As part of our fall 2014 Men’s Shop Catalog, we profiled 4 real men of style and substance. Here, award-winning menswear designer Billy Reid.
The best clothing designers approach their craft like a mix of art and science: part aesthetic sensibility, part structural engineering. Louisiana-born Billy Reid excels on both counts, offering meticulously crafted, tangibly soulful classics for men of all ages.
Beyond informing our aspirations of what to wear, Reid also serves as a solid role model for how to live. Keep reading for wise words from a man who finds time to coach baseball, sip bourbon and dig Bob Dylan, all while doing the best and most rewarding work of his career.
Billy Reid, on trusting your gut:
“What I really try to do is just make things that I believe in. Our customer is so diverse—I see 18-year-old kids come in and buy something, and I see 65-year-old men coming in and buying the same item. So we just try to do what we want to do, and hopefully people like it. Whatever you do, you should believe in it—because at the end of the day, at least you have that. If it doesn’t work out, at least you did something you wanted to do.”
On clothing as a collector’s item:
“A coat is something that lives with you. When you buy one, you want to keep it with you for a few years. There’s a pea coat that we’ve made for 12 years; it really hasn’t changed very much. So to see people replace theirs because they loved it so much, that’s really the goal—to have something that’s almost like a piece of furniture, something that sticks with you, ages with you, and that you want to keep around for a while.”
On rolling with the punches:
“I had no idea [that I wanted to be a designer]. I actually started school as a PE major—I wanted to be a coach, and I flunked out of college as a PE major, which is very difficult to do, but I did it. [Growing up], I played a lot of tennis, football, basketball, baseball. I went to a really small school—my graduating class was 44 people—so we were able to sort of play everything. Still to this day, I love sports; I coach my son’s baseball team now, so after all these years, it’s come full circle.”
On paying dues:
“The first advice I give to anyone wanting to get into this business is to get in doing whatever you can do, and learn it from all different angles. I started out on the sales floor, selling suits, and in the stockroom for many, many years, and worked my way up doing those things. Then I went into the wholesale side of the business, the marketing side, production—all of those things, before I really had an opportunity to get into design. So get in, learn, work hard, and good things will happen.”
On Southern soul:
“Music is always an influence on things. I’m always looking for new music, and I’ve been a huge music freak my entire life. Once I moved to Florence, Alabama—Muscle Shoals area—I don’t know if you’ve seen the documentary, but an incredibly rich heritage of people have recorded music there, from Aretha Franklin to the Rolling Stones to Bob Dylan to Paul Simon…even recently, the Black Keys and Band of Horses. There’s a thriving, young music scene there today, and it’s been great to be a part of that and watch it grow.”
Currently on the playlist:
“Gosh almighty, so much stuff. Usually old. I get on these weird sort of search missions. Gil Scott-Heron is someone I’ve been onto for the last few months—going back and listening to a lot of his poetry. If you’re not familiar with him, he was very prominent in the Black Panther movement. I’m very inspired by a lot of the stuff he did. So that’s what I was listening to on the plane, actually, on the way here.”
“Ooh. Well, it would probably be something my grandmother made: jambalaya. The trick to making good jambalaya is to caramelize the ingredients before you start—like, caramelize your rice in the oil, with the onions and bell pepper and everything. That’s a big part of it. If you don’t, you won’t quite get the real flavor. And don’t use boxed ingredients! Instant rice will do in a pinch, but you really should make it fresh if you can. It changes everything.”
Cocktail of choice:
“Beer. And I do like bourbon on the rocks. I’m not really a mixed-drink kind of person. I guess I’m more interested in the effect than the taste [laughs].”
Most prized possessions:
“Wedding pictures, artwork from my children, and my guitar. And that’d probably be it. If the house was burning and I could save those, I’d be all right.”
“The first thing is, you have to make time. That’s just a decision you have to make. If your work allows you to make that time to be at those games, recitals—whatever your kid’s going to have, to support ’em—you should make it a priority. You may have to work some odd hours. For me, I start work at like 5:30am, and then by 2:00, I’m toast. But I try to balance it out that way. You just have to sort of work your schedule around making the time. It’s the best thing, ’cause that’s really what they want more than anything: your time.”
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