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Minimalism often seizes designers in periods of uncertainty: when the fashion industry is on the ropes, say, or when a given designer needs a reset. But the work of Harris Reed, the 23-year-old English-American designer, suggests that fashion is entering a new period of exuberance. Reed just graduated from Central Saint Martins, fashion’s most prestigious graduate school, but has already been hard at work: dressing Ezra Miller in a feathered top hat and Solange in a portrait hat with a circumference to rival a bird of prey’s wingspan, and forging a creative partnership with Harry Styles that has electrified the possibilities of the blouse.
“Gender-fluid clothing has become a vessel to be taken in whatever way you see fit,” says Reed by phone from England. “I might wear the same blouse I made for Harry, and I might wear it in a very feminine and sweet and innocent way. Harry’s onstage, chest fully out, sweating, rocking out. He really reclaims it for his own self.”
Reed is already a pioneer of a new age of gender-fluid fashion, whose bell bottom suiting silhouettes, ruffled blouses, and millinery conjure the libertine sexual attitude of Mick Jagger and David Bowie, as well as the Romantic period’s delicate masculine vanity. Their six-look graduate collection, which was shared widely on social media, demonstrates how their work veers towards the fantastically extreme: a tutu over a tuxedo; a hoop skirt cage over bellbottoms; and a lace veiled hat in supersized-parasol dimensions. If a decade ago “androgynous clothing” mostly meant men’s tailoring concepts reconfigured for women, it’s now led by a feminine, theatrical spirit.
The reason for this new shift in gender-fluid dressing, Reed explains, is that trans and gender-diverse voices in the fashion industry have become leading influences on design, “whether that’s Hari Nef, whether that’s someone like myself—people that are big activists.” Brands like Gucci, where Reed has interned (and also appeared in a perfume campaign and walked in the 2019 Cruise show last year), are modernizing the idea, centuries old, when “to be ‘feminine’ was actually perceived as a beautiful, masculine thing.”
Seeing the confluence of gender-fluidity and fashion has made Reed an advocate for Mermaids, a United Kingdom-based organization that supports trans and gender-nonconforming children and teenagers. Perhaps most crucially, it provides a hotline to educate parents and families, offering the “tools to be able to be the best kind of support system they need to be for their children.” Reed adds, “I was so lucky to have parents who really loved me and supported me, but I think that even they could have used a bit of guidance and a bit of help. And I know that there are so many families that are not accepting and not supportive, and [if someone’s] family doesn’t want to reach out to the service, they can and get the tools they need.”