Pressing Questions

The Gilt Man Q&A: K. Cooper Ray of Social Primer

The bow tie designer unveils his new Brooks Brothers collection.

Photo: Courtesy of K. Cooper RayEtiquette guru K. Cooper Ray has found a huge following with Social Primer, his modern day male Emily Post-style blog, and his bow tie collections for Brooks Brothers sell out across the country. We caught up with the well-mannered man about town to talk about Billy Reid, bow ties and his newly adopted hometown in South Carolina.

How is Charleston?
Oh I love it. I was saying to a friend of mine the other day that I am now an official Charlestonian and he reminded me that I will never be a real Charlestonian.

Ah, right, the old family thing.
You have to be born here. They really have the last vestige of an American aristocracy and they cling to it. They won’t let you in, but that’s quite all right. I prefer to be a visitor.

How is it treating you otherwise?
It’s amazing. But, a lot of men in Charleston don’t work—they go to the yacht club and go out to the country—so you really have to concentrate to work here. I have to turn down a lot of invitations.

And it’s an amazing foodie city.
Oh yeah. There’s this brand new place that opened a few weeks ago called Leaf and it’s already packed. It used to be this old college hang-out that we went to for years, a drinking place with a patio in the back. When it closed people were shocked, but Leaf opened and expanded the patio and the whole place is kind of an indoor/outdoor patio right in the heart of the historic district. The drinks are like $6. I was just writing a blog post about it to say it may be my new favorite place.

I ran into Billy Reid last night and he had all kinds of glowing things to say about you.
Oh, that’s nice. I think he is just incredible. I just love everything he does. He’s a great guy and has a great sense of style. It’s the whole thing I love: American with rusticana with a Southern patina.

How did the idea for your pop up shop in his store for Charleston fashion week come about?
When I met with my team in January, we said, OK, we need a retail presence in Charleston. We’d done pop ups in LA and New York. They said, well, where do you want to be here, and I said Billy Reid, without a doubt. His aesthetic is so strong in there—it’s like walking into his living room, the store—so I didn’t know how it was going to work. But I just called him up and I said I would love to do it in there. He said, “done.” We had a blockbuster opening. We had to hire security, which is unheard of in Charleston.

What was the crowd like?
You know, it’s funny. The fashion crowd usually sees somebody in a blue blazer and a bow tie and thinks you are raising money for the GOP. But we had everybody—the fashion trend chasers, local fashion bloggers, frat boys—it was an awesome crowd.

Photo: Courtesy of K. Cooper Ray

Ray, right, in his Social Primer hunting scene chinos

Tell me about those hunting scene chinos.
They are my favorite thing of the moment, I can tell you. I went to the Southeastern Wildlife Expo here, the biggest of its kind anywhere in the country. Unlimited hunters. It kicks off the season in Charleston. I ran into this guy William Lamb—just this good old boy from Florida who is a phenomenal artist. In addition to all that stuff he had this hundred year-old wallpaper from his grandmother’s house and he made it into a fabric and had it in his booth. I flipped out completely over it and said, “I have to have this.” He sent me a bolt of it and I had them made into pants. We sell them in the shop right now as custom made. We had a bourbon tasting last Friday night at Billy Reid and I got this master tailor from Ecuador and he was just measuring up the guys who were placing orders. They are made on this heavyweight cotton twill so they’re definitely fall/winter pants. The worst thing about them is that they are so distinctive you can’t wear them often.

I’m kind of fascinated by the burgeoning “Prep-itary” trend going on.
Well, I call it “Prep-neck.” But people think that might have too regional a ring.

I love the Social Primer x Brooks Brothers tie for Spring. Bring on the madras.
Well, we have a real special surprise for you which goes right into what we’re talking about. I’ve been waiting with baited breath to talk about it and I saw it last week, finally, and it is psychotically good.

Here it is:

Photo: Courtesy of Brooks Brothers

Social Primer x Brooks Brothers Spring 2011

Amazing. So are you going to continue to flesh out your collection for Brooks?
I am. You know, I’ve definitely been inching more toward apparel and I’d love to do a capsule collection.

Speaking of finding the time, I am really eagerly awaiting the Social Primer etiquette book.
I’ve been doing the SP Bill of Rites on the site and at the bourbon tasting the other day all the guys were dressed, talking about the Bill of Rites, drinking our bourbon and this beautiful girl Christina walks up and they all jumped to their feet. I was so surprised and they all said, “We read the first article.”

A man stands.

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  1. Marcus says:

    where can I find the pictured tie? I looked in the store and it is nowhere to be found.

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