When Harry Styles was photographed wearing a series of dresses (not for the first time) for his American Vogue cover shoot last year, the furore that followed from certain corners of society shocked no-one in the fashion world, least of all Harris Reed. The 24-year-old designer of one of those looks — a bespoke skirted suit with an attached crinoline draped in tulle — is a frequent collaborator with Styles, having worked on the eclectic wardrobes for his 2017 and 2018 tour. And while conservative pundits such as Candace Owens criticized the “feminization” of men, both Styles and Reed only took that as fuel to continue channeling their inclusive creativity and celebrating their trademark androgyny.
Reed was encouraged to use fashion as self-expression as a 12-year-old, when directed towards the female section by a kind and perceptive store assistant in Arizona. He would go on to graduate from the prestigious Central Saint Martins college in London in the summer of 2020, and in February 2021 presented his first demi-couture collection, continuing a signature mash-up of masculine and feminine elegance.
Introduced by the singer’s stylist, Harry Lambert, Styles is not Reed’s only fan. Alessandro Michele, creative director at Gucci, also picked up on his work whilst at fashion school, selecting him to work on the design team in Rome under an apprenticeship, walk his catwalk (Reed is a striking 6ft 4in with waist-length strawberry blonde hair), and later feature in the Memoire d’une Odeur unisex fragrance campaign alongside Styles.
Rapidly becoming the name to know in fashion circles, and also dressing numerous other celebrities including Troye Sivan and Solange Knowles, here we talk to Reed about his views on androgynous dressing, his personal heroes, and how he sees opinions on the way men can dress changing in the future.
Please tell us about your personal story from growing up in California to designing in London.
I’m very excited to be doing this for Mr Feelgood, so thank you guys so much.
So I was born in Santa Monica, California, to an [American] ex-model turned perfume-maker mother, and a [British] agent turned documentary filmmaker father. I moved about 30 different times. My mother was very much someone who loved change and to constantly be moving. So I was living in Seattle, in Oregon, in Arizona, in France, obviously leading to London.
I loved the fact that, as a young kid, I really used fashion. And when I say fashion, I mean more of the act of dressing up and the art form of it, to really reclaim who I was and it became my own personal narrative.
As someone who came out as being gay when I was nine years old, I was very much labeled before I even knew what being gay was. Parents on the playground would make comments and look at me based on the way that I presented myself with clothes. And I found this deep almost comfort in dressing up ostentatiously and over the top, almost like a, “F*** you, this is who I am, and this is how I’m going to express myself on the exterior.”
When and how did you first feel the freedom of dressing exactly how you want?
It was probably in Arizona. Arizona was this place that was very hard to be completely who you were if you weren’t, in my opinion, a white straight man or a white straight woman. And so, having a mother who is half Hispanic and then being a quite ‘flamboyant’ child, I really saw this freedom of expression through clothing. Literally, going to the local Nordstrom at the time and having the [store assistant] see that I was super uncomfortable and feeling weird in the boys section, so she brought me over and was like, “You can wear the women’s teen stuff.” And I think a second woman just said, “You can wear ‘women’s’ clothing.” And it sounds so simple, but it really opened my mind and my perspective to the possibilities that clothing has to express yourself.
It completely broke down this binary that I’m sure, at 12 years old, I was not even fully aware of. That really opened my mind. It made me feel so free and fulfilled that I could maybe put a skirt over jeans, or I could put on whatever the f*** it might be. I could put anything on my back and feel so beautiful and confident and radiant. That was such a pivotal point, in the women’s dressing room at Nordstrom in Arizona.
How have you personally changed your perception of how men should and are able to dress?
I think the thing I love most about what I do is the fact that it always comes from this deep place of me just being absolutely completely and utterly genuine to myself. I never saw, in my adult life and teens, why things should be gendered. I think we all have different body types and sometimes yes, women could potentially have slightly more curves than a ‘traditional’ man’s body. But I think in 2021, what is ‘traditional’ about anyone’s body? What is ‘male’? What is ‘female’? I think it’s all completely a blur and it should be a blur. It should all be about what you put on your back is what makes you feel amazing. And what makes you push a different facet of yourself that maybe you didn’t further explore before, or a part of yourself that made you feel you’re uncomfortable, and you’re expressing that through clothing.
