The Central Saint Martins student explores gender through his ‘glam rock, Victoriana, non-binary’ designs as well as through his personal relationship with beauty
Welcome to Behind The Masc: Rethinking Masculinity, a campaign dedicated to exploring what ‘masculinity’ means in 2019. With photo stories shot in Tokyo, India, New York, and London and in-depth features exploring mental health, older bodybuilders, and myths around masculinity – we present all the ways people around the world are redefining traditional tropes.
“All I remember is dancing all night long,” gushes Harris Reed, long red hair dripping down onto the sparkly emerald suit hanging off his skinny frame. “It was almost like prom. The most glamorous Gucci prom.”
It’s the morning after the Italian luxury label’s Cruise 2020 show in Rome and the 22-year-old student looks like he’s just wandered in from the afterparty, clad head-to-toe in one of Alessandro Michele’s Ziggy Stardust-style creations. Wonderfully androgynous and impossibly tall – with heels on to boot – the LA-bred, London-based designer might still only be studying fashion, but from the looks of it, he’s already well at home in Gucci’s new cosmos.
The post-show celebrations came with plenty of good reason, of course. Harris – alongside the brand’s creative director and a flock of fashion’s shiniest VIPs – watched excitedly as the house presented its newest fragrance campaign for Mémoire d’une Odeur, in which he stars alongside singer Harry Styles and a cult of creatives, hand-picked by Michele himself. It wasn’t the worst way to end an internship.
“From a young age, I knew that I did not fit into the ideal of what it means to be masculine… I found my own refuge and comfort believing that by being genderfluid, I could be anything I wanted to be and be accepted by my peers, and most importantly by myself” – Harris Reed
Rewind to last year and Harris was just like any other student at Central Saint Martins – almost. In his first few years studying womenswear design at London’s prestigious art school, Harris had already earned early attention for his gender-defying, high camp designs (think: ruffles). “I like things that I imagine Oscar Wilde wearing,” says Harris of his influences.
His profile got a truly life-changing boost after future campaign co-star Styles donned one of the young designer’s looks onstage during his solo world tour. This exposure helped catapult Harris into something of a social media star, which in turn helped to put him on Gucci’s ever-attuned radar for new talent.
So when Harris began to plan for his year out, in which CSM students are encouraged to seek professional work experience before returning to finish their degree, it was only natural he would set his eyes upon the like-minded brand of the moment. “It’s pretty amazingly full circle,” says Harris, recounting how the events of the past year have seemed to cosmically unfold. “I was at Central Saint Martins working for Harry, and then I (met) Alessandro who saw me when I applied for an internship. I was like, ‘I would just love to learn for seven and a half months’. And he was like, ‘Okay, let me see your portfolio…’”
The meeting with Michele not only landed him the internship, but a gig walking in its Cruise 2019 show in Arles. Soon after, Harris relocated to Italy, where he fully embedded himself in Gucci’s freewheeling world. “I was so inspired by living in Rome. I was not expecting to have as much responsibility, to just be myself and really explore and be creative,” he says of the work placement. “It was really a one-of-a-kind experience.” The brand’s affinity for Harris and his time-hopping taste – which he describes as “glam rock, Victoriana, and definitely non-binary” – crescendoed with the Mémoire campaign casting.
“Beauty in 2019 is all about someone who is a character, someone who lives, someone who’s been through things” – Harris Reed
For Harris, whose ex-model mother is a perfumer, it was a role he was born to play. “Since I was a baby, I think the house was always oozing with perfume and candles,” he recounts. “I just love the smell of smell. I’ll walk down the street in Paris and I’ll just stop, whether it’s wet grass or a put-out cigarette. I’ll just kind of think back to my second birthday at our house in the backyard with the trampoline. You know what I mean? Scent really takes me back.”
To be included in the campaign for Mémoire, described by the brand as its first ‘ageless, genderless, universal’ fragrance, validates the designer’s search for acceptance after a lifetime of advocacy. “From a young age, I knew that I did not fit into the ideal of what it means to be masculine – or even the opposite of what it means to be feminine,” Harris explains. “I found my own refuge and comfort believing that by being genderfluid, I could be anything I wanted to be and be accepted by my peers, and most importantly by myself.”
The ads mark a continued shift across the beauty industry, in which inclusive representation and individuality is not only valued but required. “Nobody wants an idea of what a woman wants to look like or what a man needs to look like,” says Harris. “I think beauty in 2019 is all about someone who is a character, someone who lives, someone who’s been through things.”
Indeed, for now, it seems that multi-hyphenate individuals like Harris, who use their platforms to share their voice and their passions, make for the most authentic – and therefore desirable – models and brand ambassadors.
“I think my generation is showing a greater purpose,” says Harris. “Because if you’re just a pretty face you’re doing nothing for us, sweetie.”
Read more from Behind The Masc: Rethinking Masculinity here.