Is Harry Styles Fashion's Most Eligible Ambassador?

The 22-year-old glam-rock prince is poised for an uncharted breakout year.
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Maura Brannigan
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The 22-year-old glam-rock prince is poised for an uncharted breakout year.

Harry Styles has been absurdly, scarily famous since he and his One Direction bandmates first appeared on "The X Factor" in 2010. You know the story: Simon Cowell assembled the fivesome into a band, with Styles, then 16, immediately pegged as the frontman. In those early years, he wore bow ties with suspenders and polo shirts with the collars popped up — boyish things. By the release of the band's third album, "Midnight Memories," he'd graduated to beat-up band tees with skinny jeans and began growing his hair first past his forehead, then his collarbone, then his shoulders. He sat front row at fashion shows like Burberry and House of Holland, and the industry took notice: In December of 2013, Styles won the British Style Award at the British Fashion Awards, as voted by the public.

As One Direction went on to release its fourth and fifth albums (and the band's population dropped from five to four), Styles's wardrobe continued to mature. But it hadn't reached its peak, perhaps, until 10 months after One Direction began its "extended hiatus," when London-based fashion magazine Another Man revealed that he was the cover star of its fall 2016 issue. By any publication's standards, his editorial is enormous: three covers, 15-plus outfit changes, two haircuts and the involvement of three high-profile fashion photographers. It's Styles's first magazine spread — his first anything — as a solo artist, and its massive size is as significant as its contents.

In 2017, Styles will more than likely release an album with Columbia Records, as well as appear in a starring role in a Christopher Nolan film, "Dunkirk," which is due out in July. He'll take part in press tours for both — late-night talk shows, press conferences and the like — and will maintain a prominent place in popular culture as a result. If he's spent the past 10 months out of the public eye, it's because he's needed to lay the groundwork for the next year of his life, and carefully so: 2017 will be a launching pad for the rest of his career. So, like many pop stars before him, he's turned to fashion to carve out a new narrative.

Harry Styles for "Another Man," fall 2016. Photo: Alasdair McLellan/"Another Man"

Harry Styles for "Another Man," fall 2016. Photo: Alasdair McLellan/"Another Man"

Styles's industry credentials have been rock solid for years, but it's a recent penchant for printed suits that show his fashion savvy most explicitly. With wild patterns, flared legs and effeminate neck adornments, the pieces became Styles's on- and off-duty uniform in the latter half of last year. He made headlines for livening up the otherwise stale world of menswear, but not without criticism: a wide-legged floral suit worn at the 2015 American Music Awards left many tweeting about its similarity to a sofa. A burnt orange jacket and pant set prompted the Page Six headline: "WTF is Harry Styles wearing?" But Styles's androgynous, glam-rock taste is exactly what makes him so appealing to every arm of the business — designers, brands, photographers, stylists, editors, etc. — in the first place. And boy, if there's ever an occasion for him to come into his own sartorially, it's now.

Styles's vintage-tinged, gender-fluid approach to dressing also reflects Alessandro Michele approach at Gucci since he joined the house in January 2015. The difference between celebrities that embrace passing fashion trends and Styles, though, is that when Styles wears a velvet paisley suit, it feels genuine, like he'd wear it no matter the fashion climate or the occasion; like his tastes just so happened to collide with the current fashion ecosystem at exactly the right time; like he couldn't give two shits about society's obsolete rulings on masculinity and sexuality. Is there anything more emblematic of true personal style than that?

Which is why, understandably, brands can't seem to get enough of him. As compared to the vast majority of mainstream male celebrities, he can — and does — pull off more so-called "fashion" looks better than his contemporaries. For a designer, who better to wear your goods than someone who will wear what others may find too daring? The roster of fashion credits in Styles's Another Man editorial are impressive as a result. A Raf Simons oversize linen shirt! A Prada cable-knit wool vest! A Roberto Cavalli rhinestone-embellished blouse! An Alexander McQueen embroidered trench coat! A candy-colored mohair sweater from the Louis Vuitton archives! A £65 choker necklace from "erotic" leather brand Fleet Ilya! They're beautiful and ridiculous, and just the type of clothes that designers both love to make and see worn.

Harry Styles for "Another Man," fall 2016. Photo: Willy Vanderperre/"Another Man"

Harry Styles for "Another Man," fall 2016. Photo: Willy Vanderperre/"Another Man"

And Styles's wardrobe is only going to get better. We know there were cosmetic restrictions in some capacity in One Direction; Zayn Malik has talked about a ban on his facial hair, enacted to prevent him from looking older than the other boys. But they're not boys anymore — they're *pounds chest* men — and breaking away from Styles's bandmates will free him from any limitations. He'll now have the freedom to pose alone for magazine spreads, as he did with Another Man, and secure contracts and campaigns (for brands that hopefully, for reasons made clear on this website, include Gucci). As he's given the opportunity to expand upon his tastes, he's bound to experiment, aesthetically, more than he already does.

Fashion would be wise to tap into Styles's chameleon-like sartorial magic now as he heads into the most critical year of his career. Rest assured, the industry is already on top of it: Until this year, he was off-limits for brands and publications unless accompanied by his bandmates. If you've been waiting for Styles's breakout moment, dust off your sparkliest glitter boots and remove two-thirds of the buttons from all your blouses — it's finally here. 

Homepage photo: Willy Vanderperre/"Another Man"

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