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In conversation with Harris Reed

The fashion designer re-imagining a fluid and authentic world.

When I FaceTime Harris Reed on a rainy Thursday, it’s 8:30 in the morning and amidst my gulps of green tea, nervous excitement seeps through. I’m sure you know exactly why. Frankly, at this point it’d be nearly impossible to not have heard of the young fashion designer. Headlined as ‘the designer everyone is taking about’ or, as an even grander title postulates, ‘London’s new king of dress-up’, Reed appears to be the 22-yeard-old garment-guru, whose flair and craft have left the fashion world in awe. And rightfully so—the third-year Central Saint Martins student and current Gucci apprentice has Harry Styles’ stylist on speed dial, along with Solange and Troye Sivan as part of Reed’s high-profile gang of adorers. Apace with the myriad of editorials and interviews however, hype comes in full swing: a contemporary fashion narrative of the ‘up-and-coming designer of today’ that falls somewhere in between hopeful praise and a trap. It’d be an understatement to say Harris Reed and the spotlight he has attracted mesmerize me, but I’m somewhat reluctant to take the headlines at face value. There’s something about the young designer’s talent and message that goes beyond short-lived applause; from today’s fashion puff straight into a brighter tomorrow.

When Harris picks up (at 8:30 sharp, mind you), it takes a warm and self-assured introduction to convince me that the person on the other end is at once humble but centred and acutely self-aware. ‘I’m on my way to work [at Gucci], where I’m currently doing my apprenticeship,’ and although the designer can’t spill much T on his involvement with the Italian brand, he shares that being in Rome, surrounded by iconic art and an extremely dynamic team, has exponentially fuelled his own creative drive. ‘I’m sure my artistry will go nuts once I go back to London in April! I have so many ideas about new projects that I haven’t been able to realize here [in Rome] simply because there’s not enough time in the day for all the things I take up creatively.’

Before you make up your mind about Reed’s path from Central Saint Martins to Gucci’s headquarters being one of rapid success and deprived of its rocky bumps, consider this: half-American and half-British, the designer was born in L.A. to artistically prominent parents; a background of high stakes, great creative examples and in-betweens. By age 9, Harris had already come out as the flamboyant, no-fucks-given human he is today. ‘I’ve been open about who I am from a very young age, and I’d constantly play dress-up at home without being afraid to be my own vulnerable but confident self’ he shares, giving proof that makes his involvement with L.A. Fashion Week at age 13 seem totally reasonable. In the nine years to follow, Harris appears to have never left his work ethic, talent and ambition lag behind: key factors, it seems, for a young creative whose fluid identity and extravagant desires are at odds with any socio-political status quo. A year abroad in Paris preceded a successful application to Central Saint Martins, and it was precisely in London, where Harris and his vision began to truly crystallize; him steadily establishing the Reed DNA that backbones everything he does and is about—fashion’s fluid future.

Quite paradoxically, it took a school-insiders, students-only show for everyone to stop and pay attention to the designer’s distinctive touch and flair. Opening The White Thursday—an annual CSM first year’s BA Fashion show—Harris’ aesthetic did enthuse a fair amount of fashion stir (picture gorgeous white ruffles and frills, topped up with an instantly-iconic oversized hat). It’s safe to say, regardless, that beyond the evidently noticeable craft and technique, the underlying message of the look—unrestricted freedom of expression—is what has had us all hooked up on Reed ever since the now three-year-old immediate commotion the designer caused.

‘I’ve always said, if you want just pretty clothes, go to someone else,’ he tells me as he’s making his way to work on the morning that we call. And while no one can deny the sheer beauty blossoming out from his mesh of Edwardian opulence, Bowie glamour and understated Modernism, there’s a conceptual play of vulnerability and confidence that Harris’ garments are ground for. Many would say that absurdity could be the only result of putting these opposites next to one another. ‘Being vulnerable does not mean you’re weak’ the designer proclaims. ‘It takes tons of courage to put yourself out there in front of everyone, regardless of their opinion’. It’s at this moment during our chat when something inside me clicks and all parts fall into place. I’d lie to you if I told you that prior to this interview I hadn’t asked myself: What difference does it make to talk about clothes when our world is crumbling to bits?

