WWD: Please sum up the state of American fashion. What are its strengths? Its weaknesses?
Reese Cooper: Exciting…America is the pop culture capital of the world. I think people here know you have to work hard and fast to get anything done in this country as a whole. This really translates into the fashion industry in a city like New York.
I think the best way to describe the strong point of American fashion right now is its energy. More people are looking to get involved, and the people already involved are looking to take everything to the next level.
The weakness of the industry is definitely manufacturing. It is extremely expensive to try to produce high-quality clothing in America. For me, I need to maintain a standard of quality to be comfortable putting out a product. The finished garment needs to be as exciting as the initial thought and be the best it can be. To achieve that, I need to live where my clothing is being made. New York is too expensive to even think about manufacturing clothing, so I chose Los Angeles. Even so, having clothing produced in America is extremely expensive when trying to achieve luxury quality, and that is reflected in my retail prices.
WWD: How does current American fashion compare with that of Paris, Milan and London? Asia?
RC: In today’s market and industry, it’s hard to compare these cities without understanding that we live in the Internet age. Everything is accessible everywhere, at any time. It’s much harder to find unique pockets of culture today than it was 20 years ago, for example. With apps like Instagram, a Parisian or Italian designer can be inspired by specific things in Los Angeles, Tokyo, Berlin, etc., all at the same time without having to even go there. Everyone is connected, which makes everything start to blend into one larger industry and scene. Every city’s fashion scene being connected makes designers draw from the zeitgeist as a whole instead of specific things in their surroundings.
WWD: Would you agree that, roughly from the mid-Nineties through the Aughts, as American designers took on high-profile European jobs and a new generation emerged here, a level of excitement percolated around American fashion that has tempered?
RC: To me, when American designers take on high-profile European jobs, it’s not American fashion. It’s an American’s take on European fashion. Virgil Abloh at Louis Vuitton isn’t American fashion, it’s an American practicing Parisian/global fashion at the highest level. I think the market attraction to American fashion has stayed the same throughout the past two decades. However, I believe the excitement within American fashion has increased greatly recently. When the new generation sees someone like Virgil achieve the Louis Vuitton job, it’s a morale boost for American fashion designers. We now know it really is possible to get that level of recognition for your craft, without interning in Paris for 20 years first. With the Internet and American designers going to Europe, we feel more included and connected than ever.
WWD: What does American fashion do best? Where does it fall short?
RC: I would say American fashion has a strong sense of narrative. Every brand I respect in America has a very strong story behind the design and branding process.…We don’t have the history of major luxury fashion houses or the appreciation of luxury goods as much as somewhere like France. America, however, has its own history of industrial work, and the global buzz of major cities like New York and the allure of Hollywood. I think this helps establish our own narrative and stand out from the rest of the world. That said, American fashion lacks identity to a certain degree…European fashion is inspired by its heritage. America has a much different heritage in terms of things as simple as the architecture. I think it’s important to take inspiration from your surroundings as much as possible.
WWD: Is the American fashion industry set up to compete and succeed at the luxury level?
RC: I can’t speak for established companies with vast resources but, from my perspective, yes. I believe the American fashion industry is a little friendlier than the other major scenes. If you take my brand, being 20 years old and being able to manufacture garments at the luxury quality level I do is pretty crazy. It took significant effort and testing to find the right manufacturing for my brand, but people have been welcoming and helpful along the way. I can’t imagine it’s as easy to do what I’ve done in a fashion scene such as Milan or Paris. The American fashion industry as a whole seems to be progressive and encouraging of hard work from new designers and I believe that will help us succeed overall.
WWD: Is this a good time to be a U.S.-based designer/brand?
RC: From my experience, now is the best time to be a U.S.-based brand. In Los Angeles in particular, we seem to be getting a lot of attention. High-quality U.S. manufacturing became more accessible in recent years. I make everything in Los Angeles with a quality-first focus. There is still a stigma of being an “L.A. brand” but that seems to be shifting as people start to recognize the quality of work being produced here. Another major factor for me is living in the city where I produce. Just last month, I [moved] the brand headquarters to a building adjacent to my factory. This helps me maintain a certain quality by being able to interact with my team every day.
WWD: Is the international fashion community biased against American fashion?
RC: Yes. Starting my brand in London and moving to Los Angeles for production, I’ve noticed an attitude switch from people, being a “London brand” to an “L.A. brand.” There is a stigma attached to it. Being an American fashion brand doesn’t seem as prestigious or impressive as being a French or Italian fashion brand, it seems. All of that seems to be changing, though, as time goes on and American brands are proving themselves quality-wise.
WWD: Are you pleased with the CFDA’s efforts to promote American fashion?
RC: Absolutely. Supreme’s CFDA award for “Designer of the Year” was the biggest possible acknowledgment of current American fashion culture. Supreme as a brand captures the energy from the new generation, designers or not. As a young American designer, CFDA supporting Supreme was a way of saying “we see you,” to everyone in America working on a brand and craft right now — myself included.
WWD: Do American designers and brands do enough together to strengthen the industry and/or the perception of the industry here?
RC: In my opinion, it’s rare for luxury brands to fully collaborate. However, collaboration is the heart of streetwear. America is the birthplace and capital of streetwear. It’s all about community and being a part of something. The rest of the fashion industry now takes influence from streetwear, so collaboration is common here. It’s also fair to say American photographers, magazines, stylists and brands all working together strengthens the industry drastically. American fashion has always been an underdog compared to Europe so when someone here wins, we all win. We’re all part of a growing community looking to get the recognition it deserves.