By Anna-Claire Terry
From Opelika to New York and to Los Angeles, “Kevin” Cooper Ray is making his mark on men’s fashion everywhere.
Ray grew up in Opelika. He is the son of Aranell and Frank Ray. A 1982 graduate of OHS and a 1995 graduate of Auburn University, Ray said he has spent a lot of his life in Lee County, particularly Opelika.
Ray began his career in public relations. He freelanced in New York and was exposed to the fashion world.
“It was actually an accident,” he said. “ I was able to be around all the greats.”
Ray said writing was his first passion, and what he does with fashion now brings out the artist in him in a similar way that writing does.
Ray emphasizes the importance of being a classy man, and enjoys portraying that in his clothing. While living in L.A., Ray began writing a blog about living in The City of Angels and created a “modern guide to manners for men.” He would later publish a book called “The Bill of Rites for the American Man” that highlighted the same principles.
Ray first dipped his toe into the fashion pool when he collaborated with Brooks Brothers to design a line of bow ties.
“It was a tremendous success. We sold out of every season,” Ray said.
The bow ties even caught the attention of the Wall Street Journal.
From there, Ray’s solo line Social Primer was born in 2013.
One year later, Ray signed on with Bravo to be a part of a reality television show called “Southern Charm.” The show goes inside Charleston, South Carolina’s rich society and chronicles the life of the “Charleston man.” “Southern Charm” recently renewed its contract for a third season.
Ray now resides in Charleston where he finds much of his inspiration everyday. The classy Southern culture of his city is incorporated into his clothing designs. He takes the European influences found in Charleston and washes them through a Southern viewpoint.
“ I am lucky to be here in Charleston. This is one of the few places in America where the guys are peacocks in the way that they dress, and they are not only encouraged, but almost expected to do that,” Ray said.
Social Primer is a line that consists of pieces like tuxedos, sports coats and bow ties. Ray described his line as the kind that would appeal to the “Southern frat boy,” which he said is his biggest audience.
However, Ray said his clothes can be versatile enough to fit the taste of a wide variety of men. His fashions can go from the streets of Charleston where the preppy style is in its purest form to Jordan Hare Stadium where the look can be adapted to the needs of the Southern frat boy. Ray wants to offer men a bright and flamboyant way of dress that can also give them comfort and the assurance of being appropriate.
As far as his personal style goes, Ray has the attitude of “why not?”
“I like to be the lead peacock in the room with all eyes on me, so other men will feel like they can take a chance, too,” he said.
Ray does not classify himself as a designer but a stylist because of the way he likes to work with what is already there and manipulate the look with different colors and shapes.
“I think designers are in a special little club that need to be respected, and I really don’t claim to be one of those,” he said.
According to Ray, Social Primer is similar to Ralph Lauren in the way it is styled and the way shapes and colors are used.
“I create what I need. I don’t set out to say ‘I want to be a Ralph Lauren’ I say ‘I made these ties because I couldn’t find them,’” Ray said.
He recently created a line of tuxedo “separates” made of different colors and materials that can be mixed and matched to avoid the standard black tuxedo that can be found at rental companies.
“So, if someone already owned a tuxedo, they could buy one of my jackets, trousers or waist coats just to give it a little bump,” he said.
It’s all about class for Ray. He describes Social Primer as “fresh but timeless.”
“That’s how I think men should dress. Invest in great pieces that can withstand the test of time. That’s why I’m such a proponent of preppy style, because it’s classic style,” Ray said. He has been referred to as the “prince of preppy hedonism.”
One main idea Ray wants to get across to consumers with his fashion line is that one does not have to be rich to have a great lifestyle. He encourages people to dress for the kind of life they want to live. He said he is the shining example of this concept because he is welcome in any society and hold his “Opelika own” anywhere he goes.
Ray said he considers himself a writer who is easily distracted by every shiny thing that floats by, and the most fulfillment in his career comes from the bliss that he feels when he is writing in a work environment when everything is “just flowing.”
“That is a rare and special place,” he said.
With designing, he enjoys the process of creating collections and deciding what will come next.
“Sometimes I will lock my door and sit down to pull everything together into a cohesive collection,” Ray said. “That is incredibly rewarding.”
Future plans of Social Primer include a lifestyle brand. Ray also wants to create a guide to being a gentleman.
Ray said he comes back to Opelika every chance he gets to visit his family.
“I treasure my time in Opelika. I love it there, and I am proud to be from Opelika,” he said.