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Why Harry Styles is a global style icon

PUBLISHED: 00:00 16 September 2019

Harry Styles at arrivals for Camp: Notes on Fashion Met Gala Costume Institute Annual Benefit - Credit: Kristin Callahan/Everett Collection/Alamy Live News

Harry Styles at arrivals for Camp: Notes on Fashion Met Gala Costume Institute Annual Benefit - Credit: Kristin Callahan/Everett Collection/Alamy Live News

Credit: Everett Collection Inc / Alamy Stock Photo

How the boy from Holmes Chapel became one of the world's best dressed men

New York's annual Met Gala is the golden-haloed highlight of the fashion industry's calendar. Its red carpet is an internet sensation in-the-making, the world's leading designers - not to mention the world-famous bodies they're dressing - wholly aware that their most spectacular ensembles will appear on newsfeeds around the globe in a matter of minutes, to be discussed and dissected for weeks, months, even years, after.

All the A-list attend. Yet this year's most anticipated red carpet entrance wasn't an Oscar winner or a catwalk queen - it was Harry Styles. The pop-pinup turned fashion darling who, nine years ago, stepped on to the X-Factor audition stage, all floppy-haired, dimpled-cheeked Cheshire charmer, was about to make his first Met Gala appearance.

He didn't disappoint, stepping out in a flamboyant Gucci jumpsuit complete with ruffled sleeves, pussy-bow collar and sheer torso. Alessandro Michelle, creative director of design house Gucci, for whom Harry has become somewhat of a muse, was by his side.

So quite how did Harry Styles, the boy from Holmes Chapel, who once did a fine line in double denim and beanie hats as one-fifth of the pop band One Direction, become one of the most talked about style mavens of his generation?

'Harry Styles has the boy-next-door look and through his career has purposefully publicised himself as THE It-Boy of One Direction and of his time,' says Rebecca Neary, Design Lecturer on Fashion Design & Technology at Manchester Metropolitan University.

Rebecca notes that Harry skilfully took 'the double-denim and checked shirts the band was born into' and, as time went on, began to individualise it. Even early on, while still firmly one of the band, Harry was, in his clothing choices at least, starting to go solo.

His ability to put a Styles' twist on an otherwise fairly formulaic outfit was evidenced at the 2012 Brit Awards. All the One Direction boys were suited and booted in grey, but only Harry sported an oversized black bow tie with aplomb.

'For an 18-year-old teenager, he looked like a mature gent, says Domain Esdale, Instagram influencer and co-founder of Manchester-based events organisers MCR Fashion Industry. 'He was suave and sophisticated in a way the others weren't. He definitely outshone the rest of the band.'

By now he was hanging out with a young style-driven London set including Radio 1's Nick Grimshaw as well as celebrity offspring Daisy Lowe and Pixie Geldof. He formed an unlikely friendship with supermodel Cindy Crawford and her family (he's stayed close to the Crawford/Gerber family, recently pictured with Crawford's daughter Kaia Gerber, who's now one of the hottest new faces in fashion). By the end of the year he'd be dating pop superstar Taylor Swift, the two snapped walking hand in hand around his home village of Holmes Chapel.

As his superstar status ascended so did his more individualistic fashion choices.

The following year he picked up a British Fashion Award (for British Style) in an Yves Saint Laurent suit by the Creative Director, Hedi Slimane. Sharp, statement tailoring became a staple part of his wardrobe - and soon too did bolder fashion choices. He confidently dabbled in headbands, wide-brimmed hats and print shirts as colourful as his rumoured love life.

He was becoming a tour de force within the fashion world. Designers were scrambling to dress him, all too aware of his star power.

For Chester fashion designer Daniel W. Fletcher, having the singer as his first ever customer was a game-changer.

When Harry wore pieces from Daniel's 2016 graduate collection on TV and, as one does, on a yacht alongside model Kendall Jenner, fans immediately rushed to buy the brand.

'I was in Cheshire Oaks in M&S with my mum. My phone started going crazy. Then it just shut down,' the designer, now based in London, recalls.

'It really got my brand out there in terms of exposure. The selling power Harry Styles has is incredible.'

And then, as One Direction pressed pause on the band, came the next chapter: Harry Styles, solo musician, budding actor, fashion muse.

With skyrocketing fame has come an increasingly private persona. How he dresses has both reflected and aided that. As Harry has grown into more of an enigma, he's become a bigger fashion risk taker, exploring traditional notions of masculinity with increasingly adventurous, androgynous fashion choices.

Off-duty in skinny jeans and Cuban heels, on-stage in silver jumpsuits or on-camera in pussy-bow shirts and floral flares, Harry has left us in no doubt the preppy teeny bopper was long gone. Here's a man in control of his own image and career, deliberately keeping people guessing and breaking free of his 1D shackles.

'Designers see this playfulness with gender and aesthetic as a romantic and powerful asset, and coupled with fame, it's a perfect fashion storm,' Rebecca explains.

'It seems he consciously makes these fashion choices and has incorporated directional fashion into his whole performance, whether on-or-off stage.'

'He's become the 'one-to-watch' at fashion's premier events around the world, the ideal muse.'

And he seems unafraid of the controversy such looks can court.

Like many, Domain wasn't so sure about his recent Met Gala look.

"I think he was trying to show his feminine side with the chiffon but it just didn't work! Fair play to him for being brave enough to wear it though."

Domain believes it was a rare misstep for Harry though who's showing he has the gift all great icons possess - the ability to evolve: 'I think Harry is always going to be moving forward because he's a big personality and does things his way. He doesn't try and imitate others. He's true to himself and I think this is why the public and the fashion industry love him.'

Daniel agrees that Harry's bold sartorial choices are born out of his own self-confidence and comfort in who he is: "We have a lot of mutual friends. He's so open and genuine and relaxed," says the designer.

'He's not afraid to try things that are unexpected and slightly unusual. The way that he dresses is different to everyone else out there. There's a fearlessness.

'It's not just that someone has told him to wear something. His style is his own.'

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