The gender-fluid designer discusses glue guns, pop stars, and courting controversy in Vogue ahead of London Fashion Week.
Harris Reed was a designer before anyone knew about him. Vogue had featured his suit. Or was it a gown?
It was a tailored suit with high shoulders and a hoop skirt in hot pink satin. It was worn by Harry Styles, a popstar, in the December issue. It could have been both.
Reed made the outfit in just six days with Venetian wool and duchesse satin. He also used a glue gun and described it as “an exact juxtaposition between a suit and dress”. It was a symbol that transcended all its parts within hours of the magazine’s publication. It was an open letter to outdated gender norms for some. It was a sign that things have moved on for those who were attached to the binary. Candace Owens, a Republican firebrand, tweeted that she wanted to see “bring back menly men”. It was the headline news for a whole day.
Reed says, “I knew there’d be controversy – Trump’s America magazine came out, you know?” at drill-speed over Zoom. “But Anna [Wintour] asked for me to make that look to Harry, but I was only taking a tongue in cheek on people asking me about fluidity.” “I wasn’t surprised but also… How are we still outraged at a man wearing a dress in 2021?”
His gender-neutral collection, which he will present from his London hotel suite that doubles as his studio, will be displayed before London’s first ever gender-neutral Fashion Week on February 19. He’s not actually in fashion week. It’s all online. You must be stocked at six outlets to be eligible. Reed, who graduated in the summer of 2012, was stocked by only two outlets. He says, “I felt like I was being taught how to make stuff out so this is my choice.” “The last fashion weeks before ‘this’ seemed to be focused on hitting numbers.”
Reed isn’t selling any of the items in the collection, even though the pandemic has impacted the type of products designers can make. For example, face masks and gloves have been replaced by bags and shoes. He says, “It just felt strange in a pandemic.”
Reed is 24 years old and gender-fluid. He identified as they/them up until last week. “At that point, I didn’t feel like I was a male or female but I was starting to feel pigeonholed.” He then reverted back to “he/him”.
Styles was a face of gender-neutrality long before Vogue came out, but it is arguably his collaboration with labels like Reed’s that placed this front and centre. Styles is a Gucci model who blurs the lines between masculine and feminine with his pearl earrings and “Thin White Duke” flares. Reed says, “I fight for beauty in fluidity and Harry just really knows the way gender can be restrictive.”
He is probably Central Saint Martins’ most well-known “pandemic graduate”. He finished his degree in June, while making smoking jackets on Styles’s global tour, working at Gucci and dressing pop stars with white suits (Solange), hats (“Selena Gomez”) and platforms (Miley Cirus).
Fashion students, like many others who had their degrees ruined by campus closures, also had to make actual items for their degree shows. Reed modelled for his own show. He used a Singer sewing machine from Argos and a PS20 iron. He also used glue from the local hardware store and a foam mannequin that he found in the bin. He dyed his fabrics in the backyard of a nearby disused pub. Vogue covered the final collection, which was inspired by the fifth Marquess from Anglesey (aristocrats as well as eccentrics are common themes in his work). You can be resourceful but I still advise future students to defer, delay, and defer.
Reed is half Mexican-American and half English. He is 6ft 4in tall and has dyed-red, waist-length hair. Before he wears a pair of platform boots (his own design), he stands at 6ft 4ins. It’s amazing to see him, almost as if Giacometti created the Venus. Reed designs hats that measure a metre wide and cheerful blouses that fit all from dead stock chiffon and taffeta, which he would also wear. This might seem obvious for a designer. However, financial losses at Victoria Beckham’s label last week were attributed to Reed. Reed rolls his eyes. “It’s dumb. If I can convince people of my outrageous vision, then maybe high street shops will eliminate male and female dressing rooms, or make men’s shoes with height.”
His “outrageous” wardrobe alternates between secondhand and high-end. Vintage silk leopard-print blouses in black and flares for work. A nude thong or crystal gown are suitable for fashion awards. His meticulous skincare routine includes fresh aloe, face rollers, and concealer. Next week, he will also launch a collaboration with MAC Cosmetics. Self-expression is not free. He says, “I have people say the word “fag” to me up to three times per week on the streets – and that’s not just during a pandemic.” “Have you ever had to run down the streets in fear of being harassed?” “Yes. That’s sad. Yes. It does need to stop. Totally.”
Reed was born in Arizona. His mother, who was a model, and his father, who is a documentary maker, were both perfumiers and candlemakers. Although his childhood was creative and sometimes rarefied, he was always intrigued by the possibility of expressing himself through clothing. “People used to tell me I was gay, before I even knew what it meant. This was Arizona, and you must have been white and Christian… And there I was, nine years ago, in a gold cape taken from a Halloween box.”
In true Gen Z fashion, Harry Lambert discovered him on Instagram in 2017. After collaborating on several shoots, Lambert asked him to draw pieces for a mystery client. They planned to meet at a London address. “Just before the meeting I was at college being torn apart by a teacher, telling me to drop out. I left the college in my shirtless state and hopped on the tube wearing silver Balenciaga shoes and a fake fur jacket.” Reed knew it was Styles, as he is a client of Lambert. But it wasn’t until he saw his name on the Hammersmith Apollo that Reed realized why he was there. He says, “We struck it off instantly and have never looked back.” Gucci now has matching, large-sized initial rings for the pair.
Reed had never used a sewing machine before he was accepted to Central Saint Martins. It sounds like Reed is trying to get into Rada by not having read Shakespeare. “I’m just as happy ruching, draping, and duct-taping,” he says. He says that he will still use his glue gun for Vogue.”