Everything Harry Styles wears becomes news fodder. Whether he’s rocking a dress or a Halloween costume, his fearless sartorial statements only make him more lovable in the eyes of his ever-growing fan base. You could argue his style is what he’s become known for in recent years—pre-Don’t Worry Darling press tour, at least—but OG followers are aware that Styles’ penchant for fashion began much earlier than that.
In the early days of One Direction, where Styles got his start, Tumblr was the social platform where so-called “Directioners” found a community and were collectively obsessed over the British boy band. Even I had a Tumblr dedicated to the junction of 1D and fashion. (Look at me now!) This particular crossroad of interest was not uncommon. Every article of clothing worn by the boys would be singled out, documented, critiqued, and restyled by countless lovestruck teenagers on blogs and fan accounts alike.
To put it plainly, fashion wasn’t always Styles’ thing. His initial uniform of khakis, plain white tees, and blazers morphed into ultra-skinny jeans, graphic T-shirts, and hats as the band and its fans aged. From its inception in 2010 to its (devastating) demise in 2016, each of 1D’s members underwent their own fashion evolution. Styles’ sartorial journey since going solo? It can’t be ignored.
“If we’re talking about Harry Styles, we have to talk about Harry Lambert,” says the designer Ed Lee, referencing the celebrity stylist famous for dressing the Grammy-winning artist. Lee worked with “The Harrys” back in 2014, when Lambert first started styling the singer. He had just graduated from London’s prestigious Central Saint Martins when Lambert reached out to use the young designer’s pieces for editorial shoots. “I was freaking out,” Lee remembers. “For a second, I thought, Was that a spam e-mail?” Soon after, Lambert started working with Styles—and he didn’t stop coming to Lee.
When One Direction performed on Saturday Night Live in December 2014, Lambert pulled one of Lee’s shirts for Styles to wear, and Tumblr ate it up. “That was like the biggest news for me that year. It was epic for me.”
Lee humbly says he “guesses” Styles was “pretty happy” with the shirt, because after that, Lambert asked him to design an entire closet of options for the star. Lee dug into his expansive collection of discarded, recycled and upcycled textiles to do so.
When it comes to design, Lee values fluidity and open-minded thinking. A lack of rigidity, he says, is a foundational part of his approach. “I believe the textiles speak to me,” he shares. His process begins with the fabric. Before he thinks about sketching, draping, or cutting, the material is paramount. “I believe you need to feel comfortable. That’s the first thing for me in designing. Then, on top of that, you have visual effects…but before that, it’s all about comfort,” emphasized Lee. “The touch of the garment is very important to me.”
“There was one shirt I really liked that (Styles) chose to wear for a gig in the Philippines,” he says. “It was a print I designed just for him for (the occasion). It’s kind of tropical, it’s yellow; it has this big flower…not a lot of celebrities—not a lot of men—will pick up a bright yellow floral shirt.” If this wasn’t foreshadowing, I don’t know what it is. Harry Styles could wear a floral skirt tomorrow, and it wouldn’t be shocking. His style choices weren’t always so eclectic, though; this was when he started to play with fashion.
“I was lucky enough to be a part of it,” Lee says. “I was so honored to be chosen by them…from what I know, Harry Styles really has his own style,” Lee comments, adding that the then-burgeoning pop star might have felt limited by the expectations set for boy bands at the time, but he still found ways to experiment within those parameters.
“Now, he’s found his own voice and finally gets to dress in whatever he wants; (he has) the liberty of dressing up, to express himself,” Lee shares. “I know him; he’s always been that stylish. He has his own vision in fashion.”
So, what was it about Lee that attracted Lambert and Styles? “I think all three of us really appreciate the fluidity of gender,” Lee poses. “We all try to avoid the gender stereotypes of dressing.” This particular brand of avoidance doesn’t manifest as a total rejection of traditional menswear, Lee clarifies. It’s not an “aggressive” form of style denial, if you will. “We just feel more fluid and natural between this so-called ‘femininity’ and ‘masculinity.’” This is apparent for Styles, who has famously avoided labeling himself or his style in any way, building his brand on the celebration of all identities .
“I think Harry Lambert really had faith in me,” Lee says. “He just let me create. He told me he wants something floral. That’s it. That’s the brief.” The designer goes on, “I really, really appreciate that…he was so chill that I thought every stylist would like that.” Lee laughs, adding that Lambert remains one of the easiest-to-work-with people that he’s encountered since.
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Styles isn’t Lee’s only famous client, either. Kate Moss wore one of his suits in a 2014 shoot by Tim Walker for British Vogue. Lee calls it “another epic moment.” in FKA Twigs’ “Glass & Patron” music video, some of the dancers can be seen in Ed Lee. “That was another epic moment…I’ve had a few,” Lee admits.
Lee and Lambert’s collaborative relationship lasted for about a year, with Lambert styling the designer’s first three collections before Lee moved to Paris. There, the designer took “learning from the best” to new heights, working with major labels like Bottega Veneta and Maison Margiela, as well as with emerging brands like Koché. At Maison Margiela’s atelier, Lee reported directly to Matthieu Blazy, who, coincidentally, is now at Bottega Veneta. Small world.
“Studying menswear for two years, what you learn is pretty classic tailoring, classic styles,” Lee says. “Then I got the chance to work at the Maison Margiela atelier. I really discovered you don’t need to be that stubborn on tailoring. You need to let your mind flow for shapes and silhouettes, and I think that’s what really inspired me.”
After the atelier, Lee moved to Bottega Veneta to work alongside Christelle Kocher, who is now the creative director of the Atelier Liliné of Chanel. When she went on to start her own label, Koché, Lee went with her.
Lee says his identity as a designer is the sum of all these learning experiences. Now, he’s ready to apply what he’s learned to his own collections. So, in 2021, he is relaunched his own label, based in Shanghai. With formative experiences like his, Lee ought to be set up for success. Word to the wise: don’t forget his name.
“I would say I have always been quite lucky,” Lee says. “I believe that if you keep positive energy, you will attract similar mindsets. Good energy flows.” And I believe that The Harrys would approve of that message.
Associate Fashion Commerce Editor
Meg Donohue is the Associate Fashion Commerce Editor at ELLE.com. Her passions include spicy foods, sustainability, and the Y2K remake of Charlie’s Angels. She will never stop hoping for a One Direction reunion tour.