New York-based fashion designer Charles Harbison took some time earlier this month to talk with photographer Mark Hames, whose son was a classmate of his at Lincolnton High. Harbison, born in Lincolnton and a Park Scholar at N.C. State, has been pondering a lot lately, from dressing trendsetters like Beyonce, to expanding into Charlotte (some pieces are coming to Capitol), to how his home state is faring with HB2. The conversation took place in the old Mimosa Inn in Tryon, where he was letting an area publication, “The Face,” shoot some pieces for an article. He’d brought along his mother, Dana Linebarger, who lives in Charlotte. The interview was edited for clarity and brevity.
On starting the Harbison collection: “I found that I love the idea of a really transformably strong and forward-thinking woman and at the same time a man who leans in on his soft and more intellectual fragile self. I love the irony there, of her willing to take on things that (take) more initiative and (are) aggressive, and him taking on things that are softer. Harbison is about taking the things of art and intellectualism and literature and laying that on this idea of a very multidimensional woman and a more multidimensional man.”
On the average day: “Being a startup entrepreneur, my day starts with meditation. I live in Flatbush in Brooklyn, and if the weather is nice I bike to the city. My studio is in the financial district. I go there and check in with interns, lots of email, lots of sourcing appointments and, obviously, being in the Garment District or meeting editors. Lots of schlepping. It’s really varied – then going to the factories and working on pieces and at the same time having to take custom orders, fulfilling orders and trying to handle books and, just: It’s all on my shoulders. I do everything. I have two of us working on the collection currently, which is great. I do have PR representation. I have a wonderful business manager who is really helping me move the business initiative forward. But the buck stops with me, aesthetically and in terms of business. I gotta do it.”
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The woman who wears Harbison: “Typically she is in her 30s and 40s. Most of the women are in the artistic field. ... She definitely is not one for being the subordinate, which I appreciate because all the women that raised me weren’t as well.”
On dressing celebrities: “I don’t look at celebrities as my inspiration. My inspirations are my mom, my grandmother, women who raised me or my teachers, like my art teachers in school – or the iconic muses of Patti Smith or Diana Ross, Aaliyah, Erykah Badu. ... Most celebrities, they don’t resonate with me, but Beyonce and Solange do. And to get them was so exciting. Beyonce is arguably the most important and significant entertainer of our time, period, regardless of gender. And her sister Solange has a really fresh approach to fashion and separates and artistic clothing and wearable art, all the things that excite me.
“And I kinda don’t know where I go from here.
“I’ve done two custom looks for Beyonce. One was the red jumpsuit and coat she wore to the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight last year. She wears Harbison in private settings, which excites me: I’m not just appropriate for a photo. Special moments between friends, albeit famous friends – she still wears Harbison in that context, and I am most grateful. I really, really am.”
On HB2: “I’ve always had to fight for my love of North Carolina at different points, even in my progression as a queer voice, a queer man – a few years ago, with the marriage amendment, and now with this supposed ‘bathroom law.’ North Carolina has always been a beautiful hybrid of Southern hospitality and highbrow intellectualism. We’ve always had great schools, great universities. And that, up against the real familiarity and beauty of being a Southerner: That’s why North Carolina is great. We just need to maintain that. I think we can get ourselves from under this dark cloud of confusion, and really help inform our brothers and sisters that none of us are benefiting from a bill like this. Not one of us.”
On the Harbison collection coming to Charlotte: “I’m very excited we got an order from Capitol in Charlotte. It has been a desired market for some time, and so we’ll get it in by the end of summer. We are looking forward to it. Being in Charlotte is the first retail taste of Harbison.”