words by Ellie Brown
In the hours prior to my phone call with young designer Harris Reed, I am glued to his Instagram story, virtually following his every move as he frantically tries to deliver a parcel on a tight schedule – I’m on tenterhooks to know the outcome.
Later that day, he tells me that the aforementioned drama centered around a parcel that he had sent to New York, but had turned up in India – and so, having retrieved it, was trying to get it to New York, for real this time, in order to meet a deadline. Recovering from the ordeal, Reed speaks from the library where he is now spending his Saturday afternoon researching. It’s easy to forget that Reed, now a Second Year Fashion BA student at Central Saint Martins, is exactly that. After his designs for The White Show (an annual event for First Year Fashion BA students at CSM) sent the fashion world into a craze back in 2016, the young designer has been making wave after wave. Indeed, a few weeks after we talk, Reed posts shots from Interview Magazine to his Instagram page – for which he’s dressed the cover star, Ezra Miller. The prospect of juggling university with dressing the most glamourous stars of the day could seem daunting, so I am intrigued to find out more about the driving force behind Harris Reed.
NR MAGAZINE: Where does the Victorian-esque feel in your designs come from?
Harris Reed: I’ve always loved storytelling. Growing up, I moved over 30 times – living all over America and Europe. Moving around so much as a child and being a ‘nomad’ of sorts, I made up stories to myself – and my designs embody this kind of ‘Victorian bedtime story’. I think that the Victorian period captivates that for me, through the sleeves, the embellishments, the ruffles, and the drama.
NR: As an extension of the body, can clothes express the truest form of ourselves?
HR: Clothes are like icing on a cake. As long as the substance’s there, and as long as you are expressing who you are and what you stand for, clothes are the icing that complete that vision. We live in a time and place where everything happens so virtually and quickly; that icing is the first impression. So clothing is detrimental in this sense. Of course, it won’t always work out like that; people won’t always understand.
NR: Do you think social media influences the way that people put together an outfit, and curate how they come across?
HR: 100%. Being in fashion, at CSM, and in London, I’m very aware of the effect that technology (Facebook, Instagram, dating apps) has. People make up their mind within microseconds about who you are, what you stand for, what you believe in, what you represent – and how you fit into those categories. So, for me it’s all about not being put into any category, it’s about throwing people off. I want people to have to actually sit and think. I don’t want people to swipe left, swipe right – instead, I want people to really engage: “how do I feel about this”, “let me think about this”, “let me process this”.
NR: I think that’s very true; you really have to capture someone’s attention on Instagram, for example, and maintain it. But, with your Instagram, the way it comes across is quite ‘organic’ in its feel.
HR: My Instagram stories can go anything from me getting an outfit ready for Harry Styles, to me crying at the UPS place because they lost a package. Nobody wants to see a perfect person they can understand; I think people love, and are intrigued by not quite understanding, and by having a narrative. I think my whole life has a narrative – whether it’s that fictional one with the Victorian character, or whether it’s just myself. Even with the internet, we still care about a good story.
NR: I think that’s a nice thing to bring up, because if you can’t embrace the mistakes and airbrush them out, it’s not interesting.
HR: It’s great to see someone move forward, seeing all the hard work that goes into shooting, making the clothes, etc., but you also want to see the “oh my god he lost his wallet”, “oh my god he got hit by a taxi cab on the way to drop things off”. People want that, they want that genuineness … mixed in with Victoriana fabulousness.
NR: Do you think clothes, in terms of designing them, looking at them, wearing them, can give people an escape from the monotony of the everyday?
HR: Now I’m in London and with a group of people who accept me completely for myself, clothing has become a day to day “this is who I am, this is how I present myself”. But, growing up and moving around a lot, being in different environments that maybe I didn’t feel safe because of my sexuality or how I present myself, I think clothing was 100% my salvation. It was my armour, and I think clothing is essential absolutely detrimental to a person. If you walk into the streets of the day, clothing is literally that battle armour. Clothing can make you feel incredibly beautiful, but it’s also about feeling protected emotionally and physically by it.
