The quiet American

Charles Harbison makes contradictory clothes

Text by Nazanin Shahnavaz

Photography by Jonas Lindstroem

Styling by Bobby Hook

Last October, Charles Harbison spent the day in a chandeliered salon in the East Wing of the White House. The designer was there for the Fashion Education Workshop, hosted by Michelle Obama and attended by some of fashion’s most influential figures, including Anna Wintour, Jenna Lyons and Jason Wu, as well as teachers, theorists and entrepreneurs. It was a long way from his Lincolnton, North Carolina roots. “Being there was a dream come true,” he says. “Even when I think about it now, I’m overwhelmed. I’m just a working-class boy from North Carolina and to be able to show what I’ve created in that space alongside some of my idols and mentors was such an amazing opportunity.”

Harbison studied fine art and architecture and worked with Michael Kors and Billy Reid before striking out on his own in fashion. “I felt like I had something particular to say in the realm of American sportswear and womenswear,” he explains. “I hate the idea of a woman having to exist as if she is on display. Not being able to be in the moment and be in her life because she’s dressed like a cupcake. I don’t understand it and it’s not powerful.”

The result is a bold, functional aesthetic. This season suggests an undercurrent of 1970s Americana, with customised elements such as adjustable silk appliqué pieces, pencil skirts that can be worn as aprons over trousers, and jumpsuits with extra-long ties that can be wrapped around the body. The clothes are at once feminine and masculine, luxurious yet sporty, playful but refined. “My point of view can be quite challenging, but I concentrate as much as possible on making a great product,” Harbison says. “It’s a very interesting, paradigm-shifting time for me. I feel like I am in purgatory, just in a waiting room where you can see the potential of your future.”

Hair: Takuya Uchiyama using Bumble and bumble and Bed Head by TIGI
Make-up: Emily Mergaert using Tom Ford Beauty
Videography: Martin Senyszak
Set design: George Lewin
Photography assistant: Kareem Abdu
Styling assistant: Molly Knot
Hair assistant: Marine Tagawa
Set design assistant: Bryony Edwards
Models: Zen at IMG London and Duncan Pyke at Premier Model Management

Thanks to Jelica at Apiary Studios 

  • Charles Harbison