Hailing from L.A. and barely out of college, Harris Reed has already worked with Alessandro Michele and Harry Styles. Now the designer is set on leading a top fashion house and a place at the Met Gala
Words by ALISON EDMOND
Growing up in Southern California, Harris Reed never quite fit into their very wholesome surroundings. “I just felt like there’s this need, especially within middle school, high school, even college and again, later in life, to fit into a mold: If you’re a boy, you look like this, if you’re a girl, you look like that,” they say. “I feel like people are scared to embrace their full individuality.”
But with the support of their artistic and entrepreneurial mother and a father working in film, Reed was encouraged to explore their creative side from the word go, whether through pottery or painting. Once they discovered the European fashion houses through magazines and the celebrity-like status of their visionary creative directors, Reed knew in which direction they were headed, starting with a fashion design course at London’s Central Saint Martins.
As Reed shows their final collection under lockdown at the alma mater of their heroes, Alexander McQueen and John Galliano, the 24-year-old caught up with C Magazine.
What first inspired you to work in fashion?
I was always really deeply interested by the psychology of fashion. Obviously it was more of a subconscious thing at the time, but I was 9 when I came out as being gay, and I was trying to express myself on the outside to give an accurate depiction of who I was on the inside. It was really experimenting with clothing, and through this art of dressing up, I really saw the transformative power that clothing has to make people look at you differently, and look at themselves differently.
“The second I owned my self-identity and started making clothing for myself, it felt like I was actually on the right track”
Who were your first inspirations?
I have to say, for me, it was always between [John] Galliano and [Alexander] McQueen. Probably more Galliano. My mom, when I was about 10 years old, bought me a subscription to Women’s Wear Daily. It would come once a week, and I remember just sitting on the floor going through it, and that’s actually the reason why I always knew that I wanted to go to Central Saint Martins and move to London. It was a different time, obviously, but I would see Stella McCartney, Riccardo Tisci, Galliano and McQueen — all these different, amazing people in London living out their most authentic, crazy selves, and how they came to London and found their salvation and their tribes, if you will. So I knew that fashion was the medium that I wanted to use to express my message. And I think when I realized that, I was inspired at first to ask, “What do people expect from me as a designer?” But the second I relinquished that and just owned my own self-identity and started making clothing for myself, it felt like I was actually starting to move on the right track and make things that felt real.
Who was your first muse?
I started using Instagram to showcase my work and use myself to almost be my own muse, as I feel no one knows you better than yourself and no one will know or be able to be the face of your message more than yourself. I mean, the perfect example is Tom Ford and how, for so many years, he put himself out there at the forefront of his brand and as the brand identity. He’s someone that I’ve always looked up to as [a designer] who makes a statement and [sends] the message. His [muse] may have been this gorgeous, sexy, empowered woman, whereas my [idea] is more about fluidity and breaking barriers. But putting it at the forefront was always important to me.
Your parents were creative, how did that influence you?
My mom is from a working-class family up in San Jose/Bay Area. Her mother worked in the schools, her dad was a cop, and she kind of was the rule breaker of her family. She moved to New York, became a model, then became a really successful candle maker and has had multiple businesses and careers. We would do pottery and paint in the garden, we would do sculpture. My mom was a very hands-on artist and she still is. She has always given me this idea that [I should] go out and do whatever I want. It’s not going to be easy, but if you really believe in it, you can make it happen. And if you get knocked down in life, just keep getting up and keep trying and you can do it and so [I’ve] always [had] that mentality. I think my dad being in film really taught me the importance of a true narrative and a strong story, and that you should never make something [just] to make it, you should do it with a strong message and purpose; you need to have a strong voice.
You just finished your final year and produced your final collection. What was this experience like during a lockdown?
Obviously very difficult. I think you go from being in a studio and having all the resources that you need to going and just being at home where you don’t have industrial machines, you don’t have industrial irons, you don’t have heat presses. I don’t even have a proper mannequin. I have a foam mannequin I actually got by the trash can of CSM one day. So it was just that thing of every morning meeting a new creative block or a physical block. My garments and the pieces that I create are really oversized and larger than life, so it took a lot to really be able to work out how I was going to translate and evolve the vision in a way that felt even stronger than it was before, and also find new and creative ways of making the pieces without some of the materials that I needed.
Boots from HARRIS REED’s 2020 Final Collection for Central Saint Martins.
We love the combination of photography and illustration. How did you create the imagery? Who were your collaborators — any fellow CSM students?
For me, it was really about, how can I create an impact now and really get my name out there? Not only as a designer, but as someone who pioneers a message of greater inclusivity without having a show, without having that big statement, that song playing, that walk, those models. It was really important to build a world. So I reached out to a good friend of mine, Lukas Palermo, who I’ve worked with before, and he’s an amazingly talented student who goes to Rhode Island School of Design. I reached out to my friend Lauren Dean Hunter, who’s an amazing illustrator, also just graduated from London College of Fashion. For everyone who I worked with, they were either basically under 25 or most everyone was a recent graduate or in their final year of school within UAL.
What is it about London that inspires you?
London is a melting pot of people who come and really add to the city, especially artists, bringing their own identities and their own kind of approach, whether that’s in designing fashion, or the way that they dress, the way they present themselves. I think London really harnesses a lot of beautiful talent, and it’s an extremely inspiring city and I just look everywhere, especially at the people, and that’s what I’m inspired by.
