[May 23 2020]
The fifth Marquess of Anglesey, Henry Paget acted as a central muse for your collection. What is the idea behind your graduate collection?
The collection was originally inspired by Henry Paget the 5th marquee of Anglesey. He was very eccentric, a very otherworldly character for the time and even now defied all social rules and all social constructs. He was an aristocrat from a very prominent family and was left a lot of money. When he divorced his wife he started to dress in a very ornate fluid fantasy if you will. He went opulently bonkers and I loved him because he was such an extreme of self-expression on a daily sequel of life that it beautifully fit with my already existing ethos of fluidity and being comfortable with who you are and expressing yourself. So that was the main inspiration. This character that was Henry Paget who was performing Oscar Wilde plays when Oscar Wilde was being persecuted for being gay, in his family chapel that he turned into an opulent theatre. He was just so outrageous and it kind of felt really beautiful to tie in with the 70s which I always look at. The New York Dolls and David Bowie and Mick Jagger, and amazing tailoring but with extremes whether that’s a really pointed shoulder or really great lapel with the white stitching. I’m all about a juxtaposition. So that became very prevalent, to then juxtapose these silhouettes with debutants and this frivolous over-the-top decadence and that is how the collection came to be. As someone who is a gender-fluid designer, this idea of really taking a literal stance on men’s and women’s clothing and juxtaposing the two quite literally with look 1 being a men’s tailored jacket with this huge kind of “falling apart “ ball gown skirt. Falling apart in air quotes because it is a very deconstructed considered drapes. It was deconstructing the way that we look and view components together.
Did you receive sponsorship or funding for the collection?
I was so lucky that Ecco luckily sponsored some of my leather for my boots which I’m extremely proud of and excited about. As for funding, it was definitely something I’ve been saving up for years to do the collection that I’ve just done. But I’m very lucky that I’ve been able to have my second-year helper, Bella who assisted me throughout the collection, live with me and helped me work on it. It definitely was a collection built on blood sweat and tears and a hint of glamour or shouldn’t I say, a ton of glamour.
What was the process like working in quarantine? What materials did you use, for example in look number 4 with the golden print dress? Did you use a lot of corsetry?
I love that you’re talking about look 4. Look four is actually not real. That is a completely computer-generated look. In the collection, I did four physical looks and two that were part of it that I was meant to make but given the quarantine and the restraints, I wasn’t actually able to make them because that look involved another cage and those cages are all completely hand-made out of steel and have to be completely cut by hand. So I wasn’t able to make that one so you’re looking at a toile that I made with the structure under the garment, draped calico and then we used photoshop and other design software to mimic what it would look like.
Basically materials that I used for the rest of the collection, came down to scraps from past projects. I even cut up a couple of old pieces I got from the charity shop. If I was just trying to get some ruffle details in terms of the fabric that I would use for ruffles maybe it was a neckpiece — I basically had to use everything I had, to make it come together because I used as much fabric as I could find when lockdown went into place. Then after that, I didn’t buy any fabric. I have a B&Q underneath me and I’ve gone down there and bought a lot of building supplies for some of the hats, even for some of the corsetry which we do for a lot of the other looks. There are corsets built into them that were a lot of steel boning and a lot of Duchess satin and a lot of that was using old satin. I think we used some satin from a thing I did for an editorial feature. I used some old lace that I had for my Harry Styles project. Just using bits and bobs around to make the collection come together and I really felt that it was more authentic that way. Bella Thomas my helper who studies at the London College of Fashion studies Costume design so she’s really able to help me make and achieve the vision of these extreme silhouettes. I love the idea of the restraint and constriction that a corset gives. It just makes your body almost like a performance piece the way your posture is restricted in the way you stand and move around. The collection was all about, what is the most extreme? What’s the most opulent? What’s the most over-the-top? So corsets were very important to achieve that vision.
What was it like creating a full collection knowing this was your final BA Fashion collection at Central Saint Martins?
I’ve been so fortunate to have had opportunities. I’ve worked my butt off but to have opportunities to have worked with VIP singers, musicians and artists and all these incredible people who’ve believed in me. I felt like there’s a lot of pressure that I think the industry had and I probably put mostly on myself. I know that I love this kind of rock-romanticism where everything is beautiful within the fluid details but I wanted to have a collection that spoke volumes. A collection that broke anything I’ve done before so I think before Covid-19 even happened I was working on the first half of the collection which was all the toile and it was really about, who is Harris Reed and what is the larger than life vision? And it was just really pumping up my ethos which is self-expression and love and just taking it to a level of opulence that is so in your face and to just be who you are and to just stand with that and be who you want to be. Then that really kind of triggered the collection going then into Covid-19 and being in isolation with my one helper Bella at my home and thinking, how are we going to present this? It came down to sets, it’s going to be opulent, it’s going to be crazy. We’re going to be doing these computer hand-drawn sets. And really trying to get the collection to have the level of shock and opulence that it needed.
What’s next? Are you planning on commercializing it and selling it (post-quarantine)?
