Harris Reed is the bold new creative director of Nina Ricci, the owner of his namesake company, and a former dresser upper turned pro. He reflects on the world of celebrity, manifesting, and never apologizing for who he is.
Dressed in a white, three-piece suit with dark chemise, Harris Reed appears like the yang to the yin of a model dressed in all-black Nina Ricci. The synergy pierces deeper than the hues. The woman is wearing a suit from his first collection from the storied French couture and ready-to-wear house. In September 2022, Reed was named creative director of Nina Ricci; at 26 years old, he is the youngest designer in its 91-year history. Posing for his Vogue Arabia portrait, his fingers display intricate, lustrous rings – Reed comments that he is something of a magpie. His gaze belies confidence beyond his years, and his long, Venetian blond hair frames his fixed stare. “I always enjoyed dressing up, but in a weird way, I never considered my hair a part of that identity. Now, it’s become so integral – it’s my safety blanket. My hair is my armor.”
Reed – whose eponymous, gender-fluid creations are loved by Iman, Emma Watson, Harry Styles, and Lil Nas X – may not need protection per se, but in fashion, he is without doubt in deep. “I built my own brand, I did collaborations with partners, I came to Nina,” he lists, speaking with rapid-fire precision – his signature delivery. How does he face the potentially abrasive side of business? “I wrap myself in my hair and cry,” he says, with a laugh that suggests the contrary, that he embraces feelings and doesn’t run from them, or anything for that matter. “Community is crucial. To your exact point, especially being at Nina now, you have a whole other global stage to open to criticisms from press, buyers, people in suits, and the financial side of things. It’s a delicate dance. I’m always incredibly clear from the very beginning – this is what I’m doing, you need to tell me now if that is not your thing.” It’s an approach honed from his earlier days, working with VIPs and their teams. “We would talk, sketch, but nothing uncomfortable was said upfront. And then… ‘She’s not wearing this, he’s not wearing that, they’re not doing that…’ and the whole thing would – not crumble – but you would feel that you completely lose the integrity of your design and what you stand for. When I went to Nina, I said, ‘This is my plan, it’s bold, it’s in your face.’ I’m not an understated, quiet European. I’m a half-American-bit-of-Mexican-bit-of-English, multi-hyphenate – and loud. That’s just who I am.”
Reed was nine years old when he had his first, fundamental fashion moment. “I arrived at a playground in a pink Lacoste shirt. I remember everyone’s head turned. People were so angry, upset, and confused.” Subconsciously, he knew he had tapped into something. “I could say nothing and [with clothes] really change the state of people’s beings in two milliseconds. The immediate, gut reaction that someone had to whatever I created – it fascinated me. If I didn’t do fashion, I would be a psychologist. I love understanding how people get angry, get obsessed… sometimes I’m maybe too obsessed with grandeur.”
Bold is an à propos word for Harris’s debut collection for Nina Ricci. Vogue Arabia cover star Precious Lee opened the show in polka dots and ribbon bow platforms, and led the way for saturated jewel colors, big cocoon sleeves, extended cuffs, audacious tailoring, micro-pleated tulle, and wide-brim hats. “A lot of people think of Nina as dainty and floaty, but people forgot the boldness,” Reed asserts. “When Robert Ricci took over from his mother when she passed away , every girl was in polka dots, sequins, crystals, the shoulders were massive, and everything was really bright.” Reed explains that on social media, the house DNA is often incorrectly attributed with images on Pinterest labeled as Lacroix, Saint Laurent, and Lanvin. “But it’s not; it’s Nina Ricci.” He aims to now define the silhouettes and codes of the house with his own humor, flair, and fluidity. “It’s very important to bring what I do naturally. I’m not trying to check boxes,” he says. Today, Nina Ricci sells in 22 countries around the world, boasting 78 stockists. While Reed is curious to hear international market opinions, he traces the line at inviting a melting pot of others’ opinions. “In a polite way, no one knows what they want. My dad taught me that and I’ve always known this. He would say, ‘Harry darling, you can’t people-please.’”
Reed’s father, Academy-award winning producer Nick Reed, has been instrumental in rearing his own conviction. “Dad has a deep understanding of this industry. He’s extremely good at understanding ego, timing, and what I’m going through. If I didn’t have him, I think I would take people’s own insecurities being projected on me as direct criticism.” Reed’s mother, Lynette, is a former model turned perfumer. “She keeps me creatively accountable for the aspirations and the dreams that I have and reminds me that you learn more from your mess-ups than from your triumphs.”
Moving dozens of times across the US – Seattle, Washington, Arizona, California, New York – Reed recalls having an elevator pitch presentation ready for each new person he would meet – including bluffing about his age at interviews to earn jobs at Jeremy Scott, Mara Hoffman, and with PR maven Kelly Cutrone of People’s Revolution. At 18, he moved to the UK and enrolled in Central Saint Martins, anticipating a challenging few years ahead. “I had spoken to former students before who said, ‘People would cut up my work, they would burn it, they would throw it away’ – CSM was still extraordinarily hard core but more so from the professor point of view. Now, fashion is in the age of transparency. You can’t treat people the way people once did. Now you get called out. As much as I’m not a fan of cancel culture, I am a fan of drawing attention to issues.” It was at CSM that Reed was undermined by a tutor: “I would never be anything more than someone’s illustration assistant,” the creative director recalls being told. “That old-school way of working… I remember laughing and saying, ‘Thanks.’” Reed kept pushing on. “It would break other students. CSM was built in the past, potentially it was based on a system that doesn’t work anymore. I don’t think a lot of people go to university, then get an internship, then become a junior designer, then a senior designer, then a head of a department, then a creative director. Look at me. It’s much more fluid in the way that it works. I don’t think I could have survived at a time where I’m already the ostracized kid coming to a school trying to find my salvation and be further tortured. I would have been in an extraordinarily dark place,” he says, adding that like most things, there is still work to do.
Prior to his Nina Ricci appointment, Reed, a fervent manifester, remembers being at a junction with his namesake label. “I was questioning, do I go more mass market? I’d never done ready-to-wear at the time. But that’s not what my brand is about – it’s about expression, tactile, all made in one studio.” So, in a quest for authenticity, he went through his childhood journals. Written on pages, over and over, were the words “Creative director, Paris.” That same month, three houses approached him – one French, one Italian, and Nina Ricci. “I went for the meetings with Nina – and I just fell in love. When they asked, ‘What are you going to bring to Nina Ricci,’ I replied, ‘Nothing.’ They all laughed and then looked at me. ‘Nothing,’ I repeated. ‘Everything I want to bring is already there, you just haven’t touched it.”
Now, living between Paris and London, Reed is becoming accustomed to the French way of life. “I’m myself, which is not very French,” Reed smiles. “I want to be polite and kind, but I also don’t apologize for who I am. Those who don’t know me get nervous. Paris – I love it – it’s so rich in history but also very closed. People don’t want to let a lot of people in, so I enjoy using my platforms and kicking the door in and saying, ‘Hi, I’m Harris, it’s nice to meet you.’”
Originally published in the May 2023 issue of Vogue Arabia
Style: Nina Meziani
Hair: Mayu Morimoto
Makeup: Asami Kawai
Model: Lera Abova at Oui
Producer: Ankita Chandra
Location: Alfred Sommier Hotel, Paris