LONG OVERDUE: For the latest installment of The Atlantic’s “Inheritance” project, designer Charles Harbison has written an essay about what fashion owes working-class Black women.
His insights are part of “What the Body Holds,” the third chapter of the Inheritance reporting project. His piece is part of a collection of stories, poetry and photography that is geared to the recognition, celebration and reclamation of the Black body.
During an interview Wednesday afternoon, Harbison said he was approached by The Atlantic’s Jenisha Watts last summer. Noting how his upcoming collaborative collection with Banana Republic centers around such “hot button topics of the moment” as identities and sustainability, the designer said that to make it more personal he zeroed in on his mother as a muse.
Growing up in a small town in North Carolina, Harrison’s mother worked as a tool set builder in a tool factory for nearly 20 years. “Now she’s an administrative assistant. But during those formative years, I would watch her come home from really grueling work and still navigate her life with grace and poise. On the weekend, I would just watch her transform into this more confident, elegant version of herself. That was also the version I got to see on shopping trips and things that we would do together as our special time,” he said, adding that helped him to express himself creatively and understand the kind of feminism that he hoped to encourage in other women.
“In the fashion industry, we make beautiful things for people, who have the means to acquire them. In hand with that is a classist kind of mentality that can easily be encouraged in fashion. When highlighting muses, we often go to individuals who already reflect those upper-class ideas. I never saw that growing up, but I never felt that my life was void of elegance and sophistication and even luxury. It’s important to diversity the entities that we are looking at as muses and as inspiration to the benefit of all women,” Harbison said. “To diversify the market adds a bit more interest to what we make.”
To lead to more lasting change, the industry needs “to add more range when it comes to fashion designers. If we are expanding the catalogue of individuals who are encouraged to create, as well as supported, we are going to counter the stifled nature that American fashion has been taking on as of late. And we’re doing that. Collectively, the industry is working to eliminate that and counteract that with design that’s navigating gender equality, nonbinary fashion, sustainability and [with] voices that are Black American and of color across the gamut,” Harbison said.
The New York-based designer recently presented his first signature collection in five years. Banana Republic sponsored the event, which also featured the new collaborative line. The full launch of the company’s e-commerce is slated for the end of this month.