Reese and Draper James’s Head of Design Kathryn Sukey appear on the cover of the Fall/Winter edition of Editorialist magazine this month. Editorialist is an online magazine focused on luxury accessories and jewellery. In the magazine, Reese and Kathryn pose for a new photoshoot, and talk about the inspiration for Draper James and upcoming plans for the brand.
Don’t let the sweet Southern twang fool you: Reese Witherspoon came to play. She’s single-handedly creating the inclusive, women-powered Hollywood of her dreams, running fashion brand Draper James with partner Kathryn Sukey…and making it all look easy as pecan pie.
Would you like a cup of sweet tea? Right this way — through the door of Draper James, where you’ll be met with a burst of florals adorning airy maxi dresses and elegant shifts; cheery slogans embroidered on tote bags (“Totes y’all”) and velvet loafers (“Hello darlin’”); a mix of modern art and parlor-perfect wallpaper; a marble-topped cash wrap designed to resemble a gourmet kitchen island; and one irresistible offer of sweetened iced tea, the cup itself dressed to impress in a gingham-and-magnolia print in the loveliest Carolina blue. Don’t mind if we do.
If the inside of Draper James’ four brick-and-mortars (all located below the Mason-Dixon) feels like Southern Charm in 3-D, it’s because the four-year-old brand’s founder, Reese Witherspoon, has imparted her sunny, gracious, Nashville-reared spirit upon each nook and cranny. These are the clothes Witherspoon herself wears — “I love the ease of putting on a dress and keeping style simple,” she says — in every arena of her head-spinningly busy life. Here, she’s posing barefoot on a front-porch lounger to announce the latest book-club pick from her flourishing production company, Hello Sunshine (see: Linen Ruffle Wrap Dress in “white floating petals” print). There she is under the shade of a cypress tree in Monterey — where Big Little Lies, the HBO juggernaut she produces and stars in as type-A mom Madeline Mackenzie, is filmed — clad in the line’s navy floral Elliston skirt. Draper James even conjured a summer dress named for the character, which Witherspoon modeled for her 18 million-plus Instagram followers: “Colorful, floral, and sassy,” read the caption, “just like Madeline Mackenzie.”
The brand’s fall collection, helmed by Draper James’ head of design Kathryn Sukey, carries its feminine-yet-festive DNA into striped and gingham midi dresses and elevated accents: pleats, sailor bows, Victorian collars. There’s a belted chambray shift perfect for a garden happy hour, and an A-line floral lace two-piece practically begging for the best seats at the Derby. Sukey joined Draper James last year after stints at Kate Spade and Coach to hone the brand’s “simple, timeless design,” Witherspoon says, adding that Sukey’s succeeded in reaching “another level of wearable and versatile. We see eye to eye on so much.”
Sukey calls it a “blessing” to be designing not just for a discerning Southern set, but a much more expansive demo, indeed — The Collective Fans of Reese Witherspoon Far and Wide, Inc. — and agrees that she and the brand’s founder work together like bourbon and honey. “Reese and I will bring tears in at the beginning of the season, and sometimes it’s the exact same one — I mean, out of all the inspiration you could pull in the world,” she says. “There really is a sensibility we both appreciate. For Fourth of July, we ended up in the same wrap dress.” When Witherspoon posted a holiday boomerang of herself in that dress — a flutter-sleeve frock in a patriotic palette, awash in florals — it sparked an “immediate reaction,” she says, adding that she’s fully embraced the community aspect of social media. “I really enjoy having that interaction, it’s something I never had in my career. Women are feeling more seen and supported than they ever have. We recently had a blogger for Draper James do a whole Insta story about inclusive sizing, and what it felt like that she didn’t have to walk to the back of the store to find her size. That really moved me.”
Draper James’ name is an homage to Witherspoon’s Southern grandparents — in particular, grandma Dorothea, who wore gloves to drive her white Cadillac and “always embodied grace,” Witherspoon says. “She didn’t have a lot of dresses but the ones she did, she would accessorize beautifully. She had her hair done every Tuesday, her nails done every Thursday. There’s a style Southern women have, and the importance of beauty — how you present yourself to the world, whether it’s your dining room table or dress for Easter Sunday — was so embedded in me.” And yet, Witherspoon’s proof that hailing from a corner of the country known for gentility does not a wilting wallflower make. “Oh no, I see it as a superpower,” she says. “Southern women are amazing. I think great beauty, great optimism, but also, you know, standing up for yourself — go hand in hand. My mother always said, ‘If you want to be a woman in this world, you’ve got to be tough.’”
