One has had a meteoric rise that has seen his boldly gender-defying work adorn the world’s most influential A-listers. The other is one of the leading stylists in fashion (and Hollywood) right now. In an exclusive preview of a look from his debut London Fashion Week collection, Harris Reed talks to friend and collaborator Harry Lambert about their path to becoming two of British fashion’s most thrilling new voices
It’s impossible to make it through a scroll of pop culture in recent years and not see the proverbial eight-inch-high platform bootprint of Harris Reed. Harry Styles in an outsize satin ball-hoop skirt. Selena Gomez in a flying saucer-sized hat. Lil Nas X in an enormous silk moire bow. Harris’s stamp is as recognisable as it is unmissable.
To understand the young designer behind some of pop culture’s most standout fashion moments in recent memory, you have to know his backstory, which is as compelling and attention-grabbing as his clothing. In a study into the psychology of superhero origin stories, clinical psychologist Robin Rosenberg wrote that every good origin story has three elements: adversity, a sense of destiny and chance. Harris describes his with the endearing charisma of a raconteur. Picture this: a little boy faced with the inevitable milestone of starting a new school. Again and again. And again. And again.
‘I had to get really good at the elevator pitch. “Hi, I’m Harris Reed. I’m nine. I’m gay. And I like clothes,”’ he tells me, chin stretched upward as a make-up artist draws a thick graphic kohl line around his left eye, on set for this cover shoot. He’s recounting his childhood, moving to places like Arizona, Seattle – 28 moves in total! – in his words: ‘all the time’.
‘It was like, I had to completely crystallise everything I was in order for me to make friends. Which is a sad thing but it also really helped me later in life, because I knew really quickly who I was. If anyone was making fun of me in the playground I was like, “Bitch, I know enough of who I am not to play your game! And if I do, I would play it way better!”’
He credits that unwavering clarity of self partly to a deep sense of belief and partly to plain old good parenting. ‘I wouldn’t be where I am without my mother, who saw from a really young age that I was queer and different and that we were going to get a lot of hate and people were not going to understand it,’ he says of the former model and perfumer (his father is a documentary film-maker). An internship with the legendary PR denizen Kelly Cutrone at the age of 14, where he worked the door for New York Fashion Week shows such as Jeremy Scott’s, sharpened his can-do spirit. Eventually, he enrolled in Central Saint Martins to study fashion in London, a city he says fundamentally changed him.
‘I had this vision of what fashion was and this super-Americanised way and London was like a kick in the f**king face. It was a slap in the face that I needed!’
And that leads us to the element of chance. A model casting with Harry Lambert, a man The Sunday Times described as one of the most influential stylists in the world, would set the fashion student on a course that would eventually place Harris at the heart of one of the UK’s coolest squads, a loose, shimmering network that includes music and Hollywood A-listers Harry Styles and Emma Corrin, as well as emerging, critically acclaimed designers such as SS Daley.
‘It was 2016 and we were casting an editorial, looking for students who made art,’ Lambert recalls. ‘What’s great about him is that the first time I met him, I kind of already knew who Harris was, just from a really small interaction with him. What Harris designs is what Harris wears. Harris fully embodies what he puts out in the world in terms of fashion, jewellery, the boots – I think that’s why I’m drawn to certain designers or people. How they create a world that you can step into.’
So he started following Harris on social media, eventually pulling his signature hats for shoots before later commissioning him to make pieces for his client, Harry Styles. ‘People like to say, “You discovered Harris.” But Harris was always going to be discovered. He was always going to be a star. I just helped a little bit along the way,’ he says. ‘A lot of bit!’ Harris adds.
Together, they’ve produced influential, conversation-shaping work that is inspiring a generation to think about the way they dress, and gender norms, a lot less rigidly. And it’s proving wildly successful. Earlier this month, Harris won GQ’s Designer of the Year award, a trophy presented to him by his date, Emma Corrin. And he has a sprawling jewellery collection of 49 demi-fine, gender-fluid pieces, and a capsule of 15 fine jewellery rings, earrings and necklaces, which launched with Missoma this month – all inspired by his modus operandi, ‘romanticism gone non-binary’. A day after this issue hits newsstands, he’ll stage his first physical London Fashion Week show, a demi-couture collection made of upcycled bridal pieces sourced from Oxfam – exclusively previewed here – with nearly 400,000 Instagram followers and counting following his every move. Here, the friends and collaborators discuss the journey.
Harris: I am currently wearing the first thing I ever made for you.
Harry: I was doing a shoot and commissioned you to create a blouse for me and that is kind of how it started.
From the beginning, I designed work for me when I felt like there was no representation of the person I was at the time
Harris: You were the first person to fully support me. The first person to pull the first look I ever made when I had like 12 followers on Instagram at CSM. That is what started this waterfall.
Harry: I could tell that Harris, even at a young age, had a world of experience and personality, which was exciting and I just wanted to find out more.