How have you been spending your time in lockdown in London?
Honestly, I’ve been working on my collection the entire time, but I think as well the collection was my salvation, and only recently have I now started self-isolating with my family in London. My aunt lives here (you can probably hear my cousin yelling in the background and playing!) So just kind of reconnecting with family and just staying safe and just staying aware.
How did you end up working with Gucci and Harry Styles?
Harry is one of the most open-minded people that I’ve ever met, and he’s just so willing and lovely. He is truly someone that takes great guidance. After working on his tour, I applied to Gucci from an email to get an apprenticeship and that same day Alessandro Michele [creative director] saw an article about me in a magazine and also saw a photo of me on Instagram and then they flew me out to Milan. We met and he was just the kindest, most gentle man and really brought me under his wing. Then I had an interview to work on the design team, which I then did for eight months whilst living in Rome. And it was just a truly fantastic experience, the most incredible experience of my life.
To what extent do you believe that fashion can make political statements?
I think it’s more that fashion has the obligation to make change in the world. Right now, it is no longer the time to just create something just for it being beautiful or for it being lovely. It’s the time to create something to make it memorable and a statement and have a strong message and ethos.
What’s your dream career trajectory?
I would just say to keep working with people that I admire, that I love, and more importantly, that share the same ethos that I do. And that’s with people who share, treat people with kindness, if it’s people like Solange [Knowles], or just this idea of womens’ empowerment, black rights, queer rights, people that are really kind of multidimensional and really strong advocate figures. And I would love to take over a brand and really bring in kind of my fluid fabulousness, if you will, into it. A brand like Lanvin. I’d love to bring it back to those glory days of being crazy. I’m quite furiously over-the-top in a modern way, so that would be great!
Where do you see yourself in 10 years? Do you see yourself costuming movies, opera, theater?
I think in 2020 and moving forward, I don’t think that fashion just needs to just be runway, or just needs to be this way or that way. I think everything can combine really beautifully to become a mix. So, I would say maybe being a head of a fashion house. I think bringing my playful attitude and outlook into a fashion brand, being the creative director, doing an amazing film with, let’s say Baz Luhrmann, and moving into a lot more facets. I think I would love to explore home. My mom has been a perfumer for 25 years. I am going to start exploring fragrance, even more now being a global face for Gucci’s Memoir. It’s deeply fascinating to me, all the different kinds of avenues that I can go down within a brand.
What’s a dream project?
I think it would be dressing someone for the Met Gala. I’d love to dress Tilda Swinton or Solange Knowles. I think I would just love to have a huge Met moment with someone, even Lady Gaga … OK, rephrasing: Lady Gaga for the Met Gala. I think we could do something absolutely extraordinary!
Would you consider returning to work in California? It’d be great to have a world-renowned designer based here.
I love that. Between Rodarte and Tom Ford, L.A. is really opening up the design possibilities to having a luxury brand there, so I think, definitely, I would really love to be able to bring my work and myself over to California as soon as possible. I’ve always said when I get married, I would probably work between California and London. Obviously I am gender fluid, and that’s what I believe, in heart and spirit. I consider myself a Californian boy. I love to be happy, I love the ocean, I love to meditate, I love the sea. Those are all things that are really important and integral to me. But I feel like I’m not done with London. Europe really invigorates me and inspires me.
“I am gender fluid, and that’s what I believe, in heart and spirit. I consider myself a California boy. I love to be happy, I love the ocean, I love to meditate”
What do you think about the current reset happening in the fashion industry due to COVID-19?
It’s beautiful that a lot of companies are now trying to strip back and really make sure that their message and what they stand for is more at the forefront of the brand. I think it’s super important. People are probably going to start buying differently because of COVID and they want to check and identify how they want to be associated with brands.
How do you think fashion shows will best be presented in the future?
Gen Z right now is so important and I think between TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, there’ll have to be more inclusive aspects as people now want to be a part of a brand and a part of a brand experience. [Designers] will still probably have some kind of fashion moment because that’s so relevant and important, but also they are going to have to be very clever in how they become more inclusive because I think everyone now wants to know what’s behind that curtain. As Gucci just announced recently, and Saint Laurent has already said, most pioneering fashion brands are moving away from a show schedule and really trying out what I’ve always stood for for the past two years, which is a seasonless approach to fashion. I think everything about the runway show is going to be completely radicalized and changed.
Tell us about your wide-brimmed hat Instagram filter. How did you come up with the idea and did you have any idea that it would take off like it has?
I wanted imagery to transport you into my world. It was a crazy idea that came to me about how I could get people excited about this show when there’s not going to be a show. If you can’t have VIP editors, people who have supported you, and the fans, be a part of [a show experience], how else can you [involve them]? And that’s what inspired me to do this wide-brimmed hat filter that I pioneered and released through Instagram. I was going through my website, my work, my portfolio and clients, and everyone always wanted these big hats. They’re a meter wide, 3 feet and a bit, over a yard in the diameter, and basically, I realized that I couldn’t make them fast enough. I make almost everything myself or with interns so I’m physically very hands on. Over 850,000 people have used it … which is incredible. … So it’s just been amazing. And I’m hoping it really kind of instills a new way of going about bringing people together for a fashion show or bringing people together to want to be a part of your experience.
Feature image: Styles from HARRIS REED’s 2020 Final Collection for CSM, modeled by the designer.
June 8, 2020
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