One of the great joys of men’s clothing is that the icons can blossom out of nowhere. Shia LeBeouf’s ascendance wasn’t tied to a publicity campaign, and Jonah Hill’s celebrity simply grew in a new direction when the world started noticing his wardrobe of Marni and Palace. Timothée Chalamet doesn’t need to wear Haider Ackerman for us to understand what kind of career he wants to have. More recently, it’s Seth Rogen who’s making us say, I didn’t know he had it like that!
Monday’s Camp-themed Met Gala will play host to one more such transformation. Sure, we might get John Waters in a crazy Comme des Garçons skirt or a Schiaparelli flamingo hat, or maybe even RuPaul dressed as reverse-drag. But one of the most anticipated arrivals will be a former boy band member discovered on the X Factor who is now on billboards across America clutching baby farm animals in Gucci tailoring. That’s right: Harry Styles is now a full-fledged fashion icon.
At only 24, the mousse-haired teen heart throb has also become a major player in the industry, making it such fundamental part of his personality that it seems almost like cosmic intervention that his name is Harry Styles. Styles is not only a muse to Gucci, the gala and exhibition’s sponsor, but he is also a host of the event himself. And like everything else he’s worn for the past two years, his participation will most likely be universally adored and taken as a victory for the contemporary cause of gender-fluid fashion.
While the likes of Hill and Chalamet had press tours to practice dressing, Styles came to his role as fashion arbiter and empowerer in a more studied, full-fledged way. He channels gender ambiguity of previous generations of rock stars—particularly Mick Jagger, nodding at every phase from London mod geezer in sweaters to his Mr. Fish poet blouse era. But if Jagger sought to provoke your buttoned-up parents with feminine vulnerability, Styles’s gender ambiguity imparts openness and freedom of identity. Designers who have worked with him, as well as fashion chroniclers, praise his ability to communicate through clothing, to make it a cornerstone of his message of kindness and acceptance.
How is he doing all that just by wearing floral suits, ruffles, and painting his nails?
“After One Direction went on hiatus in 2015, he was still in that phase, in ‘rocker mode,’” says Kate Halliwell, a writer at The Ringer who has obsessively chronicled Styles’s tour looks. “Long hair, black jeans, the T-shirts. And we did get those little looks where he’d show up on a red carpet, or at an event, and it’d be like, Oh, that’s a real outfit!” Like the 2015 American Music Awards, where he wore a floral Gucci suit and a black Saint Laurent shirt. By that point, he had started to work with Harry Lambert, a British stylist. (Lambert does not comment on his work with Styles, but on February 1, 2016, he posted an Instagram of the outfit with birthday wishes, so it’s safe to mark their partnership to that event.) Lambert works primarily in magazine editorial (Styles appears to be his sole celebrity client), and has clearly made a more fashion-forward imprint on Styles.
And when Styles put out his debut solo album in May 2017, “He definitely surprised people from a music perspective,” Halliwell says. It was “this old school rock,” she says, “and I think that’s what happened with his look as well: he thought, This is who I want to be, and how I want to present myself.” It was then that his style really began to emerge, as Halliwell’s matrix makes clear. He seemed to be fusing every major rock ‘n roll fashion movement of the ’60s and ’70s, with richly-embroidered Nudie suits, and velvet and lamé suits with bellbottom trousers and jumbo lapels. Even his classic looks were weirded-up somehow: his pinstripe suit look was actually a jumpsuit by East London club kid designer Charles Jeffrey Loverboy.
In addition to an editorial edge, Styles and Lambert seem to have cultivated a kind of independence that emphasizes Styles’s sense of fashion principles above anything else. As much as we like to talk about fashion as self-expression, the business arrangements that stylists and celebrities strike with fashion brands can be highly structured, often restricting that star to that brand. But even as Styles became the face of Gucci in June of last year, wearing the brand’s tailoring in a fish and chip shop, he continued to wear other designers.