“Yes, this is my kitchen,” actress and entrepreneur Reese Witherspoon says with a smiling lilt. “Welcome to my Southern restaurant.” Unfortunately, we are not in her kitchen—which undoubtedly rivals that of her Big Little Lies character Madeline’s picture-perfect Monterey home—but, rather, in Manhattan’s East Village at the Southern-style eatery Root & Bone. With its bric-a-brac rooster and distressed-tin roof designed to emulate the rustic dinettes of the South, the venue feels well-chosen for the occasion: an unveiling of the latest collection from Draper James, the fashion brand Witherspoon founded in 2015 in homage to her Nashvillian roots.
Dress racks bordering the restaurant burst with A-line frocks and springy patterns from the line’s Spring 2018 collection. “It has all the classic elements of what we’ve been doing: Southern, lots of color, lots of prints, stripes—my style,” Witherspoon explains. “Just making ‘pretty’ easy for women, and bringing that Southern happiness and friendliness to everyone everywhere.”
The clothes reflect the sunny disposition that has made the actress famous—one descended, Witherspoon says, from her grandmother and grandfather, Dorothea Draper and William James Witherspoon, the line’s inspirations and eponyms. “My grandmother always used to say, ‘Just smile at people. Smiles are contagious,’” Witherspoon recalls. “And I think there’s a thing in the South where everyone just says hi to everybody else, even on the street. Everyone’s very friendly.”
With stores in Lexington, Nashville, Dallas and, most recently, Atlanta, Draper James has been making Southern belles smile for some time. But, you don’t have to be Scarlett O’Hara to channel a bit of Southern charm. “The spring collection was all about balance—something we as women are always striving to achieve. Classic Draper James prints and details [the magnolia flower, stripes and delicate lace] are complemented by everyday wear in solid colors,” Draper James tells us in a statement. And now, the line is spreading Southern hospitality north of the Mason Dixon line, recently hitting shelves at Saks Fifth Avenue just in time for spring.
As she makes her way in Southern-inspired fashion, Witherspoon says she would consider channeling her Southern roots for the silver screen. A power-producer known for screen adaptations like Wild, Witherspoon says she would like to see Tennessee Williams’s not-so-sunny A Streetcar Named Desire given the modern-day Hollywood treatment. “I love Williams,” Witherspoon tells us. “Blanche DuBois is one of my favorites.”
Fans won’t have to wait much longer for Witherspoon’s next adaptation: she co-stars as one of the witches in Ava DuVernay’s forthcoming movie version of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, alongside Mindy Kaling and Oprah Winfrey. So what did Witherspoon learn from Winfrey, one lifestyle guru to another? A lot, she says. “I literally would just listen to Oprah talk,” she says. “I got so much wisdom from her. She really talks about, ‘What is your intention with things?’ and it’s really important to think about how you are trying to help people and influence them.” This wisdom, says Witherspoon, was easily applicable to her growing lifestyle business. “So much of the Draper James brand is making dresses that make you feel good and confident in your life,” she says. “And ready to face the world.”
Main image credit: J. Ryan Ulsh Studio