Words & Photography Kirk Truman
A highly respected and prominent business in the global fashion industry, London-based womenswear and menswear brand Reiss was established in 1971 by founder David Reiss. Having taken over his father’s small tailoring business at the corner of Bishopsgate and Petticoat Lane Market, David purchased the neighbouring store and transformed it into a contemporary outfitter, forging the beginnings of the brand as we know it today. As it approaches its 50th anniversary, Reiss has expanded exponentially with touch points across more than 208 locations in 17 countries around the world, operating across multiple channels including owned stores, online, wholesale, licensing, franchises and concessions. At the centre of the Reiss story and philosophy is its Creative Director, James Spreckley. He speaks to me about the brand’s origins, its future and his vision for Reiss.
Tell me the story of your career.
While I was studying at the Royal College of Art I won a competition, which led to me working in tailoring for six years in Italy. I had the opportunity to work at Ermenegildo Zegna, which was a serious, fabric-run business. After being in Italy for a few years, though, I decided I wanted to return to London with what I had learned. Back then, menswear wasn’t on the grid as it is today. I was looking for a vehicle for my creativity and a way to inspire a new generation of men to dress well. It was around this time, after taking on a freelance role at Reiss, that I met David. He asked me to join the business permanently and I’ve been here now for some 15 years.
Describe Reiss and your relationship with the brand.
Reiss designs real clothes for real people. We’re behaving like a premium designer brand, but ultimately keeping the price reasonable. The role of a designer isn’t complete until the consumer wants our product and that cycle is always changing for us. When I first met David, I saw a freight train of passion in him. He had his feet on the ground and I admired his entrepreneurial spirit. We had a mutual agreement on a dreamy aspirational aesthetic for women’s and men’s clothing.
Tell me about your life away from Reiss.
I live in Kent, quite literally in the middle of the woods. I don’t have any neighbours; it’s just me and my family. The commute into London is an opportunity for me to prepare for the day ahead. I’m forever hungry for information, so I spend my downtime reading, listening to music and watching films, all of which serve as a key source of inspiration for my work. Music, particularly, has had a profound impact on me. I’m classically trained on the guitar, so I’ve absorbed influences from folk music and poetry since youth. Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Leonard Cohen were the soundtrack to my upbringing and their aural storytelling still inspires me in creating mood boards and colour-curating each season at Reiss. Music has taught me much in life and educated me about the zeitgeist of culture and the need for perfectionism, which in turn has fed into the products we create here.
Tell me about the origins of Reiss and the future of the brand.
After he inherited his father’s store, David became a leading name in the King’s Road buzz in the capital. From a business point of view, he saw the potential in developing a thriving menswear outfitter, which subsequently evolved into womenswear over time. Innately competitive, David wanted to dominate the market in good taste and also make it affordable to consumers. Now, as we near our 50th year as a brand, sustainability is integral to our future, as is continuing Reiss’ tradition as a purveyor of timeless pieces and lifestyle products. In terms of sustainability, we will be considering fabrics going forward as well as packaging across the company. “Relevant” is a crucial word and a bold task.
Define Reiss to me.
Fantasy, not reality. We try to nurture all of the pockets of people’s time by making them feel fantastic in their own skin.
Are there plans to celebrate Reiss’ 50th anniversary?
We have discussed the idea of producing an archive collection on a very limited run, which may go on tour globally. It would be based around a capsule collection. Although we’re London-based, it’s important for us to celebrate our brand internationally. For our 50th year, we are also dedicated to ensuring our packaging is almost entirely sustainable. I think we will be honouring 50 years with an eye to the future, rather than celebrating it.