Tiny Dancer. Harris Reed SS23

There’s no need to explain why this London Fashion Week won’t feel like a usual affair. The somber events of fate – the death of Queen Elizabeth – couldn’t help but have overtaken Harris Reed’s chosen position as one of the first designers to show in London. The plan was to stage his joyfully glam, celebratory queer show as a move-on, literally, from the high-drama static tableaux he’s worked on for a couple of seasons. It was a performance which was to have acted as a kind of ta-da curtain-raiser for all the fizzy anticipation people had been feeling about the first full comeback of shows since the end of the pandemic. Conscious of the very different load of responsibility that his massively sculptural looks were now going to carry on their scaffolded shoulders, Reed spoke up. During the days when there were heart-searching discussions about whether the week should be canceled altogether, he posted a respectfully-toned text pleading for the survival of the fragile ecosystem of young brands – his friends – for whom canceling could’ve spelled financial ruin, with no hope of recouping insurance on money already spent. “It has been a challenging two years… in these two years I have been absolutely blown away by how incredibly supportive the fashion community is in London. When put through massive challenges, designers, models, movement directors, casting directors, nail artists, [and] writers have supported one another, lifting one another up,” he wrote. “London is a place where community, creativity, and cultivation should always be in the forefront of what we support and nurture.” And he tagged all the names of the designers and friends he is “honored to be showing alongside.”

It was a generous, much-shared gesture, illustrating something of how Reed’s popularity as an optimistic personality-about-fashion has been a contributory factor in the massive amounts of attention, celebrity-wears, and magazine covers he’s managed to magnetize at an almost absurdly early stage of his career. So: it was on with the Debutante Ball-themed show, the hysteria generated by the appearance of Adam Lambert singing “Nessun Dorma” only slightly dialed back, given the circumstances. Earlier, in his studio, Reed related how his inspiration was a cross between Victorian crinolines and the great glittering days of drag clubs in New York. He has a bold sense of unputdownable optimism, which he attributes to his American upbringing. It shows in the scale of his ambition to make clothes which aspire to haute couture, or at least, the look of it. Fitting clothes to the body to be inspected in movement and in the round presented a technical hurdle, not quite a leap, if one was being Paris-picky. But then again, Reed’s can-do, let’s-pull-together American cheerleading has been a great asset to have around London in a time of crisis.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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60 Years A Queen. Harris Reed AW22

London Fashion Week started on a high note with Harris Reed‘s sophomore collection. The phenomenal autumn-winter 2022 collection, staged at the Saint John the Evangelist Church, was accompanied by Sam Smith’s live performance of Desirée’s “Kissing You”. The musician was surrounded by an elaborate set of paper clouds and models wearing creations made from repurposed fabrics. And here’s another magical detail about Reed’s latest outing: those fabrics came from the home of the heir to the Bussandri upholstery empire, who the designer happened to meet in a café in Northern Italy where his mother lives. “She looked like Donatella Versace’s twin sister. I said, ‘I love your bag.’ She said, ‘Oh, it’s actually from our villa…” And the rest is history. Titled “60 Years a Queen” after Sir Herbert Maxwell’s 1897 book about Queen Victoria, Reed’s collection investigated Victoriana through a “Yas, queen!” club kid lens. “I love how queer culture took on this regal fabulousness,” he explained, gesturing at a gender-nonbinary house model wearing an elongated plush golden suit repurposed from those Bussandri fabrics. As for the rest of the young designer’s silhouettes, they weren’t exemplary of a collection created to explore a specific design idea. Rather, they were DIY-esque explorations of the language of haute couture, and, to a larger degree, testament to the fact that the Harris Reed brand isn’t necessarily about design, anyway. It’s about him as a performative phenomenon rooted in the generational values expressed through his genderless creations and the nonbinary people he puts them in. The message was illustrated in a breastplate spliced from a male and female torso, then pierced with arrows Saint Sebastian-style. But Reed is far from a martyr to his cause. In fact, business is going so well he’s happy he didn’t go down the ready-to-wear route like some of his Central Saint Martins classmates.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Majestic. Harris Reed Ss22

Harris Reed‘s spactacular debut show took place in the Serpentine Pavilion with a performance by the artist Kelsey Lu, making this experience even more heavenly and as ethereal as the designer’s spotlight-stealing garments. As you may have already gathered, Reed isn’t your average emerging designer. While he was still studying, a chance meeting with the celebrity stylist Harry Lambert earned him a commission for Harry Styles, whose image was made for the fluid romanticism in which Reed deals. The pop star’s 39 million followers kicked in, and just like that, a star was born. As his debut show demonstrated, Reed thrives in the costume territory. He repurposed bridal and groom’s wear sourced from the British charity chain Oxfam into majestic hybrids of gowns and tuxedos, topping them off with enormous spherical headpieces that have become his trademark. The way he cut his dresses was imaginative and resourceful to say the least. Most successful were the ones that showed more silhouette, like a tuxedo jacket chopped into a bolero and elongated with a veil that cascaded like a waterfall, turning it into a dress. The hats made for the most DIY-looking element of the show and could perhaps have done with some less obviously recycled fabrication. But that wasn’t the point. “Everything is about being huge and being seen,” Reed said. It was true for the outfit he created for Iman at last week’s Met Gala. He spent the fittings talking to the supermodel about her late husband David Bowie, who featured heavily on his collection mood boards, and to whom he paid tribute in a striped glam rock suit made out of strips cut from said second-hand finds. Reed shares his Bowie mania with Alessandro Michele, with whom he interned at Gucci for nine months after being invited to be a part of the brand’s roster of cutting-edge cool kids, who get ferried around the world for events. Harris’ “demi-couture”aims to fly the flag for gender fluidity and nonconformity. He’s also an internet sensation and celebrity favorite, which is a major talent in its own right. And he’s only just begun.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.