One of the next-generation stars of London’s first-ever gender-fluid fashion week, Harris Reed’s work is a stylistic fantasy and a beacon of change. As the half-British, half-American designer makes his* on-schedule debut with a six-look, demi-couture collection—complete with skyscraping artisanal headpieces—and launches a genderless makeup collaboration with MAC, Reed tells us the no-holds-barred story of how he got here (including that first seismic meeting with Harry Styles).
In a moving first-person essay, this is the designer’s advice to his nine-year-old self—the age that saw him first come out as gay, endure bullying and isolation, and realise the boundless power of his own creativity.
Dear nine-year-old self,
Right now, home is California, but you’re about to make the first of around 30 moves on a journey that will take you everywhere from Seattle to Paris, and London. Be brave. You’re going to get a lot of hate, you’re going to get picked on and feel lonely—but you will go bigger and you will always be genuine to how you feel.
I know you can’t imagine it now, when you’re spending your weekends alone dressing up in your room, but one day you will dress the biggest music star of your generation (something you will foretell to a college friend with eerie precision one night in your dorm room). After you graduate from Central Saint Martins during a global pandemic, you will make your debut collection during lockdown and show it as part of the first gender-fluid fashion week in British history. You will always be fighting for the beauty of fluidity because your core belief is that everyone should be able to represent themselves in the most authentic and truest version of who they are.
The journey to becoming your 24-year-old self will not be easy—I can promise you that—but you will never lose sight of who you are. (You’ll have to trust me when I say that it’s going to be such a huge blast when you get there.) There will be people who don’t want to understand your story, but what will matter more are the ones who do listen. One day, you’ll be telling your story to Vogue.
Entering fourth grade in Arizona, you will be labelled ‘the gay kid’ before you even know what ‘gay’ means. Some of the other parents will ask the teachers to have their kids removed from your class for fear that their kids might ‘catch the gay’. You won’t have friends and you will have panic attacks. But, Arizona will be the place where you come into your own. It’s there that you will realise the power of clothes, and your imagination.
There will be days at school when you are chased into the boys’ bathrooms because of what you’re wearing (namely, the Swarovski-coated Havaiana flip-flops). Hiding inside a bathroom stall, you will feel totally alone, but you’re not. Sometimes, you will overhear your mother defending you in the playground. She will always be the backbone of your life, and her adventures-everywhere from Tokyo to Paris-will show you what’s out there, in the world beyond the bullies.
There will also be imaginary friends. With them, you will fall in love with dressing up, when hours spent creating looks in front of the mirror will reveal a facet of yourself you hadn’t known before—and something will ‘click’. This year, you will come out to your parents one evening in two sentences: ‘I like boys. I’m gay.’
Clothes will play a fundamental part in your story from then on. The next week at school, you’ll wear a pink shirt and feel yourself regaining your power—a moment you will never forget. Soon, you and your mom will be pointed in the direction of the teen girls clothing section at Nordstrom by a sales assistant who will single-handedly change your life with the words, ‘You can wear these things.’ She will make you feel valid. One day, you’ll be able to open Instagram to see so many people doing what you want to be doing, but for now, it will be about those vital few who offer you a guiding light.
In Arizona, you’ll realise clothing not only has the power to change the way you feel, but that it can also change how everyone else looks at you (notice how the same kids that make fun of you start wearing the same things a couple of months later).
By the time you’ve moved to LA, then Oregon, Seattle, France (then back to LA) as a teenager, you’ll be able to condense your story to an ‘elevator pitch’: ‘I’m Harris Reed, I love who I am.’ You’ll have to work hard to get by, juggling a 40-hour working week on top of your final year of high school. In 2016, you’ll move to London to study fashion at Central Saint Martins, the institution where Alexander McQueen, John Galliano and every designer you’ve admired through the pages of Vogue all studied. CSM will be everything you want it to be and more because of the people you will meet—many of them will be kids who were bullied and picked on, too; kids who are trans, who pour their sexuality into their work.
You will arrive at college in skinny jeans, black combat boots and a little blond spiky fringe, and dance all night at The Queen Adelaide, VFD and Loverboy, feeling all the while ‘this is where I belong’. For the first time in your life, you will find representation all around you and it’s then that you’ll learn to remove the disguises of what you once thought a young queer person should be.
On the day that you meet Harry Styles with his stylist, Harry Lambert, backstage at the Hammersmith Apollo, you’ll be running across London in silk and silver leather flares and matching platform boots, carrying a sketchbook full of fantasy references of Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie and Mick Jagger. Right away, he’ll have all the kindness that you’d imagined. He’ll ask you not to dial back what you do. At college, you’ll work late into the night to finish the blouses that will become part of the tour wardrobe he’ll wear on stages all over the world and when Harry becomes the first male to star in a solo Vogue cover, you’ll see him wearing your designs on the magazine’s pages.
In 2021, you’ll be 6ft 4in. You’ll have long red hair and be glamorous. But, your fundamental message will be exactly the same: wear what the fuck you want, be who you are. Don’t let fluidity become another box—for one person it will mean a sheer 1970s dress, for another it will be a pair of jeans and a T-shirt.
*Harris Reed’s preferred pronouns are he/him