HARRI: the designer stretching menswear boundaries with inflatable latex sculpture
This Kerala-born creative pulls from his body builder background to play with the proportions of masculinity
words Megan Wallace
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When Sam Smith stepped out at the BRITs in high-gloss, inflatable latex trousers and a matching top, ballooning out from the singer’s frame in villainous arcs, it was an instant red carpet fashion classic. The question on everyone’s lips? Which designer did we have to thank for this headline-grabbing get-up? The answer was HARRI (real name Harikrishnan Keezhathil Surendran Pillai): a Kerala-born creative who’d shown his London College of Fashion graduate collection only three years prior.
And while his voluminous designs are an inevitable social media hit, he doesn’t seem the least bit interested in creating for the attention economy. Speaking over the phone, he reveals that his method and inspirations are somewhat more lofty than that. Specifically, he approaches his garments as wearable pieces of art: referring to himself as a sculptor trained in fashion design, whose medium just so happens to be latex.
This, of course, isn’t exactly shocking. We can see the artist’s hand in the malleable plasticity of his best-known pieces (most of which are not exactly created for every day wear) and a sculptor’s passion for experimenting with the dimensions of the body, too. After all, the HARRI label is synonymous with garments which emphasise and exaggerate muscles through inflatable flourishes and which stick to the skin with clingy latex. This obsession with form, he admits, has unconventional creative roots – and can be traced back to his former life as a body builder.
But with designs that show under the menswear banner, the creative’s inventive approach is all the more radical than his origin story. Concerned with not just how the body looks but how it moves, his wearable sculptures are a nod towards greater freedom of physical expression, introducing a much-needed sense of lightness and play to counteract the guarded, stiff body language that men are all too often socialised to adopt.
Describe what you do in your own words.
I would describe myself as a fashion designer and also a sculptor. Yes, I am trained in fashion design, but I'm passionate about sculptures and sculpting. My medium at the moment is latex and I make latex, inflatable sculptures.
And how would you describe what you do to a date?
I would describe it the same way!
How did you get into your chosen career?
I didn't have any choice at that point of time in my life. I come from India and this was like 2011, 2012. At that point, everybody was either a doctor or doing a masters in business. I didn’t like any of those things. But fashion wasn't even my first career. I was a bodybuilder before this for five years, and then I quit that to become a fashion designer.
Are there any upcoming projects we should look out for?
I’m working on my next collection, which I'm excited about. The deadline is in June and then my show will be in September. So that's what I'm doing at the moment.
What’s one thing you'd like to see change in the world? And is there anything you do that you think helps that change along?
I would like to see more people taking risks to do everything possible to achieve what they want to achieve. There needs to be more risk-taking rather than an ocean of rationality.
What I do is about taking a lot of risks, especially the career I am in within fashion design. It’s a very fast-paced industry and all these luxury brands set the pace for the industry. I'm a person who works in very different way, I do make clothes but at the same time I have a passion for sculpting and my biggest challenge is bringing these two worlds together.
What's the one thing in your career you're most proud of?
The journey itself, the whole journey of where I'm from to how I am today, is something I'm very proud of. I have been training in fashion design for the last five years and have worked in the industry, so there's been around eight or nine years of consistent effort and consistent hard work put in to reach the point where I am at today.
And what's one thing you would do if you were Prime Minister for the day?
Lots of arts funding.
Is there any one thing you do on the regular to take care of your mental health?
I spend a lot of time with my friends. I always have my friends or my partner at my studio all the time. Every 15 minutes or 20 minutes, I take five minutes off. I set the timer for five minutes and spend some time with them and come back to work. I started this very recently, like six months back.
What's one lesson that changed your life?
Always believe in second chances.
How about one moment in your career that you will cherish forever?
Sam Smith, definitely. That’s something that I never thought I would do. Their team came to me three days before the event and I managed to cook something up.
What's one thing you want to achieve in the next year?
There's nothing I want to achieve. It's more like I just want to keep going and keep improving.
If you had a number one song, what would it sound like?
I can't answer because I don't know!
It wouldn’t be latex-themed?
Maybe…I like using the material but I'm not really a latex person.
Who's your number one fan?
And who's number one on your speed dial?
My business partner and best friend. It’s the same person.
Name one person who's killing the game right now.
What's one piece of clothing you can't live without?
I think…a black t-shirt.
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