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Harbison: A Balance of Contradiction

Brooklyn based designer Charles Elliott Harbison is a creator who seemingly balances on a line of contradiction. Weaving a modernist art education in North Carolina with textile studies in Central Asia, the Harbison brand is one that quite literally and aesthetically straddles two worlds. We saw this dichotomy firsthand during a presentation at last season’s Made Fashion Week, a collection that we described as ‘stark yet deliberate’ and ‘formal but accessible.’ Ahead of his return to Made Fashion Week this weekend, Milk Made spoke exclusively to Mr. Harbison about the element of duality in his designs, as well as the future of gender roles in fashion, and the influence his mother continues to have on his aesthetic.

What’s your earliest memory of being interested in fashion?

My mother and I would take trips to the mall on the weekend as our special time together. I’d see how clothing would transform her into a more confident, elegant version of herself, and I know I continue to subconsciously reference that very transformation in how I approach womenswear. My mother is my first muse.

What were some of the inspirations behind this upcoming collection?

My mind has been monopolized by ease, comfort, and classicism…filtered through a good dose of Modernism. Late 70s Beverly Johnson, Brice Marden, Alexander Calder’s iconic sculptures along Storm King’s landscape, the simplistic approach of the 90s: it has all found its’ way onto my mood board.

Harbison is for ‘the woman who sees beauty through the lens of contradiction.’ What does that imply?

She embraces her feminine grace, as well as her masculine authority; her desire to feel young, as well as the wisdom of her years; classicism and irreverence; sexuality and intellect. She is a balance of contradictions.

You spent a considerable amount of time in Asia studying Central Asian textiles…what was the biggest takeaway from that experience?

A love of how artisanal fabrics can unify vastly different cultures. Much of my time in Uzbekistan was spent not knowing the language…however, a mutual love and appreciation for the handwork and carpeting of the region was a point of connection between myself and the people there.

Your brand statement refers to the balance of masculinity and femininity, which seems an ever-present sentiment in the world of fashion. Do you see a finite difference between men’s and women’s fashions in the future?

I don’t see a finite difference between men’s and women’s fashions in the future, because we are seeing the lines of gender conformity being blurred before our very eyes. We are increasingly defined by our own intrinsic selves…and less by gender roles. A woman in a three-piece suit and a man in a skirt are both heralded as fashion-savvy.

Do you design with a particular person in mind?

I love women who embrace their contradictions: their strength and frailty, wisdom and curiosity. My client is the girl who wants to navigate her life in refined luxury sportswear where she not only communicates her vulnerability but also her power and intelligence. This is how modern women dress and live (suiting, separates, trousers, brogues, etc.).

If you had to describe the feeling you get when creating a collection, what would you say?


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