It’s a beautiful day in New York City. I enter the Standard Hotel, maneuver past over a hundred people, anxious to see the HARBISON SS16 collection. NYC skyline views, a chic hotel, stylish attendees, it’s everything NYFW represents. Charles Elliott Harbison has come a long way from his rural North Carolina roots, raised by a mother who worked in a textile factory, to showing at New York Fashion Week and even an invitation to the White House.
His collection is chic and playful. There is lots of color blocking and mixed media, as well as plays on multiple textiles, all creating pieces that move easily from Spring to Summer. It’s refreshing and well thought-out, yet effortless. Charles is trained in high-end luxury textiles. Studying fine arts and textiles at North Carolina State University (an Ani Albers Scholar), he interned with Michael Kors, then lived abroad for a year, before returning to the US to attend Parsons School of Design. If that wasn’t impressive enough, last fall, First Lady Michelle Obama invited him to attend her fashion workshop at the White House.
When I asked him about the influence for his SS16 line, the depth of his answer is hardly surprising.
“Joey from Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” he tells me. “I thought there was something amazingly brilliant about her complete and utter disregard for other people in the face of the thing that she loved. She expected everyone to get in line. Her vivacious energy against Sidney Poitier’s really beautifully elegant intellectual way, they were my new love romance.
“I wanted to draw from this collection which turned into this idea of renegade surf girl who attacked the wave and there is beauty in how the wave took her under, in that experience, and going after the thing that she loved.”
(Image courtesy of Cid Nichols)
However, Charles credits his mother as his life-long muse, stating that there are inspirations from her throughout his entire collection. His respect towards his mother, his family, his upbringing is refreshing. Throughout the mix of industry insiders, stylists, celebrities, Charles is very aware of his family and friends.
He leans and tells me, “There is so much North Carolina in the building,” with a smile. I’m captivated by the HARBISON spell that Beyoncé, Solange, and women who love looking effortlessly chic, have come to love.
We conclude our interview discussing the social injustice facing the Black community in America. Right before his publicist escorts him off hurriedly for his final bow, he gives the following encouraging message to those facing injustice and working to overcome adversity due to blackness in their particular field:
“Know your worth. Know the beauty of who you are and the beauty of what you do and let that govern your every step and don’t let anyone make you feel otherwise, EVER. And with that idea and mentality, you can circumvent so many things that you shouldn’t have to, but you CAN. It’s important to know that. There is NO obstacle you can’t surmount. You don’t have to feel weighed down by certain realities. They are there, we know its there, we will talk about it and work against it…but at the end of the day it doesn’t define who.we.are.”
Watch some behind the scenes and at the show via Periscope ‘Danielle James’
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