Talking With Billy Reid

May 17, 2011 12:00 pm

Meet the menswear designer and food activist

billy reid portrait
Menswear designer Billy Reid is an active member of Southern Foodways Alliance
 
Selections from Billy Reid's menswear collection
Selections from Billy Reid's menswear collection
 

It’s been a banner year for Billy Reid. Last November the menswear designer won the esteemed CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund award, a prize that includes, among other things, $300,000 dollars towards his business. No doubt, the victory was a huge deal for the 46-year-old father of three, who runs his namesake label south of the Mason-Dixon Line in his hometown of Florence, Alabama.

And besides having one of those perfect, all-American names to match his brand’s easy-going, laid-back aesthetic, Reid’s well on his way to becoming a household moniker, thanks in part to his recent collaboration with mammoth retailer J. Crew.

Here he tells us about swapping the old, plaid button-down for a three-piece suit, his weakness for fried chicken, and living in the gulf region one year after the BP oil spill disaster.

Tell us about operating your business out of your hometown.

Our headquarters is located on the main street of our town here in Florence, Alabama. We work hard to be a vital part of our community and build with it. For the past couple of summers we have a weekend in June in which we have some local musicians play at the shop and put together a whole weekend around it where the town gets to come out and experience some live music. We want people to feel like they're at home at the shop, even if they're away from home, so we're excited that we get to put on another weekend of music, food, and culture for folks.

What’s your your everyday get-up-and-get-dressed aesthetic?

I don't think too much about what I'm going to wear everyday. I usually dress for comfort since some days I might be in the studio and other days, I might be out traveling or going on appointments. I'm a traditionalist.

Do you like to cook?

I do. I especially like to grill—the Weber grill gets a workout at our house. But we love to cook my grandmother's old Creole recipes.

What's your drink of choice?

I love beer of all kinds, but small-batch bourbon such as Pappy Van Winkle is one of my favorites.

What’s your fail-safe routine for entertaining?

We try to cook something different, depending on who's coming over. Shrimp and grits, fried green tomatoes, belle chevre cheeses, bread pudding—these were all recently on the menu.

Best meal of your life?

My grandmother’s biscuits and tomato gravy with fried chicken. I miss her very much!

How about a guilty pleasure?

Popeye's chicken. Fried chicken period.

Has the oil spill affected the way that you and your family eat?

Not too much. It's definitely been great to see some of the fishing community get back on its feet because I love to fish, but there are still ways that you can help. I'm a big supporter of Southern Foodways Alliance, an organization that preserves the Southern food community and culture.

Has the oil spill made you more or less incline to buy locally as a result of its effects?

Buying locally is important and regardless of a natural disaster like the recent tornadoes or something like the oil spill, because it takes a while for smaller communities to get back to their way of life. For business owners it can take longer, so it's good for them to know that their community will come together and help out.

So it wasn’t just agriculture and fishing industries that were affected?

It affected everything. We're a company that thinks globally, but we have the integrity of a small, local business. We're opening a warehouse and adding a new category to the collection that's all custom made clothing in the USA, so we want to create jobs locally so that folks can support their local agriculture and food community.

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