The smiley, easygoing, ever so slightly sunburnt man sitting opposite me in his striped shirt and brown shorts outside an east London cafe enjoying a breakfast lemonade – “I am fasting” – doesn’t present as much of a shibboleth-buster. But there are, on closer inspection, signs. The necklace. The manicure: half-brown, half-turquoise.
As the longtime stylist of the world’s most famous Harry (Styles), 28, the rather less well-known Harry Lambert, 35, has worked to challenge mainstream ideas around masculinity. Not that this charmingly self-effacing Norwich boy made good, his accent still present and correct, will lay claim to any deliberate envelope-pushing. “We are doing it simply because it’s fun, because it’s wacky, because it’s memorable. We are in that privileged place where everyone expects him to be daring and different; to be a bit crazy.”
Yet together, the two Harrys have, consciously or unconsciously, consistently questioned what it means to be – and, more particularly, to dress – a man in the 21st century. They are the reason why a teenage boy of my acquaintance who dwells in an otherwise heteronormative world of black Nike has been known to wear a pearl necklace. They are also the reason why said boy’s 18-year-old sister, Edie, obsessed with the English singer-actor Styles for most of her life, sees no disconnect between swoonsome masculinity and a penchant for a feather boa. (There is a lifesize cardboard cutout of Styles in the family kitchen, with one of the star’s signature boas draped around its neck.)
What motivates Lambert – and Styles – is purely, the stylist insists, to be “very joyful, very happy, positive, camp”. Their most notable example of feel-good fashion was the patchwork JW Anderson cardigan that the singer wore just before COVID-19 hit, the recreation of which quickly became a TikTok-fuelled challenge that saw many through lockdown, not least Edie’s Nanny Gill. Edie wore her cardigan to see Styles perform in Portugal last month. “The true fans were very impressed,” she says.
His concerts have turned into a fashion moment for the attendees, too, who often go to great lengths to concoct a Styles-worthy ensemble. As befits a performer whose recent concerts went by the title Love on Tour, the vibe, Edie tells me, is not competitive but celebratory. Attendees share their looks via social media – think very colourful and a tad bonkers – under the hashtag #hslotoutfits.
Harry Styles’ brother teaches golf. Is that why there has been more than a whiff of links fashion about some of the 100-odd different looks that Styles has been wearing on the road? (There have been a lot of patterned knits.) “Harry loves golf.” Really? “Yeah. He plays golf a lot.” That’s as indiscreet as Harry Lambert will get about his most famous client.
They started working together in 2014, when Styles was still part of boy band One Direction but rumours of a solo career were afoot. This year alone, Lambert has put Styles in everything from a bright pink leather combo at the Coachella festival, complete with his initials on his bum – this cowboy-camp get-up is one of the stylist’s personal favourites – to a spangled red bodysuit that he wore in the video for his single As It Was.
I proudly present to Lambert my cod-analysis of this video, in which, in the opening scene, Styles is clad in a red coat, and surrounded by other anonymous-looking coat wearers, before divesting himself of this outerwear and revealing his inner Marc Bolan [from the 1970s band T. Rex].
The stylist is politely dismissive of my Pygmalion-like narrative. “It’s never that conscious, to be honest. I don’t think, ‘So this is going to be a statement’ or ‘This is going to say this’. It’s really about what works.”
So far, so glam rock, albeit with a cleaner, more boy-next-door delivery. But what’s really different is the degree to which the Styles-Lambert sartorial world view has entered the mainstream, and, in so doing, challenged deeper preconceptions around gender.
Once upon a time men didn’t have to limit themselves with what they wore. Rather the reverse. You can’t get more alpha male than Henry VIII, for example, yet he was, as Lambert puts it when I bring him up, “So feminine! So camp! Wild!” Yet somewhere along the way, being a man became, among other things, about dressing as plainly as possible; about eschewing anything too look-at-me as unmanly.
