I spent the majority of my childhood growing up in the South, North Carolina to be exact. So I know a thing or two about Southern style and the lifestyle that comes along with it. You’re taught from a very young age that to be a lady, one must dress and most importantly act like one. Mild manners, good humor and an overall likability with a hint of feminine charm are all traits of the archetypal Southern woman. And if she can’t wear it to church on Sunday, she’ll probably think twice about buying it.
So when I first discovered that Reese Witherspoon, the quintessential, self-proclaimed Southern Belle, was launching her Draper James lifestyle brand, I immediately recognized this marketing match made in heaven. Her Tennessee upbringing inspired this dedication to continuing the Southern tradition and culture that her collection personifies. She speaks to the shopper who craves the pretty, delicate femininity that you’ll find from designers like Kate Spade and Lily Pulitzer. And it appears, only two years in and the message is very well received. In the coming months, Draper James will have two more brick and mortar locations as well as recently acquired distribution in Nordstrom.
You can contribute Reese’s success to quite a few things, but her shameless self-promotion has to be one of them. Similar to actress-turned-entrepreneurs Gwenyth Paltrow and Jessica Alba, she does her best to make her brand and her name synonymous. But this isn’t always a fool proof approach, especially for the equally bubbly Blake Lively and her Preserve brand which suffered the opposite fate. But how did their approaches differ? I think it all boils down to simple authenticity. Lively sold a slightly similar Southern charm inspired narrative, while highlighting an homage to the controversial pre-Civil War South and the values of that era worth preserving. Questionable marketing aside, as a native Californian, Blake might have had some trouble connecting to her audience of Southern style mavens. Not only is Reese from the South, but the brand name itself is derived from the names of her grandparents who in her eyes, fully embodied the lifestyle that she promotes and sells. By featuring herself in a majority of the advertising and carefully ensuring that she’s hardly seen out and about without at least some piece of branded merchandise clearly visible, the dedication is apparent. I think if you’re going to sell yourself as a brand, it has to be believable or customers won’t buy into the narrative. It’s hard to say if the same women glued to Reese’s on-screen characters are the ones supporting the brand, but there’s bound to be a few Southern Belles watching Legally Blonde in their sorority house holding Draper James iPhone cases. Love it or hate it, her loyal consumer base steadily increases and now major retailers are taking notice.
This summer’s Draper James X Net-a-Porter capsule collection is her first taste of expansion into wholesale and both parties see the massive opportunity to broaden their markets. Reese Witherspoon saw a sizable hole in an industry that often overlooks the American South as an area of style savvy shoppers, and she filled that void with an infectious side of charm. Cheerfully bright sundresses, pineapple-printed shorts, and off-the-shoulder ruffled tops are just some of her exclusive assortment at Net-a-Porter. In an effort to maintain her personal connection to the brand, she plays a larger role than most celebrity designers in the creative process behind her brand, as well as managing to produce over 70% of her products in the US almost half in the South. The brand website also features city guides of various Southern hotspots, and the accompanying blog includes an array of Reese approved recipes and style suggestions. From the looks of it, the face behind Draper James really does care enough to try to walk the walk.
I may not be one of the Southern women she describes as spending their summers bouncing back and forth from weddings to steeple chases, but apparently there are a plethora of us who do. If you ask me, it’s only a matter of time before the siren call of Draper James enchants it’s way into their hearts and seals the deal with a perfectly stitched monogram.
By Ariel Serano