Purple Fashion

[April 2 2020]

In Conversation With Gender-Fluid Designer, Harris Reed

originally from los angeles, 23-year-old gender-fluid designer harris reed is currently producing their central saint martins graduate collection from home during the global health crisis. their designs, worn by worldwide heartthrobs include harry styles, ezra miller or solange and their face has canvased italian façades when reed was the face of the gucci memoir campaign. leading up to their graduate collection, reed sews glam-rock romanticism into queer elegance in conversation with purple. 

interview by ALEXANDRA CASTLE 

ALEXANDRA CASTLE — Where are you from and how did you first get into fashion design?
HARRIS REED — I’m originally from Los Angeles, California, I moved over 30 different times in my life to different places. My mom is very much a free spirit and artist. She was a model in the 80s’, she would go to Studio 54, she is just an incredibly creative and soulful woman and then she became a candle maker and a perfumer. With my father being in Entertainment, Los Angeles, he remained there and me, my mom and my sister went off gallivanting around America, moving to different cities and different places.

Fashion wasn’t part of my background. I think creativity and this yearning for creating was a part of my background –  I think for me there was always this idea of creation but it wasn’t until I was in my teens that I realised that clothing was more the artistic venture that I wanted to embark on. Clothing had this intense ability to transcend peoples’ emotions and for people to see each other in different perspectives and through a different lens. Once I took all this creation as a child and used and harnessed it, it was about applying it. I found it through dressing up and experiencing this playful carefree sense of trying on different identities until I found the right one. From there it was even more about building on the identity I already had and making it special to make it shine.

ALEXANDRA CASTLE — Why did you choose to study at Central Saint Martins and did you have any experience making clothes before the beginning of your degree?
HARRIS REED —  I never really sewed a proper piece together until I started at Central Saint Martins – a lot of people don’t know that. Before CSM I was mostly duct-taping, pinning, draping, literally using anything and everything I could get my hands on to create clothes without actually putting a machine to the fabric. As a child, as someone who was very much picked on and who was not someone who fit in whatsoever, I look to Central Saint Martins as the shining beacon of escape. When you looked at McQueen and Galliano and look at Ricardo Tisci, you could see what came out of there and I just remember watching old documentaries and you could see this sense of camaraderie with everyone communally coming together with shaved hair and crazy colours and crazy clothes and it just felt like my version of what outer-space would look like.


ALEXANDRA CASTLE — Throughout your degree, you shot to fame, starting with your first big show, The White Show, what has your inspiration been since then and how have you used fashion communication to your advantage?
HARRIS REED — My graduating year is such an interesting year because we are the year fashion became so prevalent within Instagram. Before you had this right of passage where if you did a fashion foundation, you then did a fashion degree and then you worked for someone for a couple of years. Then you worked up slowly and slowly and you only got noticed really when you were in the pages of a proper magazine or the newspapers. Now you post something on Instagram and you tag a magazine, or you tag even just Central Saint Martins as a geotag and the number of people that can see it – stylists, editors, photographers, it’s crazy. It has been a very difficult balance for me, some nights I was literally in Milan, Alessandro (Michele) flew me there to go to the most incredible show and I’m watching Stevie Nicks and I’m watching Harry Styles perform up on stage in this almost surreal, castle. And the next day I’m back in class sitting there being yelled at because I’m not able to sculpt a shoulder the way I need to be doing it on a jacket.

I always look at the White show as the thing that started it all. That was the first piece that stylist, Harry Lambert looked at, but then the first star to pull it out was Solange which was for a Peter Lindbergh shoot on the shore of Le Touquet. She’s wearing my head-to-toe white look which was about an 18th-century aristocratic boy finding his salvation in an opera house and padding himself full of white powder until it looked like this white fluid statue. I would parallel that with my venture of coming to London and finding my salvation within the community that I’ve met and surrounded myself with. So since then, every piece has this aspect of romanticism and fluid queer elegance. Through Central Saint Martins, I’ve seen the power that you’re not making clothing – you’re injecting a storyline and injecting it through the seams that you sew and create.