“Somewhere along the way, being a man became, among other things, about dressing as plainly as possible.”
That’s changing – ours is a world in which Brad Pitt will now appear on the red carpet in a skirt – and Lambert is one of the people who has brought about that change. “It’s kind of amazing. I think? Knowing about fashion is now a good thing. I think girls? I’m a gay man, so I don’t know, but from what I can tell even watching Love Island or something, it’s interesting because the boys know about Balenciaga. They know about Prada. And they’re interested in manicures. They’re interested in grooming. They’re interested in everything about the way they look. And I think girls find that attractive. Something has shifted.”
Styles isn’t Lambert’s only calling card in this regard. His work with Dominic Calvert-Lewin, the Everton and England footballer, is similarly ground-breaking. When Calvert-Lewin, 25, appeared on the cover of Arena Homme+ last year in what appeared to be a skirt – but was, in fact, almost disappointingly, shorts – things blew up to a degree that even Lambert hadn’t anticipated. “I had friends’ husbands texting me, ‘Oh my God, he is on talkSPORT and they are discussing this cover.’ ”
The footballer is, says the stylist, “a new generation of man who just loves clothes and doesn’t give a shit what anyone thinks. He tells me how everyone in his team is like, ‘Oh, that’s just Dominic. That’s the way he dresses.’ ” Even Lambert doesn’t attempt to underplay the significance of Calvert-Lewin’s carefree non-conformity within a sphere that tends towards such a straitjacketed view of masculinity that it is still grappling with issues such as homophobia.
“Yeah, it’s massive. I don’t think I even realised the scale of it and how toxic it is. But Dominic will, like, carry around a Chanel handbag. I didn’t bring that to the table. That came from him. Again, I don’t think he’s intentionally trying to say something. I think it genuinely comes from a place of expression and fun.”
For what it’s worth, Calvert-Lewin is not gay. Styles was until recently in a relationship with the actress-director Olivia Wilde. The latest addition to Lambert’s deliberately tiny roster of clients – “It sounds a bit boasty, but I have a lot of people asking me to dress them now” – is the actor Eddie Redmayne, who is also straight, and debuted his new Lambert-approved look at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. “He’s really into dressing. I only want to work with people who really love clothes.”
Two more clients are Josh O’Connor and Emma Corrin, who both gained boldface fame as the young Prince Charles and Lady Diana in The Crown. Corrin now uses “they/them”, pronouns that are wielded expertly by Lambert as we talk. Corrin has been pushing a whole other set of aesthetic boundaries with the stylist’s help, from an alt-Artful Dodger at the Met Gala in May to a balloon-bosomed gown – another creation by the Northern Irish designer JW Anderson, this time for Loewe – at the Olivier Awards. “It’s a really exciting journey that we’re going on together, working out how masculine Emma wants to be, how feminine Emma wants to be. It’s interesting.”
Lambert has always loved clothes. “But if you had said the word Prada or Givenchy when I was a teenager, I wouldn’t have had a clue what that was. I had no access to fashion knowledge.” At his sixth form he won the prize for best dressed. “Although, looking back, I think that was more of a ‘most gay’ award,” he says, laughing.
“I didn’t come out until I was 27,” he continues. “It’s weird. I mean, everyone knew, most likely. But I didn’t feel comfortable until really, really late.” He lives in east London with his partner, a fashion PR, and is about to scale up from a flat to a house. “There will be a wardrobe room. It’s the dream. At the moment it’s a bit painful.”
These days, as Styles’s wingman, he is collaborating with mega-brands such as Gucci. The recent Gucci Ha Ha Ha collection is a link-up between the label’s creative director Alessandro Michele and Styles. Michele describes it as “a mix of aesthetics from 1970s pop and bohemia to the revision of the image of the gentleman in an overturned memory of men’s tailoring”. Blimey.