Wouldn’t we all like to know? No, I’m just kidding. For me honestly, quarantine happened. We all went into complete lockdown. We’ve all been in emotional roller-coasters. Some days I was just crying, some days I was just working on the collection. AKA most days but it’s been such an up and down and that’s something that makes this collection so special to me because I completely let go of the idea of is it buyable? Is it sellable? I was just like, let me make art, the art that I believe in. And let me make the message that I stand for. So honestly, I hope it’s really well received especially right now in 2020 it’s a lot of collaboration. I hope that my collection sets the tone for who the Harris Reed being is. And they are fluid, they are fabulous and they are decadent.
How are you planning to showcase the collection when the pandemic blows over?
For me, this is how I’m showcasing it. These videos that I worked nights and nights and hours with Lauren Deane Hunter, my friend in LA who helped animate it, Lukas Palumbo the set illustrator, Bella Thomas, my friend Loo, my friend Valentina. This for me is how I’m showcasing it. There won’t be any follow up to this would be its own entity. I really don’t look at this as being any kind of bookmark or small moment before the big moment. This is the big moment because for me I can’t work on something if I know it’s not what it needs to be and this is what it will be. So after the pandemic goes aways It’s going to be interesting to see what ends up happening, regardless whether there will be second waves, how society is going to adapt, fashion will be changed forever. I just hope this leads to some really exciting, fantastic and creative hands-on projects.
Take me through the tailoring and the cut, the style, fabrics and materials used and silhouette?
So for me catching on the elements of the inspiration. I really kind of wanted all the tailoring aspects to be in black. I love the idea of being really harsh juxtaposition of men’s tailoring but bringing in those quote-unquote “feminine aspects”. Bringing in these cinched waists, maybe a bit more of a padded shoulder which is very kind of almost, 80s power working woman. Thinking almost just like this cross-contamination of feminine and this masculine and making your own beautiful fluid liquor. And then really juxtaposing that with huge ornate shapes. I mean the fabric was all black wool made in England. I’m all about making things locally sourced, locally made because it’s just classic chic men’s tailoring fabric and then all of the drapery is either in silk satin or silk organza or duchess satin. It’s really important for me to play off of materials that have structure. I’m a designer who loves shape, I love silhouette. I love larger-than-life ideas and concepts. So it was really important to get materials that could almost make me sculpt them like clay and make me build who that fluid being was. Basically as well, I’m someone who loves glitz and glam but for this, I really wanted to make it about the defined details so all the black that you’re seeing, the look with the giant white hat, cheetah background, all black and white. That’s all hand-appliqué sequins that are from French-made sequins that I’ve fused together. So it was really just using really decadent details, a lot of the fabrics were fabrics that I had leftover, that I had redone using a sharpie or being really clever with creative ways of making a collection in isolation.
The hat. We have to discuss the hat and the filter you created for your birthday. What was the decision behind doing this and do you think the entire world now knows about Harris Reed’s hat (in fashion anyway)? For your degree collection, you’ve gone up in size, was this a decision sparked by global interest in everything tiny and everything ginormous that we are seeing? And will you be wearing the hats to social-distance in the future?
OMG, that’s so funny. For me the hat filter was very in my mind, strategic that there was no show anymore for CSM there was not this moment now that press, VIPs, Industry people could come and see a show. So I thought, what does inclusivity look like in 2020. What does it look like to have a fashion moment and to make a fashion moment and started going through my work and I’ve always known the white hat as something that I love and defines who I am. But I never realised the white hat is just so a part of who I am because it is opulent fluidity at its maximum. I mean it’s a meter and a bit bigger wide – I should probably measure that. But it’s huge and the thing is it kind of become a symbol for my designs. And I was so surprised by how many people, it’s actually 286,000 people have used the filter as of yesterday. This morning I just checked and started balling my eyes out because the support and the level that it reached was so incredible and now there’s so many people that are messaging me and that have started following me, all so excited for this collection to drop. And it just means the world to have these people, follow and look at my work, especially when it stands for a greater purpose than it just being pretty things. There’s nothing as incredible as that feels. And of course, I’ll be wearing these hats to social-distance in the future. That’s actually such a good point. I really feel like I should wear them going around the block it would very much be the mood.
What message do you wish to convey through your collection and through championing fluidity?
I think as I’ve said throughout this interview. Be the most opulently fluid version of yourself and what that means to me is waking up every day and putting something on that makes you feel fantastic and not giving any fuck what the outside world thinks about you. This collection I don’t need it to go out there and have people be like, “Oh I want to buy Harris Reed”. But if I inspire people to go out there and try to emulate what it means to be their own person and to be their own opulent being, then I’m doing something right. I mean I hope they want to buy my clothes because that’s obviously the goal. But you know the message to me is always at the fundamentals of — my strongest being my core.
Do you think your collection is related to the aspect of Love? What is your secret definition of love?
I think all of my collection is love, for me it’s a love I have for creating, it’s a love I have for conveying a message. It’s a love I have for the responsibility to spread awareness of self-expression and beauty. It’s the love I have to nurture hopefully young people coming along and do the same thing whether that’s through film, through acting. That is love to me. I think love is a thing that if you’re feeling it, experiencing it or giving it, you feel infinite. You feel accepted, you feel loved and you feel like you can do anything and that is love.
Text by Alexandra Castle