NR: As well as being armour and protection, would you say that clothes can be one of the most obvious and best ways to give people a platform, as a means of challenging the status quo?
HR: I think 100%. Whatever you’re putting on, I’d like to think it’s 100% representation of what you’re feeling, or who you are. So, for sure, it’s the easiest way to change the status quo, or make the biggest impression the fastest. Going back to what we said about social media and people processing very quickly, if you put something on, someone’s going to see it and immediately try to break down what that means.
NR: So, if you were to take the notion of freedom, how would it manifest itself in an item of clothing, or an entire outfit?
HR: Oh my god, I mean, it would have to be something that wholeheartedly embodies who I am. I think that would be something that’s very vulnerable; it would very much wear its heart on the sleeve. That could be a completely sheer outfit, or the opposite – where I was bulked up in leather and scarves and wool, like armour going into war. It could go one of two ways.
NR: Being vulnerable is an interesting response – the idea of freedom and vulnerability isn’t something I would have necessarily thought of.
HR: Freedom would be absolute vulnerability, but in the sense that you’re owning it. So it would be completely sheer and, by embracing that and feeling free, that would be freedom.
NR: So if in 100 years’ time, there’s a young designer and they’re designing an outfit based on the story of Harris Reed, how do you envisage this outfit?
HR: Oh my god, it better be fucking fantastic. The one thing it would have to have is confidence, and some kind of message. It would have to have amazing sleeves, or an amazing gathering but, I am still very young in my career and my style is definitely evolving. What I notice that people gravitate to in my designs is the honest, and the sense of purpose. If someone was to design something based on me as a designer, it would have to really stand out, make people think, and change the status quo – whatever that may be in 100 years’ time.
NR: Is having a message as important as how your designs look?
HR: I absolutely love fashion, but I couldn’t do it if there wasn’t a strong message there. There’s way too much going on the world, especially for the LGBTQIA community, that I couldn’t just make pretty dresses and do nothing. I think it definitely, definitely, definitely comes down to have a clear message. Right now, for me, that’s about redefining the way we look at gender and fluidity. That’s something I hope my stuff will do.
NR: There’s a tendency for people to find ways to label fashion as vacuous; having meaning and a positive message, gives fashion this plausible purpose.
HR: I think about showing that fashion is more than filing stores up. I don’t believe that to have a successful brand, you have to make 10,000 pieces; I want to make specific pieces that have meaning. But to a lot of people, fashion is Topshop, H&M, Valentino, or whatever. So I want to show that it’s not just about making clothes; it can be about changing the way we look, the way we make garments, and so on.
NR: What’s on the agenda for the future?
HR: The funny thing is, going back to social media, there’s been a number of amazing opportunities that I’ve had because of Instagram. I don’t want to launch a sellable brand at the minute, but continue to do collaborations with amazing people. I want to try things, make mistakes; I’m doing a lot of millinery at the minute.
NR: How was dressing Solange?
HR: Oh my god, she’s amazing. Earlier in the year, she requested stuff for cover stories for Teen Vogue and Another Magazine shot by Peter Lindbergh. The stuff didn’t make the cut unfortunately, but I’m working with her again on a future project, so fingers crossed! That’s the thing about the love/hate relationship with technology; it wouldn’t have been possible if she hadn’t screenshotted my stuff. The second I see Solange in my clothes, besides cry, I know I’ll feel that she is the perfect example someone who’s fighting for gay rights, for changing the status quo, for being a strong fucking independent woman.
NR: As soon as I heard about you working with Solange, I could immediately see her wearing your designs –to me, she completely embodies the message and purpose that you instil in your work.
HR: Oh completely. Going back to your question about the future, it’s exactly that: finding people who have an amazing following, are extremely respected, who share my ethic and what I stand for. I also want to dress someone for the MET Gala. That’s what I wanna do – for Solange. I wanna dress Solange at the MET Gala. You can put that in bold: Solange, call me up – MET Gala 2018! Make it happen.