Meet Mr Reese Cooper, The Boy King Of Menswear
Mr Reese Cooper, September 2019. Photograph by Ms Christian Najjar for StockX
Mr Reese Cooper doesn’t overthink things. “I had a friend who was making stuff out here and I basically took the leap,” he said recently about moving to Los Angeles from London, sight unseen, when he was 18. “I had never even visited.” It’s the kind of invincible logic that comes packaged with youth and often gets dismissed as impulsiveness – which it is – but it’s also instructive in understanding Mr Cooper’s self-assuredness. No flagellating, no hedging, just forward motion. Three years later, at the wizened age of 21, Mr Cooper is a runner-up for this year’s CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund, in recognition for his eponymous line of menswear, which cleverly splices workwear and Americana signifiers into something thoughtful and new with a specific point of view.
Mr Cooper is the youngest ever nominee to the Fashion Fund, a prize which supports promising American designers. Previous recipients, such as Public School, Thom Browne, The Elder Statesman and Pyer Moss, have gone on to make some of the most innovative and interesting menswear of the past few decades. If he is at all stressed about being in such company, it doesn’t show. Mr Cooper, who spent his early years in Atlanta before moving, at 11, to London, has clearly already taken to LA’s laissez-faire disposition, chatting unhurriedly from his design studio the week before the awards ceremony.
It feels remarkable when anyone manages to release half a dozen coherent collections, but to do it before you can legally rent a car skirts the limits of precociousness. Mr Cooper’s managed it by designing to his own interests. There’s no overextension in his clothing, no arch conceptual thesis, just easy-wearing canvas chore jackets and patchwork cotton-flannel button-down shirts that feel tied together in a cohesive story without being weighed down by leaden motifs. Mr Cooper traffics in loopback jersey and cotton-twill, workaday materials distinguished by their honesty. Plenty of brands put out a distressed denim jacket; Mr Cooper’s looks like it’s conceivably been on the back of someone on the road, weather-beaten and with patches of blooming yellow. It’s from Mr Cooper’s AW19 collection, which, fittingly, he named “Hitchhiking”, and feels like a spiritual descendant of Mr Marc Jacobs’ storied grunge collection for 1990s-era Perry Ellis.
Even though Mr Cooper’s clothes look expressly built for street level, he’s not fond of the streetwear designation. “I hate to use that word,” he says. “We’re literally milling the fabric that the T-shirts are made of.” He offers an alternative – “modern heritage” – but even that doesn’t quite get at what he’s really doing, which is sampling elements from the American workwear tradition, as well as that tradition’s oversaturation, and recontextualising them so they appear lucid again.
Mr Cooper’s business benefits from an unusual set-up: his northeast LA studio is inside the factory in which he does his production, which satisfies his hands-on approach. “I’m super particular, so I’m there all day, every day,” he says. “I like to watch everything happening, as opposed to sending a sketch to a factory and, a month later, you get a sample. That’s just not how I can operate. My hands and brain work way too fast to do something and wait for a month to see if it works. Being in the factories and watching everything happening firsthand, seeing all the possibilities in front of you, it’s like having a bucket of Lego dumped in front of you.”
“The way I go about designing is a continuous narrative, tacking it on to the last and figuring out what comes next”
Despite his transatlantic upbringing, Mr Cooper makes no distinction between the American and British schools of fashion. He’s less interested in pride of place, or the idiosyncrasies particular to New York or London style, or even Los Angeles for that matter, than he is in conjuring an unplaceable feeling. It’s a rough-edged one, building upon design cues set out by the master of Americana, Mr Ralph Lauren, and synthesising the tropes of luxury streetwear of the last few years into a nostalgia for a past he hasn’t lived, one that perhaps never existed in the first place, a collective false memory suffused with Hollywood film lot magic – His Own Private Menswear Idaho.
To that end, each season is a successive entry in a story that unfolds in real time. “The way I go about designing is a continuous narrative, tacking it on to the last and figuring out what comes next,” Mr Cooper says. “Because it means something. If I was just starting over each season, for me, that would be much harder. And I don’t think it would resonate. There’s a point of view, an opinion. We figure it out every season. It’s like this fantasy world that we’re building, that I don’t know. The goal is to build this other universe that the brand lives in – the ideal fantasy.”
Mr Cooper’s capsule for MR PORTER slots snugly into the narrative, both self-reflexive and self-reflective, built around the local history of his factory, a converted auto repair shop in Los Angeles’ Eagle Rock neighbourhood, and its place in the much wider mythological landscape of the American West. There are brushed cotton canvas work jackets and cargo trousers and chore coats elongated so that they graze the knee, all dyed in earthen shades that mimic the dusty lengths of open road that unfold for days and weeks and may or may not lead to some particular destination.
“Instead of looking outward for new things to bring in, I was looking inward, as in, what is the literal situation that we’re in?” Mr Cooper says. “This is a place that you find on the journey, which is what literally happened to me – I just stumbled into this. As long as I’m still here, the story’s still here.”