How can you not love Harry Styles? Just when the whole world was chafing within the confines of lockdown, he brightens up our screens with his mood-boosting video Watermelon Sugar, a romp through a ’70s summer of love – of beautiful, tanned men and women dancing and hugging at the beach — making us yearn for the time when we could freely embrace someone before social distancing became the norm.
His fashion statement is a treat: burgundy, high-waisted trousers and a burnt orange crochet vest accessorized with Elton John-esque floral shades and fists full of rings.
In Golden, another dreamy escape video, he’s bella figura chic, taking a vintage Alfa Romeo convertible for a spin down the Amalfi coast, wearing a pair of bow-adorned crochet driving gloves. Signature Gucci tailoring — an oversized turquoise blazer paired with brown and ivory tartan trousers — is accessorized with crucial Éliou pearls, which he kept wearing even days after the shoot, prompting the Miami-based company to rename it “Harry,” aside from making him their style icon. Harry easily personifies Éliou’s image of gender fluidity.
“He’s really in touch with his feminine side because it’s something natural,” according to Alessandro Michele, creative director of Gucci, which made Harry the face of its tailoring campaign in 2018. “And he’s a big inspiration to a younger generation — about how you can be in a totally free playground when you feel comfortable. I think that he’s a revolutionary.”
“As a kid, I always liked fancy dress,” Harry recalls. His childhood was spent in the northwest England county of Cheshire, where he wore tights for school plays as Barney, a church mouse. He would also record covers then, like Elvis Presley’s The Girl of My Best Friend on a karaoke machine given by his grandfather.
Upon his mother’s prodding, he auditioned for X-Factor in 2010 and advanced to a bootcamp mentored by Simon Cowell, who placed Harry in an ensemble with Niall Horan, Liam Payne, Louis Tomlinson and Zayn Malik, forming the group One Direction, which became one of the bestselling boy bands of all time.
Although the group would agree on similar-themed outfits, Harry always stood out with his own individual flair by adopting slimmer silhouettes that strayed from the norm and adding, say, a distinctive knotted scarf or an oversized bowtie.
When they decided to go all-black for the Royal Variety performance in 2014, he added edge to his outfit with a leopard-print jacket by Saint Laurent, a brand that would reappear as a braided drummer boy jacket for the American Music Awards and a ruffled shirt for dinner with Kate Moss at Annabel’s.
By 2015, Styles’ stylist, Harry Lambert, introduced him to the new line of Gucci as revitalized by Michele. It was a very bold move, since the singer would be the first to wear head-to-toe by the designer on the red carpet but the collaboration was an instant success – Styles was a hit wearing the designer’s floral suit at the American Music Awards, with images going viral.
Going solo in 2017, music videos for his eponymous first album would incorporate Michele’s creations and even on the promotional road trip, bespoke Gucci floral brocade suits, flared trousers and pussy bow shirting would hit the stage.
By June 2018 the collaboration was formalized with advertising campaigns featuring Styles and for the 2019 MET Gala, Harry, who was handpicked by Vogue editor Anna Wintour as a host, came out a sartorial star wearing a sheer, lacy top paired with high-waisted trousers and heeled boots, topped off by a lone pearl teardrop earring.
The Gucci partnership is so popular with Harry’s fanbase that any new item he is wearing is always the buzz in cyberspace. “There are no boundaries so we always look forward to what Harry will step out in next,” says Nadhila, a 26-year-old fan in Indonesia who has been running the @HSNewsUpdate on Twitter since 2011. “He has shown us that there is no such thing as too feminine or too masculine; we can be both and we can be ourselves.”
This idiosyncratic style was most evident at the recent Grammy Awards, where he performed Watermelon Sugar, the song that won him Best Pop Solo performance that evening. Wearing a glam-rock leather suit, he amped the sex factor further by going shirtless and pulled the unexpected with a lime-green boa, the ultimate symbol of camp individualism, favored by ’70s British music legends like David Bowie and Marc Bolan of T. Rex.
He fits right in with the history of British eccentrics who dare to be different, dating to the 18th century when Beau Brummel’s profligate style, which required five hours to dress and polish shoes with champagne, earned him the admiration of class-bound Regency society, including the future King George IV.
Harry is definitely today’s eccentric rock star par excellence, making him the perfect choice as the first man to appear solo on a Vogue cover in December 2020 — in an ice-blue lace Gucci ballgown at that! He was out to make ruffles a compelling fashion option for men the way Mick Jagger did for Mr. Fish’s white cotton “man dress” in a Hyde Park concert in 1969.
“It’s like anything,” Harry says about the joy of playing with clothes. “Anytime you’re putting barriers up in your own life, you’re just limiting yourself.” Just like with his songwriting and performing, dressing “just becomes an extended part of creating something.”
“He’s really very modern,” says Amanda Wilde, the director of Harry’s upcoming movie Don’t Worry, Darling, and rumored to be the singer’s love interest. “I hope this brand of confidence as a male that Harry has — totally devoid of any traces of toxic masculinity — is indicative of his generation and therefore the future of the world.”
So perhaps the world would be a better place if more men would be like Harry and start wearing ruffles and pearls?
Banner photo: Wearing Victorian crinoline with an ’80s suit by Harry Reed for Vogue December 2020 (Tyler Mitchell/vogue.com)