Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to Vox.com, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.
High-fashion brands like Gucci and Public School are just starting to merge their womenswear and menswear runway collections, but Charles Harbison has been showing off beautifully blended co-ed collections via his eponymous label for the past three years.
After scanning his fall 2016 lookbook of womenswear and menswear, I couldn't stop myself from doing double-takes: "Damn, she's rocking those low-slung baby blue trousers, but wait, they look just as good on that male model, too." His clothing blurs gender lines, and if you're not paying close attention, you'll miss out on the way his collarless felt overcoats and mock-neck, knitted jumpsuits are incorporated into both his women's and menswear.
I'm not going to lie, I'm hooked. But I'm a mere simpleton compared to some of his other admirers. There are some pretty famous names in the Harbison fan-club these days, including Beyoncé and Solange. The sisters even wore the same Harbison color-blocked coat once in two very different ways; Beyoncé draped one over one of Harbison's bejeweled dresses, and Solange buttoned hers up, wearing it on its own.
We spoke to the designer about how he embraces gender neutrality, the importance of e-commerce and social media, and his biggest source of inspiration: his mom.
When and why did you launch your line?
Charles Harbison: I soft-launched Harbison with a Fall 2013 capsule collection, although I didn't actually think I was starting a label. The collection was sort of a "portfolio-refresher." I'd walked away from my previous job for personal reasons several months prior and decided to create a capsule of pieces to keep my portfolio up-to-date while I decided where I wanted to work next. It turned into Harbison after some key people saw the pieces and offered their support. I see now that I had something specific to say in the industry on behalf of the muses, clients, and inspirations I hold dear.
Who would you say is your biggest source of inspiration?
CH: My mom is the "who." Trips to the mall with her when I was young were an eye-opener for me, as far as how fashion transformed her into a more confident and elegant version of herself.
You're a native of North Carolina. Has growing up in the South influenced your clothing at all?
CH: Definitely. Women in the South navigate with an interesting cocktail of grace and strength. The concepts of "American sportswear" were made very clear to me without my even knowing it: Beauty and fashion must not compromise but must enhance a woman's agility, initiative, and confidence. Also, Southern men seem culturally freer to express themselves through fashion in a particular way. It all influenced me.
Does Brooklyn hold a similar influence on what you create?
CH: Brooklyn is the New York City that I relate to most. My artistic sensibilities seem mirrored back to me in Brooklyn. Many Brooklynites also have Southern roots or familial connections, which may foster that. There are more trees in Brooklyn, and more irony.
Gender neutrality is a major initiative of yours. In what ways has it shaped your recent collections?
CH: I think we all have a mixture within us of "feminine" and "masculine" qualities. My woman enjoys aesthetically representing both sides of herself. I find that place to be more honest and modern. The Harbison guy does as well; I'm that guy.
Can you describe the Harbison customer?
CH: She and he fully embrace their contradictions. She embraces her feminine ease, as well as her masculine authority. He embraces his youth, as well as his wisdom. Classicism and irreverence. Sex and intellect. A balance of contradictions. All while looking expensive.
E-Commerce is also an important aspect of your brand. How so?
CH: I'm no longer relegated to the liaise of a buyer or wholesaler to speak to my customer. Social media and e-commerce make that possible. It doesn't render stores or buyers obsolete in any way, but it does offer the privilege of speaking directly to my client. I'm grateful for that. That's our focus moving forward.
Where can we get our hands on some Harbison pieces?
CH: 151Luwolt is our newest and biggest collection supporter.