Reese Cooper is not mincing words for his fall 2021 collection. A bomber jacket reads: “The call of the wild should not be HELP!” Video calling from a new studio in Downtown Los Angeles, Cooper continued bluntly: “I’m in L.A., the center of the pandemic, in the worst place at worst time.” (Maybe not the worst time; just moments before our call, Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States.) But the severity of life in California right now, particularly in L.A., where recently one in five Covid tests were positive, is motivating Cooper to make change. On the pandemic front, he is the rare designer of the men’s fall 2021 season to include face coverings in his collection, and he spent what he estimates was 10% of his seasonal budget to ensure his staff, models, and collaborators could all be tested.
He’s also turned his attention to the wildfires that ravaged California during the summer and early fall, having witnessed the devastation firsthand on road trips up and down the coast. To that end, Cooper partnered with the U.S. Forest Service to plan his fall 2021 collection. With their guidance, he chose to set his show against the Mount Wilson Observatory that was mere minutes from being destroyed by the Bobcat fire.
A selection of products from fall 2021 will directly benefit the observatory and the National Forest Foundation, and Cooper will also continue his partnership with One Tree Planted that sees a tree planted for every garment sold. This sort of fashion activism can feel, at times, a little corpo-bleak, like the only way to save the environment is to keep buying into systems that, however noble, destroy it. But at least Cooper is trying to do good in the world; there are many, much more established names than his who churn on without regard.
The gravitas of his subject this season also seems to have spurred the young designer to new creative heights. His clothing was always cool, the stuff people with Instagram bios that have airplane and location pin emojis in them would wear, but now, on the whole his collection seems smarter and more focused. Outerwear is a key theme for fall 2021, with cargo jackets, wool coats, and a luxe suede bomber hand painted by the artist Juliet Johnstone. Silhouettes are narrower and more considered—even as a twenty-something, Cooper admits he is done with sweatpants.
The ideas carry into a larger womenswear offering, with pleated skirts printed with images of helicopters dropping fire retardant over a burning California, as well as straight leg jeans and slim-cut flannels. Cooper is also offering his first shoe: A lace up hiking boot with a light Vibram sole for those who want to get out into nature and celebrate it while it lasts.