The best part of my job is meeting people, and of those, the creative souls stand apart. There is a trait I’ve picked up on across all of the most gifted types. Although they’re immersed in the arts, they don’t consume them the same way as, let’s say, a layman. They aren’t entertained, but challenged, losing themselves in the thoughtful reverie of, “I want to do this,” which unfurls into “I can do this better.” Even if they have no prior knowledge of the medium, the ego pushes forward. This is also inspiring to watch.
“I’m just saying if there’s nothing out there that I like, I’m just going to make something that I like…”
I remember feeling this way, and still do. It’s cold narcissism, but it’s also the artist’s role. The world can always be prettier or uglier; whichever, there is room for correction. To the creator, there is always margin for his or her interpretation. This bravado is amplified in the youth, who only see systems to upset and large canvases to paint.
I have been shadowing the designer Reese Cooper for the last few months. I was with him the day he turned 20 (yes, 20). I watched his hands prepare the materials for his Spring collection. At the start of the new year, he would show this assortment in Paris during Men’s Fashion Week. There’d already been a curiosity welling around Reese’s work in fashion’s higher tier. This was to be his debut.
“This is the first time I’ve actually tried to do something full—and it’s terrifying.”
He catches himself and resets.
“No, it’s cool. I’m very excited for it. It’s a full collection. It’s under my name so there’s no... I guess the word I’m looking for is there’s no way to pretend it’s not—
“The real thing?” I interject.
“Like, you’re not playing anymore.”
To the creator, there is always margin for his or her interpretation. This bravado is amplified in the youth, who only see systems to upset and large canvases to paint.
I first met Reese through our mutual friend Tom Winslade. Before I checked his social stats, he carried himself in a way in which I just knew he had to be influential on some level. Maybe if Reese had stayed in his birthplace of Jacksonville, Florida, life would have been different. He has that look—that depending on where you grow up, can be celebrated or fucked with. He is gawky and white, his hair blanched and rumpled. If there was a Back to the Future prequel, he could play a young Doc Brown. But, he moved to Atlanta, and then London (well, the village of Cobham to be exact), which is home when Reese isn’t in Los Angeles. So, I wonder aloud why this collection is called “Lone Pine.”
“It’s like Americana mountain towns, but in a modern way. It’s just how I would see it in a sense.” Later that week, he shoots his lookbook in the local mountains with friends. Between the dense trees and fog rolling off the lake, the line emotes a rustic dialect that is unmistakably big country. “It’s my opinion on all that classic Americana stuff. ‘Lone Pine’ is the name I chose because metaphorically as well as literally, it’s like small town, small-minded, almost escaping to the woods from city life. I feel like I’ve always wanted to escape to the forest, in the sense, but I can’t literally do that because I have to pay rent [laughs]. But, yeah. It’s almost like building a uniform for escape. It’s how I picture a small town I can see myself in.”
Far from the American mountain towns, Reese first fell into fashion as a Londoner at the age of 14. In a very Gen Z way, it was thanks to a Bape jacket that wandered into his Tumblr feed.
“I was like, ‘What the fuck is that? This is cool.’ And then I found there was a BAPE store in London way back when and then I just hung out there, all the time. Until I ended up getting an internship at their distribution office (a number of names*).”
Reese didn’t fancy himself a designer, but he was intrigued. Like any streetwear upstart, he began with graphic T-shirts, but soon crossed over into cut-n-sew. He saved up his money, connected with a local seamstress, and brought her fabrics to experiment with. By 16, he was learning pattern making. A few years ago in New York, Reese made another critical production link with friend Charlie Giannetti, a fellow designer who initially hired him to model for his brand.
“I was watching him stress out in the studio where we were shooting, and pinning stuff, and getting more—like literally cutting and pinning stuff on the spot, when it was just a two-piece collection. It was just really cool to watch. It was like, ‘Oh, okay, this guy knows what he’s doing. Maybe I can ask for help.’ Like a year later we made our first jacket together, which was that cargo jacket from my first collection.”
The two moved to LA, where Charlie’s family owns a factory. As far as workshops go, it’s a sweet setup: clean, equipped with sewers and the finest materials, and just as much space as there is inspiration. Along with some other friends, it’s become a clubhouse chop shop for the new class of men’s designers. It reminds me of the Foot Clan’s hideout from the original Ninja Turtles movies, except instead of playing billiards and smoking menthol cigarettes, it’s a buncha scrappy kids running around making better clothing.
The day after New Year’s, I stop by the factory on my way to work. Reese is putting the finishing touches on a jacket constructed of surplus military bags. He got word that a vendor in New York had sourced several of these vintage duffels that he couldn’t find anywhere locally.
“I can just mail them out to you,” the man suggested, since Reese was across the country.
“No, that’s okay. I’ll be right there.”
That night, Reese got on a flight to New York, paid the man for his findings, and returned home the following day with his score. The bags have been disassembled and the weathered canvas has been folded around a traditional coach’s jacket pattern. The different shades of green are accented by the cream shearling lining.
He points to a blemish in the hide—it looks like someone clipped it with a razor. “You can tell that’s real shearling by the imperfections.” You can also tell it’s real shearling because the jacket will retail for $3,200 USD.
