Still at university, Reed’s fates changed with just one look – here, he shares his story and his tips for dressing like an individual
The White Show is an internal event at Central Saint Martins, for the first year students, where all fashion pathways come together and put on, well, a show. By the students, for the students. If you’re not a student you don’t get to see it. And it’s here, at the White Show, that the Harris Reed phenomenon was born.
For Reed, the show was a way of seeing how far he could push himself, so he imagined an artistocratic boy who lived in 18th-century London and was thrown out of his house for being gay. “Originally it was meant to be [this boy] in a suit, running away and finding salvation at the Royal Opera House, where he lives in the back and plays dress up all day long,” Reed explains when we meet for a coffee in Angel, where he cuts a striking figure in a scarlet suit, with a fishnet top peaking out from his cuff and his platform boots adding several inches to his already towering height.
Reed’s aesethetic is best described as a kind of glam rock androgyny mixed with a sense of Victoriana. Flamboyant femininity for men. Proportions are extreme and while bell sleeves billow and trousers flare, everything is cut close to the body creating an almost sculptural effect which is finished off with a headpiece that resembles as extreme riff on Little Boo Peep’s hat. Imagine Bette Davis as a Southern belle via that iconic photograph of David Bowie in his Diamond Dog days, shot by Terry O’Neil, and you’ll get a fair idea of what he does.
“The outfit was, in a way, parallel to my own story. This character was like me coming to London and finding my salvation,” he says. “It was quite emotional because it was the first time that I put myself completely out there in London, my first kind of big full look.”
The response was overwhelming to say the least – the next morning Reed woke up to 700 new followers on Instagram and an inbox full of people requesting the look to shoot for magazines as varied as Wallpaper and Vogue Italia. There was also personal request from Solange Knowles who wanted to wear his designs for a Teen Vogue shoot. “It’s been quite crazy and I don’t think it’s clicked because that, on top of school and on top of projects, is definitely not a norm at all. The opportunities have been mind-blowingly incredible.”
Reed has always been interested in clothes but it wasn’t until he moved to Arizona for a couple of years during middle school that he discovered the power of fashion. Arizona is very conservative which posed a challenge for him because of his sexuality. “Parents would ask the teacher for me to be pulled out of the class because they didn’t want their children to be in a class with a gay kid,” he remembers. “Then the teacher would call my parents and tell them that being gay is a sin.”
It was in this somewhat hostile environment, though, that Reed began to see clothes as a form of armour, recalling a specific vintage sequin jacket that he would wear and describes now as his “super hero cape”. “It was my protection,” he says. “I saw how clothes can not only transform the way you feel, but how people perceive you.” And the idea of fashion as a means of self-expression of what he does – clothes for him can’t just be beautiful, they have to evoke a reaction. “When I walk down the street people stare and make comments. A lot of the time they’re rude comments but I don’t mind. Maybe it’s good if I can open up anyone into being that passionate that they have to say something.”
Would it be fair to describe Reed as an activist as well as a designer then? “Oh for sure, 100 per cent. It all comes back to sexuality and my personal experiences with bullying. I think those things will always come through in my work. There always has to be a message. I wouldn’t pretend that doing some crazy avant-garde outfit is going to change the world, but I like to think that it could start a conversation.”
Harris Reed’s Guide to Dressing as an Individual
1. Money doesn’t matter
“You don’t need money to have an individual style. Some of the most individual and stylish people I know don’t have that much money, but what they do with some cheap Boots makeup and found objects is outstanding.”
2. U got the look
“The more you dress to your unique qualities, the more striking you look. I have always been almost awkwardly tall, so I wear the highest shoes, the highest waists and the tightest pants, almost as a ‘fuck you’.”
3. Wear clothes with a story
“Everything you wear should have a story, whether it’s the straight forward ‘I made this’ or the ‘It was my grandmother’s’. I love nothing more then stopping someone in the street and hearing the backstory to their amazing brooch or red velvet shawl.”
4. Being uncomfortable can be a good thing.
“I like to take all the stares I get and use them as ammunition to push myself that much further. I like to think of the builders sat on the side of the road yelling at me as almost a standing ovation, wanting and craving more.”
5. Don’t take life too seriously
“If you’re not having fun then you’re taking life way too seriously. Own who you are because at the end of the day, if you are being the truest and purest version of you, then that’s all that matters.”