I think we’re in a very ‘male’ dominated space, and I love that clothing can break that down. Right now, we need way more femininity, way more fluidity, less men in f***ing suits and jeans. I think we need more risk takers. I always think that clothing brings a safe space for people to express who they are.
Maybe if it’s just a ‘straight’ guy who wants to wear a flowy blouse because it’s fun, him doing that and that becoming more of the norm, then that lets someone else, who let’s say is trans and transitioning, feel more comfortable, that they can show their gender expression in a more ‘feminine’ way. Because we’re in a healthier space, instead of that person trying to come into themselves in a very hostile and very gendered environment. I think us choosing how to put things on our back really changes the space in which we can all inhabit and find our own curiosity and our own change.
How have you seen the general public perception of men’s dressing change?
I think definitely, whether it’s through musicians, my work, people that I’ve worked with, Gucci friends that I’ve worked with, that we’re in a place where now — thank God for social media — that the message of, “F*** the binary and wear what you want to wear” has made a huge difference in mainstream media within how men are dressing. I think it’s definitely gone from a man should wear this to maybe a man could wear that. I don’t think we’re fully there yet, to where men can wear anything they want, but I think we’re in the middle ground of ‘What is ‘men’s dressing? Do we need men’s dressing? Is it relevant to say the word men’s dressing? Should it just be clothing for everyone?’ I think there’s a dialogue that’s really kicked off, which is incredible.
What did you think of the reactions to Harry Styles wearing your design in American Vogue?
I think it was a huge moment for me in my career. It was the first time Anna Wintour ever asked me to be in American Vogue. And it was an incredible moment for me.
The general reaction, I think there’s a lot of positivity within the fashion space and the queer space and people who are quite open-minded. And then I think there’s a lot of backlash from people who are closed-minded. It’s a perfect example of how we have so much work to do as a society, that people would still be outraged by a man literally wearing a dress and having fun with who he is.
There’s a lot of conversations that were started there, and I keep coming back to this point. We’re in this interview right now, at this time in 2021, in a space where everyone’s like, “Wear what you want to wear and be who you want to be.” But no, people have been killed for being gay in Russia. People are being harassed on the streets, even in London, for being gender queer. I think we still have a long way to go. But I think there’s a lot more of an open discussion, through Covid and being locked down and through Black Lives Matter happening, Black Trans Lives Matter happening, and the women’s movement that’s happening in London right now, following Sarah Everard’s death. I think on the streets people want to challenge everything because we no longer want to live in a place that is so oppressive or so gendered or so racist or so anything. So I think there’s a huge conversation that’s happening right now that’s quite empowering and quite exciting.
What do you think we can do moving forward to make real progress towards a more open view of expressing androgyny?
I think just people wearing what the f*** they want. I think people need to stop wearing what they think that they should wear or feeling pressured. I think the only way we’re going to move forward as a society is if people literally wake up in the morning, grab the thing out of their closet that really makes them feel incredible and makes them feel like they are who they are. There has to be a genuineness to it. No-one made fashion history if they weren’t a rule breaker. And I think we need more of people making rule breaking decisions.
Who are your heroes when it comes to changing the way people view what we can wear?
I think there are so many amazing people out there right now! I really love Lizzo. Whether it’s her red carpet fashion or day to day, I think the way that she has been able to embrace fully who she is, her curves, her elegance, she’s really shown this vivacity and this beautiful way of just owning who you are. Or someone like Tilda Swinton, who I think shows androgyny in such an extraordinary way. The way she’ll wear a backless Chanel haute couture dress and be quite ‘feminine’ one night. And the next night she’s in a razor cut Haider Ackermann man’s tuxedo with quite short hair and ‘no’ makeup. She’s literally giving me full male energy. They are my heroes and I love them.
How do you envision the future of fashion when it comes to dressing and gender identity?
I think people literally just waking up and saying, “F*** it, who am I? I’m putting that on. I’m expressing that to the world and everyone can literally f*** off if they have an issue with that!” I’m sorry for all the swearing. But you know what? I think clothing is not just about being pretty. It’s not just about nice things. It’s about s*** that makes people think and makes people talk. And that’s what I hopefully do with what I make. That’s what I do hopefully when I get dressed up in the morning. I think people starting that conversation with themselves, with the world, we can change it one step at a time. So thank you so much, Mr. Feelgood. This has been amazing.