’s why over the past century music has become so intertwined with the fashion scene – they are caught in a loop of inspiring each other, and us mere mortals looking for wardrobe help too.
Enter Billy Reid, an American designer whose eponymous label is inextricably linked to music. Established in 2004, Reid founded his label after the closure of his first brand William Reid in 2001 forced him to leave New York City to move in with his in-laws in Florence, Alabama – a town located on the other side of the Tennessee River to Muscle Shoals, a town that, while small, has become famous for having recording studio where some of the biggest names in music have recorded (The Rolling Stones, Elton John, Willie Nelson, Paul Simon and Bob Dylan to name only five). His love of rock, country and blues music combined with his Southern upbringing manifested into a menswear line populated by easy separates, rugged tailoring and easy-to-wear essentials, all made from superb Japanese, American and Italian cloths constructed into hard-working, sleek garments.
Over in America, the brand has won many high-profile fans, many of whom are in the music world – Reid hosts a festival in Alabama every year called Shindig which combines music (acts like Kacey Musgraves, Jack White and The Raconteurs have performed) with his new season fashion show. In Britain, perhaps the most high-profile appearance of Billy Reid was in 2012’s Skyfall where Bond wore one of the designer’s peacoats (above) – an item actor Daniel Craig bought when Kings of Leon introduced him to the designer’s Nashville store. And since then the Bond connections have continued: Ben Whishaw wore one of the designer’s coats in Spectre and Idris Elba, one of the men rumoured to play the world’s best-dressed spy when Craig retires, is also a noted brand fan.
However, this season Reid is cementing his British connection with some permanent shelf space, both physical and electronic, at some of our best menswear outposts, most notably Selfridges and thread.com. Here, we talk to him about his label’s roots, the Southern musicians we should add to our Spotify and the most stylish men on film – excluding Bond, of course, that’s a given.
What’s your design background? How did you come to start Billy Reid?
I grew up in South Louisiana where my mom owned a women’s boutique – it was located in my grandmother’s former home. I didn’t have a master plan. I attended the Art Institute of Dallas, worked with Saks Fifth Avenue, six years with Reebok and helped launch the Greg Norman collection for them. I had the opportunity to live in Los Angeles, New York and Boston with Reebok and would later consult with them. I began William Reid in 1998, where recognition and early success would later be taken down after the 9/11 attacks and failed backing. I was approached with an opportunity to open three retail shops in 2004 with the Billy Reid label. Our concept was to open shops somewhat inspired by mother’s boutique. We started a journey that has had its ups, downs, twists and turns, but I’m still getting to do what I love.
What would you say your vibe is?
Effortless style with a Southern nod.
Is that influenced by being based in Alabama?
I think that [Alabama] certainly influences the process, but it’s more second nature and not something we have to think about. I grew up in the rural south and have had the opportunity to live in Los Angeles, New York, Boston and Dallas as well as travel extensively. It’s been cool to have those experiences through the lens of someone from the South and put them into the collection.
You’ve said before that one of your key design influences is music. What are some bands from the South that we should Spotify?
Chika, Devon Gilfillian, Motel Radio, Sera Tones, Boombox, Cedric Burnside, Airpark, Brittany Howard.
We are strong proponents of buy less, buy better. You have previously talked about how you want to make pieces with a purpose. How do you ensure your garments stand the test of time, both aesthetically and physically?
We have built relationships through the years with some of the industry’s best textile mills and factories. Work diligently to instil quality first into the process. We believe style is timeless and we want to build garments to be worn well and live with you.
The luxury industry is currently having a craze for big, bold labels and logos. What do you think constitutes luxury circa now?
We believe luxury is personal to the individual. If you want to wear baller logos, then that’s cool and it’s your thing. If you don’t then that’s cool too. Whatever makes you feel good, do it.
From your trips over here in the past, do you think there are any style sensibilities that are similar between London and the American South?
I do feel like both regions have a reverence of tradition. I love seeing style build from those roots and evolve into current aesthetics and use. I believe style is not regional any longer. The world is watching each other and it’s inspiring and influencing how people bring fashion into their lives and to the street.
Your clothes have now appeared in a few movies. What film do you think has the most stylishly-dressed male character of all time?
Too many to think through, I’ll take a shot. Warren Beatty in Bonnie & Clyde, Kris Kristofferson in A Star Is Born, Peter Fonda in Easy Rider and Dennis Quaid in Everybody’s All-American (filmed at Louisiana State University!).
Are there any other aspects of design you’d like to branch out into?
I love to design furniture and spaces and hope to do more of that someday.
Shop Billy Reid’s new season line now at selfridges.com