This is the part that bums me out about “fashion.” Why does anyone need a three thousand dollar jacket? The price tag seems so arbitrary sometimes. The longer I work in this business and the more familiar I get with true costs, I know that most of these designers are padding the product with hype and bullshit, not substantive value.
Reese confronts the point. “It’s just reflective of what it costs to make. That army jacket. It takes like four bags per jacket and those bags are 80 bucks a bag. There’s five hides of shearling in it, and those are about 100 a hide. Even the snaps on the jacket, those are like $4 a snap... Once you break it down, nothing is cheap.”
When I press him on making more accessible clothing, Reese defends, “But that’s not what I set out to do. I’d rather one person buy something that’s $100 than 10 people buy something that’s $10. Just because it means more to be—it’s like, real at that point. Like I put so much time into this and everything needs to be reflective of that. And if it works out, it works out. But if not, it is what it is. It’s impressive on its own.”
This is the most important thing to Reese: the naked product itself. I’m relieved that the young designer puts design at the forefront, not image or association. Meanwhile, mainstream fashion is channeling late ‘90s/early ‘00s urban design and has returned to its obsession with the logo.
“I feel like every brand is just writing their brand name. I mean, that’s exactly core streetwear but I’m not going to buy a $300 Helmut Lang hoodie that just says Helmut Lang. It’s not what it’s for.”
We have philosophical differences here. Logos and bold names can disservice a brand, but they also have a purpose and power. Maybe down the road, Reese will see their value? “As a designer, do you think you’ll ever get to that point?”
“I hope not [laughs]. I say that now, but yeah, I don’t know. It feels too weird.”
“Why does it feel weird?”
“I don’t consider myself and my name as a brand name or a household ‘wear this’ or ‘represent this.’ I’m literally just a person. I’m just making clothes. I make clothes, I take photos, I do a bunch of other things in my free time. I just kind of like making stuff. And to support that, to enjoy what I make, it feels weird if you’re just wearing my name. There’s no reason why within that actual garment, I guess? If you’re just wearing something that says a name and you can’t really ask why? Like, what is this? Obviously there’s like brand and everything but if you break it down, why did you buy that one?”
“So for you it’s more important for the garment to speak for itself.”
“Yeah. I don’t wear a lot of branded stuff. I don’t like to be a billboard and I want my design to reflect that, ‘cause everyone I see walking on the street, you just see stripes. You just see names. There’s no design—it’s just logo slapping. So I guess that’s just my retaliation subconsciously but I don’t want to just write my name on shit to be another one of those brands.”
The next time I see Reese, it’s in Paris. He tells me to stop by his showroom between 1 and 2 and when I try to pivot into another time slot, he can’t accommodate me. Before the week began, he had locked in a certain number of appointments with some of the world’s most esteemed retailers, but that plan fell apart as soon as he walked into the city. Word spread fast on Reese Cooper and now, buyers are climbing over each other to get in front of the next “It” designer.
We stand on the small street outside his gallery-turned-showroom. It’s cold outside and I’m shivering, but Reese doesn’t seem to notice the air. “This is crazy.” He tousles his hair and spins his eyes. He can’t quite believe what’s happening. Neither can I. His name continues to pop up throughout the week in meetings and dinners and I kinda start buying into the hype also. I mean, I’ve seen it from the inside and know it’s real, so that just gets me more hopeful that Reese Cooper is about to be a big deal. On my last night, I’m at a Slam Jam dinner and sharing Reese stories with Jian and Alec of Highsnobiety. Kubo from GR8 Tokyo attributes Reese’s allure to the young set of cool kids he surrounds himself with. He’s made fans of the right faces like Heron Preston, Tyler, and Luka Sabbat. But, Reese’s circle is also comprised of the inaccessible young guard like fellow designer Jakob Hetzer and Reese’s model girlfriend Maggie Jablonski. Right before we left LA, I asked Reese what he was most excited about for Paris and at first, his answer caught me off guard. It’s about hanging out with his buddies.
“I’m there with a couple friends, so I just want to be non-stop shooting fun content and having a good time. It’s like a celebration work trip. I am there for work, but the fact that I’m there with my friend Bella who’s a photographer and my friend Alberto and his girlfriend and we’re all going to be staying together and it’s just gonna be a ridiculous week, but with hopefully little victories every day with meetings and stuff.”
It’s then that I’m reminded that Reese Cooper has just started—in career and in life. For now, it’s about his crew, his vision, and his voice. Who knows where he’ll be in five years (when he’s still only 25!) or if he’ll sustain long enough to see the game from my perspective. I imagine a lot of different futures for Reese Cooper as I say goodbye and Good Luck. I also think about fashion’s different futures as well, against the rise of a generation of Reese Coopers. I watch him resume sales meetings on the other side of that glass door. The world is coming at him fast, but I trust him with it.
For further reading on Bobby’s blog:
“THE MAIN EVENT: Paris Fashion Week 2018.” Bobby attends Paris Fashion Week for the first time as an industry outsider and examines the yin-yang relationship between high fashion and true streetwear, using the classic film Rocky as metaphor.
“The Truth About Streetwear.” Bobby’s thoughts on the current state—and future—of streetwear.