Billy Reid fashion designerFlorence, Alabama, is a small Southern town known as the home of W.C. Billy Reid fashion designerHandy, Division II football powerhouse University of North Alabama and two famous and successful fashion designers. Natalie Chanin is one of those designers (see yesterday’s post for a look at her newest collection) and the other is — have you guessed it yet? — Billy Reid. Billy was born in Louisiana and grew up in Texas (Florence is his wife’s hometown), and his men’s and women’s clothes are evocative of a gently elegant and quietly genteel Southern way of life. He has stores in New York, Dallas and other cities, but the flagship store is in downtown Florence. It’s in a gorgeous 1833 house called Pickett Place that glows with family antiques and photographs — well worth the trip to Florence just to wander around and admire. Like his friend Natalie, Billy always is friendly and gracious — they both have that Southern way of making you feel they’ve waited all day just for the chance to talk to you. They each see their work not only as businesses but as connections for reaching out and reminding others of the art and food and history and craft that’s around every street corner and county road in Alabama — and your hometown, too. Check out Billy’s Web site at

And if you’re like me and have to enjoy New York’s Fashion Week vicariously, check out these Web sites: Vogue’s for photos and complete coverage of each show (don’t forget The Sartorialist for photos of off-the-runway fashion); for intelligent discussion and background; and for the Fugly Girls’ signature and hilarious snarkiness. But we laugh because it’s true.


Alabama ChaninI always forget that I know an honest-to-goodness bona fide famous fashion designer. Actually, I know two. These are normal-looking regular people whom you can see any day walking around my small Alabama town, yet they’ve got fashion awards and magazine and newspaper spreads from around the world. And they know the Vogue folks by first names. Cool! I usually just think of these two as extra-nice people who are so sweet to always say “hello,” but when New York’s Fashion Week rolls around, I remember how special they really are.

The first is Natalie Chanin. She’s the owner and designer of Alabama Chanin, a company in Florence, Alabama that creates handmade one-of-a-kind clothing and home decor. Under Natalie’s direction, local artisans — many of them former textile workers who lost their jobs as the mills closed — use recycled and organic as well as new materials to make these breathtakingly whimsical works of fiber art. Natalie has the soul of an artist combined with the practical good sense of a business owner. And she’s not greedy — she shares! She’s written a lovely and inspiring book with instructions for several of her signature projects (“Alabama Stitch Book”) and regularly holds hands-on workshops where she passes on her secrets. She’s a vibrant part of the community and throws an everybody’s-invited picnic and open house every year. Go to her Web site,, where you can see more photos from her latest collection, learn more of her story and even order your own Alabama Chanin original.

Tomorrow: Who’s the other famous fashion designer living in Florence, Alabama? Come back and find out!