If Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers—the legendary sessions musicians who were famously name-checked by Lynyrd Skynyrd in “Sweet Home Alabama”—its neighboring township, Florence, has got Billy Reid. Originally from Amite, Louisiana, Reid moved from New York to this northern Alabama hamlet—his wife Jeanne’s hometown—in 2001. Since that time he’s become the town’s de facto cultural ambassador, spreading his brand of Southern Gentleman sartorialism from Los Angeles to London. And for those looking to get a whiff of the bourbon-perfumed air and a baptism in the "Singing" Tennessee River that gave purchase to the Muscle Shoals Sound and Reid’s CFDA-winning clothes, the designer hosts an annual fashion, music, art, and food festival, simply dubbed Shindig, that just celebrated its 9th iteration this past weekend.
The festivities began with the “Business Man’s Special”—a semi-friendly baseball game between Reid’s Alabama Slammers and Jack White’s Third Man Triples—and were followed with Southern cuisine with a twist by the likes of Nashville’s Rolf & Daughters, New Orleans’s Herbsaint and Florence’s own Odette; musical offerings ranging from Nashville punk impresario Ron Gallo to Hill Country bluesman Cedric Burnside; and a wealth of visual art including Butch Anthony’s canvases at Reid’s flagship boutique and the Muscle Shoals Theatre to Michael Weintrob’s Instrumenthead portraits up at the legendary FAME Studios.
“We have grown exponentially without losing our authenticity,” says Reid. “Which is key.”
Also key to that authenticity is the exponential breadth of cultural offerings Reid has folded into the Shindig mix. One of the most significant additions to Shindig No. 9 was Reid's partnership with the Rosenbaum House, the only Frank Lloyd Wright house in Alabama. To celebrate the 150th anniversary of Wright’s birthday, the designer created an installation in the house from his Spring/Summer 2018 collection and opened it up as a destination on the official event schedule.
“That place is sacred ground, so we didn’t want to disrupt anything,” says Reid, who first visited the home—what Wright scholar John Sergeant calls "the purest example” of Wright’s Usonian homes built for middle income families—in 2002 after it received an $800,000 rehabilitation from the city to repair the roof and interiors from decades of water damage.
Reid’s since used the home three times for photo shoots, most recently as the backdrop for his Fall 2015 campaign.“We just wanted to situate these models in these clothes in a way that felt like these were the people inhabiting this house for a cocktail party.”
Reid’s mannequins, made from overruns of archival trim (including ribbon tape, cotton labels, dripped wax, scrap leather, copper tack buttons and brass rivets from denim jackets and pants), were positioned throughout the home’s tailor-made seating areas, study, and bedrooms—each of which are defined by Wright’s iconic yet economical Cherokee red concrete floors, stained cedar plywood wall panels, and custom furniture—in various states of repose.
“The Rosenbaums would have loved this, and Frank Lloyd Wright would have love this because he wanted his houses to be meeting places for creative people,” said Libby Jordan, the director of the Rosenbaum House, which was designed in 1939 and occupied by the Rosenbaum family from 1940-1999.
While touring us around the grounds last Friday, Jordan explained that Stanley Rosenbaum was a professor at Florence State Teachers' College (now the University of North Alabama, where Reid’s Slammers suffered a crushing loss to White’s Triples earlier that morning). His family, who owned the movie theaters around town, gave their son $7,500 (and the property across the street from their house) when he got engaged to build a home, though they certainly never could have imagined the “space ship” that Wright eventually delivered at almost twice that budget.
However, the Usonian model was perfectly suited to Stanley and his New York-born wife, Mildred, a former model who once appeared in Vogue—the photo still hangs in the sewing room—who was the first recipient of the Wright Spirit Award. “That award is given to people who have drunk the Kool-Aid of Wright and are dedicated to preserving Wright’s philosophy," Jordan told me. "So the house was never adulterated in any way.”
Wright’s vision of the Usonian home was to start small and encourage homeowners to add to the home if needed—sort of a luxe precursor to today’s modular home craze—a step the Rosenbaums took in 1948 (the only Usonian owners to do so) with a sleeping porch for their four children, a walled Japanese garden, and a second kitchen.
Wright also appointed the home with plenty of purposeful (if poetic) details that unite the space with the landscape: built-in bookshelves throughout the home for Stanley’s 5,000 books; fretwork panels over the clerestory windows that provide a soft light (at a fraction of the cost of the stained glass windows in Wright's Prairie Homes); a five-tiered roof to mimic the terraced grounds; windowed doors in every room (except the bathrooms) to lend the home a true indoor-outdoor sensibility; and the piece de resistance, a cozy copper-trimmed “martini porch” off the master bedroom overlooking the backyard.
“We know it’s not a smoking porch because [Stanley] could smoke all over the house and did,” Jordan explained. “You could see the Tennessee River from here at the time because there were no trees and no neighborhood to block his view.”
Though she didn’t peel the seemingly hungover Billy Reid mannequins off the custom master bed, Jordan made a point to detail the significance of the rose tree bedspread on which they were slumbering.
“Rosenbaum means rose tree and Wright always called this his rose tree," Jordan continued. "And in fact we have a letter written to one of his colleagues. In it he said, ‘Have you seen my rose tree in Alabama yet? It has quite a lot of swish, don’t you think?’”
With 8,000-plus visitors expected this year—to a town of 40,000, no less—this swish little rose tree is becoming a shindig all to itself.
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