Reese Cooper: "I'm Only Happy Here When It's Raining"

Charlie Teasdale
·11-min read
Photo credit: Reese Cooper
Photo credit: Reese Cooper

From Esquire

LA-based designer Reese Cooper takes heavy inspiration from technical, outdoor clothing, so when 4.2 million acres of California were burned by raging, record-setting wildfires last year, the issue was bound to manifest in his work. At the end of January, he presented "Pyrophyte", his A/w'21 show, which had been filmed at the Mt Wilson Observatory, a storied landmark that just a few months ago was threatened by the inferno.

Cooper's clothes fuse the preppy, poppy Americana of Polo Ralph Lauren with the gorpy functionality of Patagonia. His idea is to make super high-end versions of the things people would reach for before a hike, but make them so that they can actually perform in the context of the real world. That is to say, he makes cool clothes that aim to last longer than most.

I caught up with Cooper last week to go through a few highlights of the new collection, chat through LA's evolving fashion scene and get a general insight into how the brand came to be.

How did the partnership with the Forest Service come about?

That's been a partnership I've been wanting for years, but just didn't want to jump the gun, and so waited until there was a project big enough that it was worth reaching out to Washington DC. Fortunately, they were super into it right away. We kind of just came to terms with the fact that like, if we aligned on messaging, I could reach an entirely different audience than they knew how, and it's just the first of many things we're trying to do together. The last thing I wanted to do was just do this one show and be like, “cool, thanks for your help, peace.”

You say the Californian outdoors inspires the brand – can you expand on that?

It [started with] me trying to mix outdoor stuff but with the quality level of luxury. Never trying to compete with like, like a Prada or Saint Laurent in terms of like aesthetic, but I was trying to compete with them on quality, so everything is made out here in LA.

There’s a bit of gap in the market there – a proper, high-functioning gorpcore brand, but with high fashion aesthetics.

Yeah, it’s definitely a gap, but it’s also just the stuff that I’m into. I’m just not into buying cheaper stuff that I know isn't going to last a while. I still wear some of the stuff from the first collection, which, granted, is only like four or five years old at this point, but when you're wearing it three times a week and it holds up, I'm pretty happy about it.

I think being in LA is super helpful because when you look at some production methods from European cities, they’re used to making stuff in that way. Whereas if I'm trying to make things on that level of quality but it's meant to be worn a lot, the same kind of sewing is just not going to work. So you have to look at early sewing details by Carhartt, Levis, Champion, and those machines are still out here. the sewing machines that do my denim are, I wanna say, 100 years old. The triple needle stitch [common on workwear and denim]; I do triple needle stitching on near every piece I do. We even have triple-needle on the T-shirts.

How do you settle on pricing?

People always assume it’s priced high because I want to play in a high world, but we just follow a formula: this is what it costs me to make, this is what we have to sell to wholesale for, this is what it has to retail for. There’s no smoke and mirrors. It’s literally a spreadsheet: raw materials; labour. And so some things come out quite expensive, but I don’t think someone could make them for cheaper.

Photo credit: Reese Cooper
Photo credit: Reese Cooper

I was speaking to someone recently about our collective disconnect between cost and value, and it is quite mad how little we expect to pay for some things.

Yeah, absolutely. It's funny being where I am in the city – I'm on like one of the main intersections in downtown LA and on my walk here every morning, I pass at least three or four blocks that just have a bunch of clothes out front on mannequins. And they have jeans that are like $3. I'm just like, “this is insane”. But that's what you're used to seeing all day – things that can be sold at that price.

You spent your teenage years in London, do you still feel your Englishness?

Yes… I guess in the little expressions or mannerisms, because I still have a bunch of friends who actually now live out here from over there, and it definitely comes out. I mean, I'm only fucking happy here when it's raining.

I don’t like LA, to be honest. Like, it’s cool. But LA has what I need for work right here, and then I can go be at the beach or in a mountain – within 45 minutes I can be in the water or snow, any given moment. You can't find that other places. And it's the only city in the US where I could be doing manufacturing at this level. I couldn't do it in New York because I couldn't afford it, but also most of the capabilities that we work with over here aren't even in the New York garment district. But a lot of our stuff uses organic dyes and organic milled fabric and there's no fabric mills in Manhattan. This is really just the place to be.

Is the LA fashion scene/industry evolving?

