A Well Deserved Night Out With Reese Cooper

by Corrine Ciani

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After considerable orders off the cocktail menu, Reese Cooper and I make ourselves comfortable in a candlelit corner table in the smoking section at the Chateau. He lounges back in vintage t-shirt and jeans - a uniform he dons almost exclusively - with cigarette in hand, a fixture from the beginning to the end of our interview.

If one were to observe our night of indulgence, it appears we’ve both had a long day. As we get to talking, it appears Reese Cooper has had a long few years. 

The 21-year-old designer has managed to keep himself busy since moving to Los Angeles three years ago. Since starting his eponymous brand in 2016, Reese has thrived off placing fans and consumers in an environment of his choosing, creating collections that tell a story. Six collections later and sleep deprivation aplenty, it’s all starting to pay off. His current stock list includes Barneys New York and Selfridges. At the time of this interview, he mentioned he was working on finalizing his portfolio for the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund. As of June 17, the CFDA announced him as one of the 2019 finalists

Reese Cooper embodies the central ethos of DIY,  small towns you’ve never heard of, and the landscape of the American heartland. His SS20 Menswear collection titled, “How a Letter Travels,” which he showcased at Men’s Paris Fashion Week in June, shares a new chapter of his life. 

Photographs by  Corrine Ciani

Photographs by Corrine Ciani

“It’s a continuation of my AW19 menswear collection “Hitchhiking.” I was in a very bad place in my life last year and the only thing I could think about was, ‘keep going.’ Now out of that very bad place, I see this whole other world out there. For the past few weeks I’ve woken up not feeling like shit thinking, ‘fuck, people live like this?’ And I'm just discovering that world. So this collection is a continuation of that - the discovery and exploration of that world,” he tells me. “I’m kind of basing it off of letters home from this journey. Basically letters to myself, not literal letters, but the idea of traveling and taking this journey and writing postcards home, explaining how the trip is going. That's kind of the core of this collection.”  

His brand tends to be synonymous with the looks of vintage Americana workwear (think his Pre-Fall 19 collection “Against the Wind”), and alludes themes of academia (seen through recreated letterman jackets from his AW18 collection titled “Lone Pine”).  While those themes are an accurate representation of his interests, he feels his brand identity stems more so from a feeling of retrospection in the subjunctive.

“Technically I didn't do the whole academic thing. I didn't go to prom, I didn't play high school sports, any of that. I never really lived in the middle of nowhere. But that’s what I’m really attracted to. I think it’s some sort of faux nostaglia, wishing I had that life because what I do is so fucking stressful. I think, ‘damn, what if i just moved to Montana and didn't have to do this?’ So I find that influences everything,” he explains.  

Reese Cooper originates from his curiosity to find answers to two questions: how things are made and why those things cost so much. Designing clothing happened to satisfy both. 

Photographs by  Corrine Ciani

Photographs by Corrine Ciani

His design process, explained as - “A fucking shitshow” -  does not rely on sketching to set the tone, but rather focuses on a singular image. “I know what everything looks like before it happens. Instead of thinking what does this jacket look like, I'm thinking what's the photograph look like. How is it shot, why it does it need to be shot like this, what colors are in the background. And that influences the fabric, the colors, the cut of it, draping, how it falls, whatever. I think of the picture as one, and the item just happens to be a piece of the picture,” he says. He finds this process to be a blessing and a curse, but one he credits largely to not going to fashion school or receiving any form of technical training, stating, “I didn’t learn how to do this. I know how to do it the way I know how to do it.” 

At this moment in his life, Reese is fully aware that what once began as a hobby has transformed into a business with real money at stake. For those with questions regarding design, he’d like it to be known that 95 percent of making clothes has nothing to do with clothes. “Having a hobby is very different then turning it into a business. As much as I am a “fashion designer,” I am running a startup business. And this shit is really hard. I don't want to say it’s not fun… okay, the reality is it’s not fun. You shouldn't do this,” he laughs.  “But when you see that final concept come together, that single pro outweighs all the cons. Having that idea realized in that final form is worth all the bullshit you went through. It just erases all the energy from the past six months.” 

Photographs by  Corrine Ciani

Photographs by Corrine Ciani

As we discuss the seven years he’s been building his brand, it’s easy to forget just how old he is. And while he realizes that as a 21-year-old he’s doing well, there are still insecurities present.

“Obviously it’s very positive thing I was able to do this so quickly and so young but it’s really hard when I feel older mentally, and playing on the same field as people who are 10 years older than me. It’s really hard not to compare yourself to people who have been doing this for 15 years,” he says. “And I’m still  years away from being in a position I’m comfortable being in, and to be able to provide for anyone around me. I’m living off like 10 to 20 bucks a day, none of this shit is glamorous, not until you’re making serious money. That doesn't happen often. But if it does you’re very fortunate and you’re good at what you do. Work ethic is 60 percent of the battle so if you got that down, you're more than halfway there.”

So for those wondering how he did it, there’s your answer: have a heavy dose of work ethic. Mix that with his fixation towards the insane, addicting feeling he gets when it comes to having the knowledge to explain how every single item of his is made, ultimately leaves him with no desire to turn back: “This is sort of my one shot at doing it, why wouldn't I do it the best it can be? I don't want to look back in five years and think, ‘Oh what if I gave it 100 percent?’ as I'm flipping burgers somewhere.” 

We talk of his longing to own a lot of land, painting as meditation, how nice it would be to not care how much dinner costs, an aspiration to find freedom - which to him means having the resources and financial backing to make whatever he wants - and our vices; cue the cloud of smoke that surrounds us. I ask him what’s next. “I don't know, that's the fun in this,” shrugs Reese. “All I can ask for is to be better than yesterday. And at the end of the day, as much as I can compare myself to others internally, the only competition is myself. It’s me versus me, you versus you.” 

Photographs by Corrine Ciani