The Interview: Harris Reed, the pioneering designer, on the power of fluid fashion
Harris Reed might be a relatively new voice in fashion, but his CV is staggering.
After setting up his namesake brand nearly five years ago, Reed has dressed supermodel Iman for the Met Gala, been named the creative director of storied French fashion house Nina Ricci, had actor Florence Pugh open one of his fashion shows – and that’s before you even touch the list of celebs who have worn his clothes, including Harry Styles, Beyoncé, Rihanna and Emma Watson.
For Reed, 27, his obsession with fashion started from a young age – coming to the fore every year around Halloween.
“At first, I thought I just loved the holiday. But what I quickly realised in my early years of nine, 10, 11, 12, was the fact that I loved this idea of dressing up, and I loved this idea of embodying another character or another facet of myself or another identity,” Reed says.
“Whether it was more subconscious in those early years, throughout my teens I really found this comfort in being able to put on clothing that represented a different facet of who I was, or something I was scared to play with or scared to touch on.”
During these early years growing up in Arizona, Reed – who is British-American – started realising “the power that clothing had”, particularly helping him navigate his sexuality.
Clothes allowed him to “shift and change the dialogue I had around my sexuality and my outward appearance to the world through a safe space on Halloween, [when] maybe no one’s going to really say something – but if I wore that skirt and big hat and sunglasses the next day, I could get beaten up”, he said.
Today, Reed’s designs are dramatic and extravagant – with big gowns, opulent headpieces and more: see Derry Girls star Nicola Coughlan’s ensemble at the Vogue World event last September. “It was only last week I realised that everything I create – whether it’s a massive hat or massive cage skirts that I’ve done for Beyonce, Harry Styles – a lot about these pieces keep a bit of a distance around the wearer,” he says.
This allows the wearer to feel like “there’s safety and there’s a boundary” – giving them space to be their most opulent and over-the-top self.
For Reed, fashion is “always about creating pieces that made me feel like I was in another safer, more accepting planet”.
He’s come to these realisations through writing his debut book, Fluid, tracking his own personal style and career, as well as looking at the history of gender in fashion.
It took Reed “quite a long time” to discover the word ‘fluid’. “I remember moving to London almost 10 years ago today. I was at the time a gay man, I was really in a space where I felt like I wasn’t complete, or wasn’t fully who I felt like I was meant to be,” he remembers.
This started a “long expedition” of personal discovery for Harris, who says: “It was really only when I started having to describe my work to people that I was like, it’s fluid. I obviously didn’t invent this word… But it wasn’t something that felt like it was in the mainstream, six, seven years ago when I started talking about it.”
Reed adds: “What I love about fluidity is the fact that you break boxes, you break boundaries. It allows you to completely not have to conform to any f****** thing ever. That is why it’s so beautiful, and [why] we should be talking about it and embracing it.”
He created one of the dresses Harry Styles wore in his 2020 Vogue cover-shoot, which sparked something of an online storm. So does Reed ever find it tough, being at the forefront of gender-fluid fashion?
“Even when you look at Instagram, no one ever sees the failures, they don’t see anxiety,” he says – and his CV might be impressive, but it’s not without struggle.
“I try so hard throughout my whole design career with things like Instagram, Stories and Reels to show the real process – me having a panic attack because we can’t get something done in time or a stylist drops me or a client pulls out or we lose money on something.”
And there’s still plenty to be done – particularly when Reed touches upon topics of gender. The “queer community is under fire right now – it needs to be spoken about”, he says.
It’s “hard”, Reed admits, crediting therapy and a strong support system to helping him through. Plus, major celebrities like Styles – who was his first ever client – helped get his business off the ground.
Styles wearing his clothes “added a level of validity to what I was doing”, Reed says. “At the time, teachers were like: ‘This is costume, who’s going to buy this, we don’t get this, this is frilly stuff – this isn’t menswear, this isn’t womenswear’.
“So the second someone with that level of gravitas and respect wears my pieces – that’s when the buyers started calling.”
Reed’s shows have become a highlight of London Fashion Week, while not actually being listed on the official calendar. He describes them as a “moving performance” – often with musical guests, like Sam Smith – and promises “big surprises” this season.
“I want people to be transported, I want people to feel uncomfortable, I want people to feel excited, I want people when they get into a show to be the same as when people leave a theatre performance – they have a strong, visceral reaction to it.”
So buckle up, because Reed adds: “This is our most ambitious season yet.”
Fluid: A Fashion Revolution by Harris Reed is published in hardback by Quadrille, priced £35. Available now.
Words: Prudence Wade/PA