Billy Reid at New York Fashion Week: Men’s | Designer Q&A

billy-reid-headshotBilly Reid was one of the designers we looked forward to meeting most at #NYFWM, whose stuff we love (both his excellent every day clothes and subtly radical runway collections) and whose whole perspective is on-point, culturally and socially.

Click here for images of Reid’s spring/summer 2016 collection.

We caught up with the designer backstage before his runway show at David Zwirner Gallery in Chelsea. He told us all about his collection and which music he listened to while designing it–and opened up about his special connection to Charleston, SC, and being moved to take action after the tragic church shooting there.

Nordstrom blogs: I know you have a store in Charleston, and I know you had a shirt sold on your website, sales of which benefitted the A.M.E. church. Can you talk a little bit about your connection to the community there?

Billy Reid: Well, Charleston is…. I visited Charleston late in life, really right before we opened the store. And I fell in love with it. I grew up in south Louisiana, and it reminded me very much of New Orleans in a lot of ways. And we met so many great friends. When we opened there, we were in a super quiet part of town. The antiques district. So we weren’t in the thrust of the heavy-duty, fashion, retail world. So it took a while to catch on. Also our whole sidewalk was torn up, and you literally had to walk on a two by eight board. So our business was bad for a really long time. But the locals supported it like crazy. Really, we made so many good friends. And over time the sidewalk got fixed. There’s a great restaurant called Husk around the corner, run by our friend Sean Brock–and things just started to get better. It’s now one of our best stores right behind New York. The city took us in. And we feel such a part of that community.

And then all that happened. And my first thought was, How can we help? What can we do? And that’s a very small thing really. And we raised some good money, so that’s great. Man, for me personally, any time I see something tragic like that…. I’ve got chills talking about it. Nobody’s asked me the question before. It’s one of those things where you want to do something. I don’t know if it’s right what we did, we just wanted to do something. We did a similar thing for the tornados in Alabama. We had several friends who lost friends. When something touches you like that, you almost feel…I don’t know if it’s an obligation, but you want to do something.

To totally change gears, I did want to talk about your spring/summer collection.

It sounds like the most trivial thing in the world, now, doesn’t it?

I know. But if you are able to do that 180, I’d love to hear about the colors, shapes and patterns.

I wanted everything to feel really soft. From the fabrications to the lines to the pallette–I wanted the palette to be soft. I wanted the fabrics to be able to move, be lightweight. Any time for me when you’re using a lightweight fabric, you want something that moves away from the body, not hugging you tightly. So really it’s about taking the whole entire collection and really putting the word soft, putting the word elegance, and just easy. Unfussy. Didn’t want it to feel like the clothes were wearing the guy. Sometimes when you’re working on clothes you have all these ideas, textures, colors–and you want to get them all into the show. But there are times when you say, You know: Let’s pull back on that one. We love that fabric, but maybe you can sent it down with a beautiful black coat and that’s wonderful. The other thing is to look at the garments. Not just the fabric we made but look at the garment. Sometimes simple is good.

Curious what you’ve been listening to lately. You’re very associated with music. As we speak there’s a guitar player warming up in the next room.

Let’s look at the songs in my phone. I know I’ve got some Kendrick Lamar I’ve been listening to. Boombox. Did you listen to Boombox at all? Two-person electronic band out of Florence, Alabama. Fantastic. Alabama Shakes, of course. You heard of Jarryd James? He’s got kind of a white-guy D’Angelo thing. Jose Gonzalez, I love Jose Gonzalez. Some Sly. Talking Heads. Cat Stevens. Some Amy Winehouse. Gil Scott-Heron. This is stuff we’ve been listening to in the studio. I think it’s good, it’s what we were listening to during the season. The guy playing tonight is Rayland Baxter, a songwriter out of Nashville. He’s gonna play one moody song tonight.

You ever thought about starting a label?

I have not. I love music, but I think we’ve got our hands full. We love supporting it. It’s not an easy business.

What’s the significance of this first men’s-only Fashion Week in America?

I think it’s pivotal. I remember talking back in 2000, 2001 with the CFDA about a men’s fashion week. And it’s take a long time to come to pass. But I think there’s a lot of good clothes out there. There’s a lot of good designers making things in the United States. And for the retailers, I mean let’s talk about that. We’re going to have buyers here tonight. Not only do they get to see the collection before they enter the showroom–doesn’t mean they’re going to come in and buy the most editorial thing on the board, but still they get the sense of, OK, I get it. The full collection. Whereas in the past, we would have market, like, now. And then two months later we’d have the show and there’d be nothing for the buyers. This is much better.

–Andrew Matson

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