Though you don’t have to dress like it; living primarily on a west coast that’s been invaded by chunky sneakers and neo-normcore, Witherspoon’s entrenched sensibilities still lean classic and feminine. “An elegant, put-together dress is my best way of getting myself out the door and ready to face the world,” she says, adding that she founded the line “because I was having a hard time finding the kind of dresses I loved to wear every day.”
No one does that better — creating the world you want to see — than Witherspoon. During the first two decades of a Hollywood career that began at age 14, she made success look as breezy as a linen wrap dress, displaying an oft-hailed gift for being deliciously watchable, for turning scrappy blondes — Election’s Tracy Flick, Legally Blonde’s Elle Woods — into icons. Then came the Oscar for playing June Carter Cash in Walk the Line. But by her late 30’s, the now 43-year-old “started to see the opportunities becoming less and less,” she says. While “lamenting” the state of things with her talent agent husband, Jim Toth, he told her, “‘You read more than anyone I know — why don’t you buy these books and produce them yourself?’” she recalls. After that formula resulted in huge hits with Gone Girl and Wild, the opportunity to channel her acumen into an Oprahesque digital book club, to build book-to-movie audiences in real time, planted the seeds for Hello Sunshine — a name that literally radiates the upbeat warmth Witherspoon’s known for (plus evokes her rare knack for pulling off yellow, lest anyone forget that strapless Nina Ricci from 2007’s Golden Globes).
With help from a private investor, Witherspoon self-funded the company, “which really said something to the industry: ‘If you’re not going to make projects with women, we’re going to find spaces to produce our own,’” she says. “You can’t continually knock on the door of a place that doesn’t create space for you.” She took up the cause of championing women’s visibility on and offscreen (as well as politically, rallying her vast industry cohort behind the Time’s Up movement) with an unflappable resolve, akin to Tracy’s run for student body president or Elle’s bid for law partner. It may have “started with making movies I wanted to see and be in,” she concedes, “but it expanded into this idea of: What can I do for more women in my industry?” Shepherding Big Little Lies, for example, would bring the book’s author, Liane Moriarty, acclaim; create meaty, profile-raising roles for Witherspoon’s of-a-certain-age peers, including Nicole Kidman and Laura Dern; and help validate women-centered narratives. After the first season won eight Emmys — scoring the actresses huge pay raises — Meryl Streep wanted in for season two. “She can do whatever she wants to do,” Witherspoon says of Streep, “but for her to use the currency she’s accrued in her career with a group of women who are creating and producing [a show] is a huge message. We’re seeing such a shift — whether in sports, entertainment, fashion. Women together are creating incredible momentum.”
As the tide continues to turn, Witherspoon’s amassing as much clout as any Hollywood player. Her three-show deal with Apple’s streaming service, including a co-starring vehicle with Jennifer Aniston, The Morning Show, was one of the most expensive TV deals in history; and her flair for bumping sales of books she totally loves, y’all — like Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere, which she’s turning into a miniseries for Hulu — has authors clamoring to be on her radar. How she’s able to predict the trajectory of a beach read dawdling in her “What Would Dolly Do?” tote to a galvanizing literary force and massive ratings draw, simply “comes from years of experience,” she insists. “I’ve made plenty of mistakes, good and bad movies, but after 30 years of being an actor I have a pretty great idea what will resonate with audiences.”
One sure bet? Legally Blonde 3 — Witherspoon’s reprisal of a beloved, whipsmart fashion plate who delights in proving people wrong. “We’re just in early stages of script development,” Witherspoon says, “but it’s been important to talk to people and say, ‘What was important to you about the character?’ — and get to the heart of what appeals to them. I try to ask a lot of questions.” You’d be forgiven for conflating Witherspoon with Elle, both of them forever a step ahead, even in heels. Or, for that matter, with any of her most memorable roles: Sweet Home Alabama’s “steel magnolia” business owner at her career peak; Election’s unapologetic go-getter busting through boys’-club barriers; Big Little Lies’ corraller of women and ever-involved mom (Witherspoon’s famously close with first-grader Tennessee, the son she shares with Toth; as well as daughter Ava and son Deacon, from her former marriage to Ryan Phillippe); or Little Fires Everywhere’s polished, presentation-obsessed suburbanite — who’d look right at home in Draper James. “Strong female characters really resonate,” Witherspoon says. “I feel the same way about Goldie Hawn and Meg Ryan — the characters they created stay with me. I’d watch their movies over and over, because at the time, there weren’t many female leads on film.” Thanks to Witherspoon, that’s fast becoming a thing of the past.