Harris: If I am going to put something out there, I ask, ‘What is the purpose? What do I have to say? What is my work saying about me? My identity and sexuality. But it wasn’t until I worked with Harry Lambert and Harry Styles and his team that people saw the commercial viability of what I was doing. A lot of people were like, ‘You’re a costume designer.’ But the second people saw Harry in my clothes on stage, they clocked that maybe fashion is different now. It is about celebration and feeling good in what we’re wearing, rather than 45 black suits on a catwalk.
Harry: I commissioned Harris early on to make some stuff for Harry’s tour and I was working with loads of different brands, like Alexander McQueen, Gucci, Saint Laurent, but also mixing in Charles Jeffrey and the like. Introducing Harris to clients and magazines I work with is like finding someone who is already insanely talented and already has the vision and helping them put their work on a bigger platform. And that is a really important part of fashion. I didn’t realise how important it was before, even when I was working with Harry.
Harris: We need more people like you in the industry. It excites me to see people with your vision supporting talent and not trying to crush or push us into a pre-existing mould. Harry was a great thing because, all of a sudden, people realised I don’t just do massive hats and bows. I can do a Matches collaboration. I can do a MAC collaboration.
Harry: It’s hard because people sometimes don’t take the risk on someone until they see that thing at a commercial stage. It’s about supporting talent and showcasing it.
Harris: It’s helping people voice a greater purpose than just the clothes. From the beginning, I designed work for me when I felt like there was no representation of the person I was at the time. I made a pair of flairs and a top and headpiece. I put it on Instagram and the response was so much greater than when I was doing an evening dress for ‘womenswear’ or when I was doing tailoring for ‘menswear’.
Harry: You’re really clever on social media. You created a filter with the hat [for Harris’s graduate show, Thriving In Our Outrage, last May] and used all of your contacts to create this buzz around it. During lockdown, everyone was craving something and you created something beautiful and interesting with a new way of presenting stuff. I try to curate it and make it look nice. The whole ‘no carpet’ thing that I did with Emma Corrin [where she wore the looks she would have worn for premieres on Instagram] gave us more control to shoot and make it look nice. But it is hard to judge what is more impactful: the red carpet image or the shoots you set up. I’m excited for red carpets to return. I think after the pandemic everyone is craving memorable experiences. People want to document things even more now.
Harris: Instagram is great because it’s like a creative dumping ground, whereas TikTok is just too much. I did one TikTok and had a million views and I was like, this is becoming addictive, I’m stopping. So I’m mainly on Instagram. I think if you can show yourself in an authentic way, social media is crucial for business. We never cared about a set gender. I try to inject the dream and the escapism with a queer message. And I think you naturally have this air about you, that you don’t even fully realise that putting Emma [Corrin] in an amazing fabulous suit would be deemed more masculine. For you, it just seems like you are happy and playful and it is just a natural thing.
I never see my work as political or serious. I like to have humour and fun. I just never wanted to be boring, I guess
Harry: I never see my work as political or serious. I like to have humour and fun. I just never wanted to be boring, I guess. I think that is the biggest crime sometimes. I don’t want to be negative and be like, ‘Everyone has to dress like this.’ But I think if you have the opportunity to be more creative in certain spaces then that is really exciting. I think we’re all craving more fantasy and fun and I would rather people not get it and talk about it and be a bit confused than not talk about it at all.
Harris: Now, especially with social media, you can see when it’s obvious and when it’s coming from an authentic place that’s joyful.
Harry: I never want to be like ‘I am going to do this because people are going to say that.’ But if something starts conversations about gender, I think that is amazing. I think that is important.
Harris: When people are putting something on and just wearing it and being fabulous, it is less homework for someone trying to explore themselves. That level of accessibility and ease, even if that ease is huge over-the-top sleeves and more of a play on the traditional gender norms.
Harry: It’s back to that idea of designers creating worlds. Another interesting thing you are doing is presenting a collection at fashion week that is demi-couture – one-offs that build the world of Harris. And then you’re doing things like candles and your new jewellery collaboration with Missoma that present a much more accessible way of being a part of Harris’s world.
Harris: Missoma was a really organic thing. We didn’t have to compromise on the extravagance and extreme design element with it still being an accessible price point. When it came to doing the campaign, I needed someone who understood the vision to the extreme and that was Mr Lambert.
Harry: I’ve been very lucky because I came out of Covid better than I’d ever been. Which has been a privilege. Some of the goals I dreamed about doing this year have happened. It’s now about setting new goals and trying to achieve them. At the moment I am working on Harry’s [Styles] tour and going to America to put that together.
Harris: I’m getting ready to attend my first ever Met Gala, then I’ll be back in London for my first ever physical London Fashion Week show, then launch my jewellery and then fly to Italy for a unique collection that will be coming out in the fall. Knowing every day that what I’m fighting for has a greater message and purpose and not losing sight of that and hopefully bringing all my young queer friends along the way.