Lambert also works on the singer’s own label, Pleasing. And he styles the hip British menswear label SS Daley. (Its duck-patterned cardigan, worn by Styles in May, has sold out, needless to say.) Not that terminology such as “menswear” has much resonance for many Millennials, not to mention a number of luxury brands in thrall to the Millennial buck. Gucci, for example, has in recent years increasingly presented collections that might best be described as gender-agnostic.
I tell Lambert how happy it makes me to see young men around London wearing pink, wearing florals, wearing nail varnish. In the creative industries at least, this is not only a shift among the young. When I had a meeting recently with Pierpaolo Piccioli, the 55-year-old creative director of Valentino, who is married with children, he was sporting a black manicure and jewellery. That said, many men of my generation or older feel either baffled on the one hand, or left out on the other; sometimes, a bit of both.
How does the intrigued older man find some of Lambert’s much vaunted clothes-related “joy” for themselves? “I look at my dad and, you know, I see him have joy in the way he dresses,” is his response. “Dad’s got all my old clothes. I got him a JW Anderson checked red and cream big duffel coat with buttons and stuff on it and he is obsessed and can’t wait to wear it.”
Lambert père is a former policeman, in case you are wondering, albeit one who used to wear leather trousers in his downtime when his son was growing up. His mother was a nurse.
“Both my parents have always liked to dress up. And obviously it helps my dad that he has a son who works in fashion. It is a little bit more accessible to him. It’s hard for that generation. It’s kind of sucky because they missed this rebirth of men. Is it too late for them to change? No. Is it hard for them to change? Probably.”
“It’s hard for that generation. Is it too late for them to change? No. Is it hard for them to change? Probably.”
Lambert believes that using more older men in fashion advertising campaigns and editorial shoots will, just as it has for women, begin to shift the dial. “You have to be able to see yourself in that world. That makes it easier, more accessible.”
He, of course, is someone who has the wherewithal to make that happen. He also has the power to increase the visibility of what he refers to as “plus size – is that the right word? As a bigger guy, I go to these shows and it’s soul-crushing sometimes. Like, some of it’s disgusting. I’m sorry, it’s really upsetting. I look at some of them and I’m like, ‘F…ing hell! Where is the normal bloke represented?’ ”
And what has he done to change that? “Not enough. I mean, it’s a slow process. But we have to make a start. I have absolutely not done enough to represent myself in fashion yet.”
Lambert is off to see his new trainer after our chat, once he’s finished his lemonade-only breakfast. He is endearingly – and brutally – frank about his own shortcomings. He laughs about how, when he is on one of his flashily catered photographic shoots, he will ask for KFC.
“People are always horrified that they haven’t provided what I want,” he admits. ” ‘We can get you that,’ they tell me. What can I say? I am from Norwich. My palate is not cultured.”
He is currently grappling with his new hair transplants, he goes on. “They are at that stage when they are falling out, and the new hair hasn’t grown through yet.” Losing his hair made him feel “crap and ugly and old. But even that conversation is changing. A lot of younger men are having transplants. And they will just talk about it in a way that people didn’t used to.”
I ask Lambert what it’s like to spend so much time cheek by perfectly chiselled jowl with such personifications of male beauty. There’s a reel on Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s Instagram, for example, that shows the stylist cloaked in an outsize plaid shirt and the footballer revealing not so much a six-pack as a 66-pack.
His answer is a poignant one. “It is weird. I mean, I think I’ve become numb to it in a way. Like, because it’s work. But there are some moments where I’ve gone, ‘Oh my God, you look f…ing gorgeous.’ ” How does that make him feel? “I don’t know. It’s hard, you know. I live my dream a little bit through them.
“I can’t wear those clothes. As much as I want to. I don’t have the body for it. I don’t have the face for it. I’m living some slight fantasy through them, through Emma, through everyone. If I was going to dress myself and could wear anything, this is what I would wear.”
This is an edited extract from a story that first appeared in The Times Magazine. Copyright News Licensing.
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