Working with a local seamstress in London, Florida-born designer Reese Cooper was already learning pattern making at the age of sixteen. By nineteen he launched his eponymous line and has since developed a cult following for his menswear collections.
After being encouraged to move to LA by his friend Charlie Gianetti, the young designer now wields a fresh voice within the DIY scene creating waves. Drawing together his cross-Atlantic background by combining elements of UK and LA streetwear, for Cooper each collection acts as a different chapter in an overarching story: whether that’s his new FW19 menswear collection Hitchhiking, inspired by the make or break nature of being a young designer finding their feet as well as California’s stunning landscape, or his inaugural womenswear collection released this season titled Big Sky, which represents Cooper’s retelling of the big city dreaming narrative.
Now 21-year-old, Cooper’s line can be found in top retailers worldwide like Selfridges and SSENSE, while his exclusive capsule collection Against the Wind drops at Barneys today – a pre-narrative for his men’s FW19 collection.
Here we drop into Cooper’s LA factory as he talks us through his brand (exclusive photography by Stefan Kohli).
J.L. Sirisuk: It’s mid-afternoon in LA isn’t it?
Reese Cooper: Yeah, the day’s been busy. I’ve been kind of sick for the past two or three days so I’m just getting back to the swing of things, trying to manage a bunch of stuff from home. But everything is good, just getting back into the flow of work, keeping it pushing.
JLS: Do you have a certain structure or routine to your day?
RC: As much as I’d like to think I don’t need structure, I really do. I have something of a routine in place – the person I live with owns the factory I work out of, so if I’m not out the front door at 7am, I miss the free ride to work [laughs]. If something comes into mind it’s like, “Alright let’s do this for two hours and see what comes out of it,” if nothing comes out of those two hours I’ll jump into something else.
JLS: How long have you been in LA?
RC: Two and a half years – it feels like a lot longer.
JLS: Where were you born? I once read it was in Atlanta, and then that it was Florida.
RC: I was born in Jacksonville, Florida, but I only lived there for like six months and then I was pretty much raised in Atlanta and then moved to London when I was about eleven.
JLS: And it was in London that your fashion interests took shape?
RC: It really stems from figuring out what I was interested in and spending a lot of time alone figuring out what made me happy as a person. I got on Tumblr pretty young and that was a pivotal moment for me. I remember seeing a BAPE jacket on Tumblr and was like, “What the hell is that?” I had never seen anything that cool. I found out there was a BAPE store in London and went. What interested me as much as seeing how much I liked this item of clothing, was going there and being just as interested in why the thing cost a thousand dollars. I was infatuated with the idea that you can make really valuable things.
JLS: I know that storytelling is intrinsic to what you do – what can you tell me about the first capsule collection you launched, Spoiled Children?
RC: I didn’t really connect with anyone at the schools I was at, so the name Spoiled Children was essentially a “fuck you” to anyone I went to school with who was making fun of the things that I was interested in or that I didn’t connect with. And the other part of that was trying to twist very basic school items – pieces I had to wear but never liked – into clothes I actually liked. I wanted to make those simple items I was interested in out of nicer materials, have the storyline be like, “this is what got me here so I might as well talk about it.” It was my first collection since moving to LA, so I did everything myself.
JLS: What took you to LA?
RC: My friend Charlie Giannetti. He was someone I met in New York about four years ago, when I was seventeen – this is back in the days where if I had a sample I wanted to do, I would work with a local seamstress, really hands on. I met Charlie in New York when I modeled for his brand and watching him actually have a brand, I was super interested in the design process and branding. So he helped me develop my first sample – one of the jackets from the Spoiled Children collection. He moved back to LA from New York, and said that if I wanted to start taking this thing seriously he would be willing to help. So that’s when I moved out here.
JLS: Were you nervous at all?
RC: I’m still nervous. I had never been to LA before I moved here.
Gallery: Reese Cooper menswear FW19
JLS: How do you think LA has influenced your work compared to when you were in London?
RC: LA is weird. I wake up every morning and I’m like, “Why do I live in Hollywood?” I think the one thing that it’s added – it’s gonna sound really corny – its added sunshine in my life. All the stuff I was thinking about and making in London, I was really depressed and everything was a super dark colour palette, and that’s how I was feeling. But now I live out here and things have changed. As much as LA is weird, it’s a really nice place to live and so I feel that now I’m in a place out here where I can do stuff and be happy about doing it.
“Mentally things were rough last year, it was just very overwhelming jumping into this new landscape and trying to do all of this business stuff at once.”
JLS: What’s informed your new Hitchhiking collection?
RC: For me, Hitchhiking is essentially about just moving forward, and pushing onwards. I’ve always been told that your third collection is “make or break”, in a business sense. Like this is either what makes you continue the business or you shut the doors. Mentally, things were rough last year, it was just very overwhelming jumping into this new landscape and trying to work out the business side of things. The whole collection is just inspired by moving, moving past the doubt that I had and moving forwards.
JLS: What other parts of your life do you think fed into this collection?
RC: I found a lot of inspiration in the landscape of what I was around. I’ve always said that I don’t really like LA, but I do really like California. And so what really pushed me to finish this collection and keep it going was that I had the idea for the lookbook and the campaign in my head. I knew exactly what I wanted it to look like, so I spent a lot of time location scouting. On those trips I was actually trying to find those places that I wanted to work and shoot in – I discovered the most beautiful places I’d ever seen, so that was one of main influences that kept me going with this one.
JLS: And what made you decide to take on the challenge of your first womenswear collection with Big Sky?
RC: I felt it was time. I mean, there are two parts to it. From a business decision, I’ve always been told that the first women’s collection you do isn’t going to be bought, people just want to make sure you can do it again before they buy into it. I wanted to get that first one out of the way, so I felt that now was a good time to do it. But also I felt like I needed the challenge. I needed the feeling of when I first moved to LA and was finding these factories for the first time, running around and figuring out all these processes and trying things on. I wanted to make myself uncomfortable again.
Gallery: Reese Cooper womenswear FW19
JLS: From the moment when you first saw that BAPE jacket to now, what have you learned about yourself that’s really surprised you?
RC: I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned what I’m comfortable with, what I’m not comfortable with, being more open with myself. If I’m uncomfortable with a project, it’s accepting why and then doing it anyway. It’s being able to pinpoint the fears that go along with everything and the self-confidence issues that stem from that. A lot of what I’ve learned is just opening my eyes to the fact that I really do have good people around me and this is only going to work if I want it to work.