ALEXANDRA CASTLE — From early on, your talent was seen and spotted and celebrated very quickly across the fashion scene, tell us about this and how you came to have your first collection sold out on Matches Fashion?
HARRIS REED — Matches has been such a supporter of my career – Nathalie Kingham, I honestly could not have any kinder words for that woman. She is the person that spotted me and could see what I was doing and the thing that was so amazing about Matches is that it kind of came about when I was wrapping up the Harry Styles tour and I was kind of in-between my next step and I was getting a lot of offers from other people that just didn’t feel right. So it was so important to have someone who understood that. When Nathalie Kingham came to me, she said, “I understand who you are, I understand your message and I think you have something to say”. It was the most beautiful collaboration and I hand-sourced the fabrics in Los Angeles, most of them were dead stock. I hand made them with a team of three people, they were all students, and we made them together. I’ve always been producing these huge hats and huge bows. I’m quite avant-garde and the thing about Matches is that it didn’t feel like I was trying to commercialise anything, it felt so authentic to who I was and Nathalie was able to guide me and show me how to make something sell. When it sold out, it was an incredible feeling and also very surreal.  It felt incredible that my pieces were being sold alongside the same prices as Gucci and even some Chanel pieces. I felt like I had made it – it was a significant milestone in my career.

ALEXANDRA CASTLE — How did designing for Harry Styles first come about, was it a result of working with his stylist, Harry Lambert?
HARRIS REED —  Harry Lambert was the first person to ever pull my white show look and he pulled it for something completely not related to Harry styles, but it opened up this whole window into working on all these different projects and shoots and collaborating on a lot of things. He would call me up at 8 pm the night before and be like, “hi can I get three hats for a couture story, I need them tomorrow”. And I would do it. I just loved his energy and I loved that he believed in me before anyone else.  The love and support that he gave me throughout that year helped me grow through all the projects we did together. And then he finally said, “I think you’re ready, here are three images”, I think it was David Bowie, Jimmy Hendrix and Mick Jagger and he said just go have fun and play with it. I gave Harry (Lambert) the finalised drawings and he said, “what’s that book you’re holding behind your back, the sketchbook. I said “oh it’s just a sketchbook it’s really messy – I don’t want you to look at it, please don’t”. He said, “he’ll love this”. He went away, showed it to Harry Styles and Harry said, “I want to meet him”.

The next day they gave me an address and I didn’t look where it was because I had a tutorial at school that day. So I was on the tube and trying to figure out where I was going and I remember thinking, what is this circle. I was zooming out with my fingers and by the time I zoomed out I realised it was the Hammersmith Arena and I remember looking up and seeing these bright shining lights saying “Harry Styles, One (or two) night only, Sold out”. Thousands of people were there and in the text Harry Lambert had said, “meet me at the stage door”. I was dressed in this giant faux fox fur red Prada coat that I got from a vintage store. I was wearing no shirt, eyeliner and silver leather flares. I was pushing through the crowds and once I met Harry Styles he understood immediately that I don’t just want to make pretty clothes. I want to make things that have some meaning behind them. It was so beautifully aligned with his “treat people with kindness” and my “fighting for the beauty of fluidity” I think they went hand in hand and it was truly the most collaborative thing. I remember once during one of our sit-downs, I was erasing some frills because I thought it might be too over-the-top for him and he stopped me and I drew them back. He was so involved. And despite it changing my life and my career, it also changed the way I look at design – I look forward to working with people who are musicians and people who not only sing and perform but also pioneer these strong messages.

ALEXANDRA CASTLE — So do you think collaboration and supporting emerging designers has helped you?
HARRIS REED — I think first of all collaboration is everything, as someone who is still in school I value the collaboration of my classmates more than anything. If you just use yourself, you’re not able to tune in to what actually is good. If you just sit with something in your own mind, the outcome you have will not be nearly as good as the outcome you have when you have four friends there helping, pushing, challenging you and criticising you to come up with something better. I think that even goes onto when I was working with Gucci or when I did the campaign for Gucci Memoir. I felt like everyone was heard and everyone’s insights were so relevant. I think the support of emerging designers is crucial. The world is run by huge companies and we have to support young talent. That’s why brands like Gucci are so extraordinary because I think that’s why Alessandro Michele truly can pick young talent, nurture and collaborate with them. The collaborations he does with young artists, with illustrators, designers, singers, musicians, I think more brands need to be doing things along those lines.