Harris and I could have swiftly passed over the ‘fashion’ aspect of this piece, both of us engaged with our surroundings enough to converse on themes political or social, and beyond. Cliché as it may sound however, isn’t the everyday ritual of dressing-up to face the world on your own terms a radical act? One that holds potential to spread a message, provoke conversation and lead to larger structural shifts. Harris would agree. ‘It’s 50% design and 50% activism’ he writes in his Fluid Manifesto in the latest Gay Times, proclaiming the power of dress-up to bring out invincibility from deep within and use that strength to shape a world of acceptance, love and authenticity.

When I ask Harris if he has that ideal, radically transformed future, or person, in mind when creating garments, he’s hesitant to pinpoint his vision to a single human or muse. ‘Definitely not one ideal future person, but more of a long-lasting message of beauty and love. I really hope that my designs inspire a next generation of creative people to just go for whatever it is they believe in, and create truly free pieces that spread a message of fluidity instead of just being pretty.’ Rest assured, he’s firmly on his way of carving out a space where borders of expression blur. A well-earned overflow of magazine spreads—which time and again proclaim the idiosyncratic Reed mix of 1920s glamour with 1970s extravaganza as the look of a revolutionized future—exist side to side with his name and voice featured in high-end fashion conversations. A key factor that hones and solidifies everything that he’s about nevertheless stems from the fact that Harris doesn’t merely fabricate a fantasy of a brighter tomorrow. He (literally) lives and breathes it. How do I know? Well, if you follow him on Instagram, which I hope you do, you know it’s impossible to remain disengaged from the journey that a Harris Reed day is.

An Instagram story of Harris at 3AM, crying on his apartment floor after working for numerous hours on end to finish a nearly impossible piece for a last-minute request is followed by a mid-day premiere of a magazine cover or a selfie with Alessandro Michele or Florence Welch. In-between these glorious snaps are a myriad of clips from endless travels, arduous studio sessions or the every-so-often catch-up for tea or pizza with friends. Teary on the floor or in a fully-sequinned ensemble on the red carpet, Harris is uncompromising when it comes to taking us all through the ups and downs of what it really takes to be driven, young and queer in an industry and social media world that shove perfection down our throats. ‘In the socio-political climate we find ourselves today, people desire transparency and deserve to see what goes on behind the successes and the fancy events,’ he shares. In fashion with his delicate but bold ruffles and tulles, Harris himself embodies the vulnerability and no-fucks-given confidence of the clothes he creates. All the while consciously letting us observe the whirlwind process behind the glittery shows and covers of magazines. I can’t help myself but ask, When does one find time to nurture themselves in the midst of success’s momentum? ‘Many people don’t know this, but I delete the Instagram app for about two days every week, because I’m also a person and I need to take it easy on myself from time to time’ he shares. And in Harris fashion, the designer takes this belief beyond his social media presence. Regardless of the spreads, the star-packed following or the recent, ultra successful MatchesFashion launch, Harris is yet to debut his own brand. For now, the focus lies in going up the ladder one glamorous step at a time, with deep breaths in between to let each structure-shifting move sink in.

I’m no Harris Reed however, and the short-span focus I have was drawn towards a muffled rustle on the other side of the line. He must be wearing a sequined look as we speak, I thought to myself; his Insta-story of that day proved me right. A black trench over a two-piece, full-on pink sequinned suit was accessorized by the absolutely necessary Gucci bag. The fangirl that I am, I had to intrude and ask what’s inside it (sorry, Harris). ‘A dead rose, a comb for my hair because there’s lots of it, a vintage Edwardian watch, a magnifying lens for my dad, a contract I need to sign and I also see keys to my places in London and L.A… Oh, and condoms. Everyone needs to stay safe!’ he tells me, and I sense our brief encounter has come full-circle. From the meticulous work in the studio and the cutting-edge editorials, to the daily doses of authenticity on Instagram and even to what’s inside his bag, Harris Reed won’t compromise when acceptance, freedom of expression and fluid beauty are on the line. I follow suit.

Words by Valkan Dechev

Polaroids were taken by the artist at his home in Rome, Italy

All other images by Jack Davison 

Keep up with Harris Reed on Instagram