There’s nothing like a smooth glass of bourbon to fight the late March chill in New York City. That fact is not lost on the designer Billy Reid, who has plenty of the sweet stuff on hand in his cozy, six-month old Bond Street store. “We want all of our stores to feel like you’re walking into your own home,” he says, in a syrupy Southern accent; for a moment, you actually believe you’re sitting in Reid’s living room in his hometown of Florence, Alabama.
The true draw of the inviting shop, though, is not its booze-plying sales staff, nor is it the one-of-a-kind antique furniture or quirky family photos on the walls. Discerning New York City shoppers—from grey-haired banker-types to downtown fashionistas—can’t seem to get enough of Billy Reid’s five-year-old eponymous fashion line, a timeless collection with its roots in the South.
“I never thought of it as ‘Southern Style,’” says Reid, who worked for Saks Fifth Avenue and Reebok before venturing out on his own. “They were just clothes that I liked to wear but couldn’t find: preppy clothes with a lot of guts in the fabric and construction. As we started selling the collection, people just kind of picked up on the Southern thing. I actually think it’s actually just my accent.”
It hasn’t taken long for Billy Reid to build up a loyal following of guys seeking field-tested outerwear, sturdy American suiting, and broken-in oxfords and denim with an urban edge. But amazingly, in an industry filled with buzz and hype, the designer’s nascent women’s collection has remained relatively under-the-radar since its debut last fall. Reid’s high-profile Bond Street shop is slowing changing that, as chic women accompanying their husbands and boyfriends discover that Reid is just as adept at creating a beautiful women’s shirtdress as he is at piecing together a made-to-measure men’s suit.
Although his menswear fans would identify Reid as a purveyor of authentic Americana fit for a merchant marine or a dandy Southern lawyer, his women’s collection, he says, “has much more of a city feel in it. It’s the wife or girlfriend of the Billy Reid guy. It has some menswear influence from a construction standpoint, but it’s much more feminine and prissy. It’s a little more East Village than Mississippi duck-hunting.”
Meanwhile, his menswear collection, which has thus far only been available in his seven namesake retail stores, will soon have a wider distribution. Upscale shopping destinations, including Bergdorf Goodman and Bloomingdale’s, have already signed on to bring Billy Reid’s brand of Southern style from coast to coast for fall ’09, and Reid hopes to expand internationally by next year.
The women’s collection will remain exclusive to Billy Reid stores until the designer perfects its look and feel. “We’ve seen a good business there, but we’re very protective of it.”
Like a true Southern gentleman, Reid waves off compliments. He says humbly, “We’re just making clothes and hopefully people keep liking them.” You can take a boy out of the South, but you can’t take the South out of the boy.
54 Bond Street, New York, New York 10012, 212 598-9335