He’s one of the most celebrated and influential voices in American menswear, but Billy Reid’s career path is anything but traditional. The designer grew up running amok in his mother’s womenswear boutique in Amite, Louisiana (population 4000). A stint working in a local high-end gentleman’s outfitter — owned by a guy Reid still describes as one of his top five style icons — piqued his interest in the business. After a failed attempt at a PE degree at South Eastern Louisiana U, Reid dropped out and spent a few aimless years working menial jobs, before his Mom sent him to the Art Institute of Dallas to study design.
It paid off. In 1988 he landed a job designing the brand new Greg Norman Shark line for Reebok, which saw him traveling the world developing product with international manufacturers, and by 1997 he had launched his own label, William Reid, in New York City. He won a CFDA award for emerging designers in 2001, which included backing for his first runway collection. The date of the show? September 10th, 2001. Reid’s fledgling label was one of the casualties of the events of the following day, and within months Reid was forced to shut down his company and relocate to Florence, Alabama with his young family.
In 2004, after freelancing for a few years, Reid got back in the game under the more fitting moniker Billy Reid (“The only person who ever called me William was my mother, and even then only when she was angry,” Reid likes to joke), this time with an all new business model — retail led, with an aesthetic that was true to his Southern heritage and workwear-friendly lifestyle. A movement was born. Remember the boom in heritage workwear that kicked off around 2008? The mash-up of hardy, blue collar-driven staples with Southern Italian-style tailored touches? Reid was on it all first.
Today, Reid’s retail empire spans 10 retail stores from Texas to NYC, and over the past years he’s won a GQ/CFDA Best New Designer Award (2010), a Vogue/CFDA Fashion Fund Award (2010), and in 2012 he took home the Oscar of men’s fashion: a CFDA Menswear Designer of the Year Award. Rather than retread the same fertile ground, Reid has continued to evolve his signature aesthetic: His two most recent collections — his two strongest yet, if you ask us — were inspired, respectively, by Reid’s 1987 sojourn to Southern California and a side project making a run of blankets. But, even as his horizons have broadened, Reid retains his connection to his Southern roots, raising his family in Florence, Alabama.
If you’re ever in town, stop by and say hello at his flagship on Court Street, and eat some barbecue at Bunyan’s — Billy personally guarantees the pulled pork.