LONDON — There’s endless talk about the need for industry change and yet to be part of a fashion week schedule, designers are still required to conform to the traditional seasonal system, gather up stockists and play by the rules.
It takes someone with courage and determination to eschew the traditional rulebook and create their own — American-born, London-based designer Harris Reed is one of those people charting their own path within the fashion system.
On Tuesday night, to close London Fashion Week, Reed hosted his first physical show at the Serpentine Pavilion in Hyde Park outside the official schedule. There were 40 attendees seated across the pitch black pavilion’s high plinths; 10 demi-couture looks created using repurposed bridal and grooms wear garments from Oxfam charity shops; and a captivating performance by musician Kelsey Lu.
No aggressive camera flashes, no unnecessary waiting, nothing going to market, no waste and no showing off — guests were there to see and not to be seen. It was romantic, intimate, and a taste of what a new type of fashion week system could look like.
“Everyone’s speaking about moving away from being so segregated and so boxed in, but I think we still have quite a bit of work to do within the industry itself. I was expecting that with all the creativity that not only came from me, but all my fellow young people, that we would be moving to a place of art and freedom and opulence after the lockdowns. But seeing some of the shows and seeing some of the guidelines for the shows, it seems like the industry is being pushed back into what it used to be,” said Reed, in an interview ahead of his show. “I’m always fighting against that grain. I’m never going to take on stockists and conform to these criteria just because some 50-year-old tells me I need to. With all my respect and all my gratitude to everyone in the industry, I think it’s a time of really pushing for what you believe in and pushing for your messaging. We’re all just trying to find that balance between commerce, vision and design.”
It’s why Reed is staying committed to demi-couture and designing with secondhand fabrics for the time being, using the constraints of limited resources as a springboard for creativity.
“What I learnt by having to graduate during the pandemic was how to be resourceful and use whatever I had access to in London, whether it was upcycled fabric or spray paint. That was part of the success of my first collections, so I wanted to work within the same constraints. It didn’t feel right to do a full-on show and buy lots of new fabric,” said the designer.
A vintage market obsessive, Reed fed his appetite for all things secondhand during the pandemic by shopping for records, books and clothes on Oxfam.com. When he stumbled upon the bridal and grooms wear sections he was intrigued by the idea of giving a new lease on life to the garments that were made for someone’s most important day and were now wasting away.
It was also an opportunity to reimagine these traditional pieces through his perspective of freedom of expression and gender fluidity.
“A wedding for me is the opposite of what my brand stands for. I’m about fluidity, inclusivity and sizes, and when I think of a wedding I think black and white bias cut, men in suits, big shoulders and that rigid formality. So I liked the idea of f–king it up and twisting it a bit,” said Reed who went on to reconstruct the garments, adding romantic lace panels to tailored tuxedo jackets, creating intricate pearl-encrusted tops and corseted pieces for men, or supersizing a tulle gown with a crinoline.
“I want people to know, I didn’t just rip a bunch of dresses apart. We had meticulously studied how they were made and they really inspired the collection. Being only 25 years old, I’m never gonna say I’m the best tailor in the world. For me it was really incredible to be able to learn about the intricacy of the tailoring and the way the laces and the tulle were layered in these garments,” said Reed.
The designer is still honing on the same maximalist signatures — think big lapels, flared trousers and Renaissance romance — but he is refining and elevating them, so that he’s quickly moving away from college graduate and toward luxury couturier. Creating a custom Met Gala look for Iman earlier this month also helped push him in that direction.
The garments will only be sold to private clients, with the exception of one piece which will be displayed at Oxfam’s Selfridges space and sold for charity.
“I think the younger generation are so much more engaged and active around issues that they care about, and I love seeing the confidence and energy for such self expression,” said stylist Bay Garnett, who curated the Oxfam space and worked with Harris to help him source the bridal garments in his collection.
Outside his demi-couture business, Reed has also been flexing his commercial muscle and finding alternative ways to spread his message of fluidity to the mainstream and create opportunities for himself, be it a makeup line with Mac or a jewelry collaboration with Missoma, which was seen on Bella Hadid and sold out within days of its launch.
“It all goes back to being first year at school and everyone telling me, ‘You’re a costume designer, no one’s gonna buy that. It’s all about streetwear, you need to conform.’ I hear that all the time, ‘You need to conform,’ but I was set on doing my frilly blouses and fluid gay stuff and when people saw them on Harry Styles they all of a sudden saw there’s also commercial viability. Same when I did a line with Mac that sold quickly or a fluid jewelry line that sold out and is currently being restocked. It’s amazing to show people that there is commercial value in authenticity,” said the designer.
And he’s only just getting started.