It's a weird thing because when you say ‘LA fashion’ there's like three to five brands that come to your mind, right? None of them talk to each other, there's no sense of community or scene out here. In New York if you run into someone at a factory it's like, “oh shit what's up, how are you?” You see someone here and no one says a word then waits for the other person to leave then they're like, “what are they making right now they're copying my shit?” It's very hostile, and I don't like to participate in any of it.

LA fashion in general – on the menswear side at least – on the surface level, is like biker jackets and skinny jeans and palm tree stuff, and like that's not the world I live in or want to live in. I don't feel like a competition with anyone out here but there's also not a very large sense of community either.

Photo credit: Reese Cooper
Photo credit: Reese Cooper

I feel like New York is quite closely aligned with European fashion and culture, is LA more detached?

Yeah LA’s detached from it all. The only reason I can make stuff out here and still work in those spaces over there is because I go to those spaces all the time. From making stuff in London at the start, and even just meeting with stores – without doing that trying to start something in LA, it's very difficult. Just because you were quite literally detached from everything, but also it just has its own weird sense of style that no other city would want to wear because biker jackets and palm trees do not resonate when it's raining.

Tell me more about A/W’21 – what are the key pieces that structure the collection?

Outerwear is always the biggest thing for me. This varsity jacket (below) is Italian wool and leather, just one of my staples. Huge chain stitch on the back, it says “the call of the wild shouldn’t be held”, which I read somewhere but I think it’s incredible.

Photo credit: Reese Cooper
Photo credit: Reese Cooper

The nice thing about last year is it let me take like the time off. It let me actually like catch up to the pace that all this stuff is moving. We have new tags, we have our custom lining now, custom hardware – just doing all the little things that catch up to the pace everything that's moving. And finally, instead of just keeping pushing on the same energy, just taking time to refine some of the silhouettes – this is the first time we've done any sort of coats. This is definitely the first stage of being able to do some of these more tailored pieces, or with more of a luxury feel.

How do you see your collections evolving in terms of this meeting of luxury and outdoors? That overcoat is not particularly close to outdoors clothing.

I always keep in mind that the same person who’s going to wear a little puffer and cargos… at some point he has to go somewhere else than just outside. It’s just inevitable. So I’m trying to capture more of a range. I just wanted to do something that's like a nice feel that without hitting a crazy price point so there's not even lining in that one. Just to keep it under 700 bucks.

Is the cropped cut your signature?

Yeah, definitely. I pretty much crop everything I make or buy. I just need everything to hit at the waistline, it’s just what I’m into.

Just a proportion thing?

Yeah. I think it makes everything look better. And that's one of my main tackles right now: like I love North Face and Arc’Teryx and I'm trying to figure out how to build capabilities in the US to start making some stuff like that. Because I look at all those things and I’m like, “yes it's functional, but you can't wear it if you're not literally on a mountain because it goes to your fucking knees, and like it just looks silly”. And so, I'm trying to figure out how to start working more in that world but we're getting close.

Is the consumer demanding more functionality from clothing right now?

I think so, there's less impulse-buying because not many people are even going to stores. Plus I think people just got outside more over the past year – that felt like one of the only safe things for people to do.

Even when I lived in London – I lived in Hammersmith – I would go into the city for work [at Billionaire Boys Club] but on the weekends I would be in like Richmond Park or somewhere just like doing something. But I was always attracted to stuff that I could wear to both places. And that's like the whole ethos of everything we're doing now.

One thing I wanted to show before I forget is hiking boots. For the first time, this is our own shoe. It's done in Italy; Vibram Soul, got like this cool vulcanised strip that covers the seam. You can still resole it, it's just a little bit difficult now, but it makes it more water-resistant. It's quite a slim fit and you could wear it just with jeans, the same way you could with like hiking pants or cargos.

You weren’t tempted to collaborate with a shoe brand or hiking brand?

I definitely was but everyone takes 18 or 24 months to develop anything. But I couldn’t find anyone that I wanted to work with on this stuff because I think it’s important to have something with purely my name, right out of the jump.

Where do you stand on collaboration in fashion, in general?

I’m all for doing it when it makes sense, I just haven't found one that truly makes sense yet. There's a couple people that I want to work with and but it's just going to take time to figure out what those projects are I'm not making stuff just for making stuff.

So what are next steps, what do the next three months look like for you?

Right now we’re launching spring season, we’re doing it via the drop model. We’ll eventually start working on the new season, and concepts for shows and all that, then starting production, so we stay pretty busy.

reese-cooper.com

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