ALEXANDRA CASTLE — How did working with Alessandro Michele during your placement year impact your style and work?
HARRIS REED — Alessandro opened my eyes up to a world that was more colourful, vivacious and more surreal than anything I thought it could be. Those nine months in Rome were the most incredible nine months of my life. It truly gave me a whole new perception on the way that I looked at fashion. He opened my eyes up to the power of texture and colour and embroidery. His narrative lies so deeply within his veins, so deeply within his soul that I think it just pushed me to a deeper level of understanding of creation. It’s massively affecting my work now because I think everything I do has so many more layers to it within the narrative as well as the design. Now there’s a hand-painted print, with embroidery on top, finished with hand-diamanté. Everything becomes so much more multi-faceted and Alessandro instilled that within me. I think he’s a genius.

ALEXANDRA CASTLE — Due to the current worldwide health crisis, you have been forced to work from home, how has this affected you and how are you staying motivated to finish your collection? 
HARRIS REED — Working from home is probably the most restricting for myself in terms of space as the pieces themselves – I don’t want to say too much because they’re not out but they are just big silhouettes – It has been very challenging. I’ve been sewing every day with fabric pouring out of the sides of my windows. I have hats hitting the ceiling. It’s almost like I’m a little kid in ‘Alice In Wonderland’ and I just drank the potion and instead of the clothes getting smaller the room is getting tinnier. I’m still motivated because it’s what I love, it’s who I am and I don’t care. Fashion is 100% a crucial element of my identity. I used to wake up and flip out every morning. It’s what puts a huge fucking smile on my face. I’m getting support, I’m really lucky I have an incredible second-year helper, his name is Max. He’s helping me do a lot of the photoshop and I have another helper who is helping me do a lot of the corsetry. I’m very lucky that I have young artists who are supporting me through this. We are Addison Lee-ing things to each other but I’ve had to set myself deadlines that are realistic and cut back on how many looks I’m doing and some of the technical things because I don’t have access to a lot of the machinery like heat presses and industrial irons that I would need. At the same time, I’m trying to look at it as a positive and getting more acquainted with working with what you have.

ALEXANDRA CASTLE — When you first found out that you had to pack up your work and take it home what did you initially feel and think?
HARRIS REED — I think I was in shock. I’ve been there for five years. I was in shock because it has all been building up to the show. Then my business brain kicked in and I was counting every penny I had and thought, “I need to go out and buy every piece of fabric, every finishing, every silhouette, anything right now to get it together before shit hits the fan”. I did it before all the haberdashers started closing down. I was running like a manic in platform boots and a hot-red Gucci beret and a sheer chiffon top, running around with rolls and rolls of fabric. I had huge hats. I had wiring; I’m giving away too much from the collection – but there was stuff flying out of bags.


ALEXANDRA CASTLE — How do you think this has influenced your creativity, your work, and how do you think it could affect the future of fashion and the art world?
HARRIS REED —  I think for me it’s bringing back the artisanal art of fashion. In the past – I probably would have had a lot more people helping me, I even budgeted to have nine helpers to come in and help me with the embroidery as I wanted to push the fantasy element. The fact that I’m now almost having to do it all myself; with the fortunate help of my second-year helper – I think it’s helping a lot of people fall back in love with the art of design and makes you fall back in love with what you’re doing. It’s creation, you’re creating a message, a world. I think it influences your creativity because it’s working with what you have. I’ve now found some dead-stock fabrics and I’ve started to work with those. I’ve even had some dead-stock sequins and old vintage pieces that I’m cutting up to use some of the trimmings to add to the new pieces. So I think it’s showing a new creative way of working.

ALEXANDRA CASTLE — To what extent does LOVE have an impact on your creativity? On your work? On your life?
HARRIS REED — I think love to me is everything, I think love is what I have for what I do. I couldn’t do what I do if I didn’t have the love of my community. I think Love for me is so prevalent. Without love, you’re just making something. For me just it’s making clothes and for someone else, that might be making a book or just making a sandwich, making dinner. But when you put love into it, it becomes a spiritual and religious experience. I think for me, love is the last bit of seasoning that just brings something fully together and cements it in having just a very kind of raw and blind beauty.


Photo Laura Allard Fleischl and Marcus Schaefer

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