What do Harry Styles, Ezra Miller and Alessandro Michele have in common? Besides their eclectic sensibilities and androgynous, slightly off-kilter style palettes, all three were some of the earliest supporters of gender-fluid fashion designer, Harris Reed—ever since they was still studying at Central Saint Martins. The 24-year-old’s swift rise to red carpet rule breaker has been fuelled by a personal identity and brand ethos best described as “Romanticism Gone Nonbinary”, with gender fluidity, inclusivity and self-expression at the core.
Seeking to expand beyond the transformative power of clothing and its correlation to identity and liberation, Reed has made their first official foray into beauty, with the four-product Harris Reed x MAC Cosmetics limited edition collection, inspired by glam-rock romanticism.
“This is for the little queer kid on the playground with his mother’s lipstick in his back pocket, nervous of fully being who I knew I could be. Scared because I didn’t believe I could be beautiful the way I thought beautiful looked, strong the way I knew strong should look, or powerful the way powerful should manifest itself on one’s exterior… I’ve learned so much since then—the world doesn’t define standards of beauty, strength, or power… we do. We write our own stories. And the day has finally come—I’ve done it all for that little kid and all the others out there. This is about defining what you look like to the world”, said the fashion designer, taking to their Instagram account to unveil the collaboration.
In a Vogue Singapore exclusive, we speak to the blooming creator on their aesthetic codes, definition of fluidity in beauty, and how the industry can take some cues from Asia, where make-up for all genders has successfully found its place in mainstream media over recent years.
What do you wish to see more of, and what do you wish to see less of, in the beauty industry today?
I would love to see more of diverse, unique individuals showcased within the beauty industry. I’m so excited that MAC Cosmetics brought me on for this collaboration because we’re not going for the typical idea of beauty, we’re pushing for individual characters. Kind of the crazy weird ones in the back (I consider myself a weirdo), someone who breaks moulds and fights for fluidity and difference.
MAC Cosmetics has always been one of the most boundary breaking, diverse and inclusive brands since its founding in 1984. How would you say this collection is raising the bar even higher in the realm of gender fluidity?
MAC Cosmetics has always been a brand that pioneered this idea of inclusivity and acceptance. I’m so excited for this line and doing this with them, especially right now, because we’re in a time that being authentic and genuinely who you are has never been more prevalent. With all these different social media platforms and outlets, it’s all about young people reclaiming who they are. And that’s exactly what we want with this collection, to make what I’m hoping to be a big statement: Be who you are, be free, and beauty looks however you want it to look.
In Asia, especially in China and Korea, make-up is a pretty gender fluid subject with everyone including heterosexual men wearing lipstick, foundation and eyeshadow in mainstream media. Is the goal to create that same reach with a collection that can be worn by anyone and everyone?
That’s exactly it. I want anyone and everyone to be able to wear this. This was two years in the making, and when I was creating this, my family was in the room and everyone including my dad, mom and sister agreed they’d try and wear the products I was working on. We don’t just want to normalising the wearing of make-up, but to make it accessible and acceptable to everyone by breaking any preconceived boundaries that people may have with such beauty products.
Would you say the beauty industry—which is one of the more inclusive industries around—still needs to be challenged to think beyond gender?
One hundred percent. I think the same can be said for fashion too… but I do think we’re at a point where I hope I can be one of those rule breakers, one of those people effectively shatter a mould. I think the beauty industry—with the exception of MAC Cosmetics and a couple others—really need to be pushed, and I hope that this launch can be the push it needs to encourage everyone else to go out there, challenge the norm, and get crazy with it.
Would you say this boldness is more a matter of gender expression versus tools for gender fluidity?
For me they very much go hand in hand. I think they’re tools in terms of being used to help create a look or explore your identity, or even just transform yourself for a night out with friends. But for me, personally, it was definitely about gender expression, the same way I used clothing as a young kid to help reclaim who I knew I really was, after which make-up soon followed. I want this to be part of people’s journey.
How would you say make-up has the same (if not more) transformative power than fashion?
What I love about make-up is that it is so much more accessible to people. We can’t all have a giant gown in our wardrobe but we all can have that one lipstick that changes how we feel about ourselves. And for me, that accessibility is crucial because it lets anyone have a dream, lets anyone feel like they have the power to change and evolve as a human being. This is what I truly love about make-up.
What is the main message you’re hoping to tell with this make-up collaboration?
Inclusivity—by making makeup a powerful tool to bring this idea of acceptance and performance to life, and to help people own their fluidity in whichever way that looks. Owning your identity with fabulous self expression through an inspired collection of make-up.
Glam rock romanticism. What’s the story behind this leading theme of yours, and the visuals that come together in your mind?
I’m always looking at this idea of mixing past world and current world, and for me glam rock and romanticism is very much the epicentre of how this collection came about—looking at renaissance, the idea of absolute femininity and masculinity, and really bringing the two together in this beautiful eruption. I also tried to tie in the rock element, which to me is rock and roll, Studio 54, and the idea of everyone in a room dressing to the nines with feather boas, crystals, glitter. It was about injecting all that into the makeup line.
When and where did your penchant for Victorian and Renaissance aesthetic codes begin?
This began when I moved to London. I fell in love with going to galleries and museums, and was so captivated looking at old world art and stories, from which I also became fascinated with this time where men were wearing makeup and it was so regal and fabulous—and a social norm. It was something to be aspire towards and became a source of deep inspiration for me.
What is your interpretation of gender fluid make-up?
My interpretation of gender fluid make-up is really being what makeup should be—a tool to help not only enhance but communicate a story. Makeup is so beautifully able to transport someone and the way people see that person simply by what you put on your face. It’s similar to how clothing almost serves as armour walking into a daily battle, fighting for what you believe in and being who you are. And makeup goes so beautifully hand in hand with that. Putting on a fabulous red lip on or adding pops of sparkle and glitter to your face is like claiming your identity, facing the world with authenticity and claiming your space.
What are your favourites from the collection, and what was the process like bringing these to life?
They’re all my favourites but I do is especially love the “Fighting For The Beauty Of Fluidity” eye shadow palette. The names of each shade holds special meaning to me—like things I’ve said, things I believe in, things that have been part of my journey. The message is integral to being representative of the brand and gender fluidity.
The Harris Reed x MAC Cosmetics limited edition fluid make-up collection will be available globally on 18 February 2021.