OWalking down the narrow hallway to stylist Harry Lambert’s studio, I can’t be the first person to wonder if Harry Styles – Lambert’s most famous client – has walked the same blue carpet. Not that Lambert tells me. Getting him to talk about Styles is like drawing blood from a stone. “OK, look,” he said. “When it comes to questions about Harry, I just consider our relationship too private to go too far. You have to remember that I’m there in the most intimate moments with the people I work with. I’m often the last person they see before going on stage. It’s an intimate space! I’m aware that a lot of the attention I get is due to him, but I want to be very careful. But let’s try. OK. Go.”
Harry met Harry around the time of One Direction’s 2014 album Four. Rumors of a solo career were circulating and Styles was going through his ‘Jagger period’, wearing black Saint Laurent suits, Chelsea boots and leonine hair tamed by shiny bandanas – the fashion filtered by NME rather than GQ.
Lambert was mostly styling magazine shoots and fashion shows when they introduced each other. He presented a wardrobe (“playful stuff, Gucci and JW Anderson, stuff like that”), and Styles agreed to give it a whirl. What emerged is best described as a 1970s man, resurrected – flares, with a side of camp. Styles have always been a game, he says, “but when it happened, it was always like, ‘Fuck, that’s wild.'”
The fashion industry swallowed it up. From the sheer black blouse and single pearl earring at the 2019 Met Gala to Arturo Obegero’s crimson bodycon jumpsuit in the video for As It Was, Styles has become mainstream pop’s most determined subverter against the gender stereotypes.
Lambert was at the center of this, sort of going from Thomas Cromwell to Henry VIII of Styles, but dissolving binaries instead of monasteries. That’s not how he sees it: “Look, when it comes to this [gender stuff], I wish I could be everything: ‘I wanted to change the world!’ But it’s more of a by-product of what we do,” he says. “If you look at pop icons over the years, fashion is such an integral part of their image, like Björk in the swan dress, Britney in the schoolgirl outfit. I know what I do has an impact , but is it a priority for me? No.”
We sit on a bench in the communal garden behind his two-room studio in Hoxton, east London. In one room, platform shoes spill out from an Ikea Kallax cabinet. In the other, clothes rails sit. Lambert, 35, is warm and talkative, with a soft East Anglian accent and short bleached hair. He wears Marni wide pants in brown checkerboard, large black beads and a slightly breakfast-stained T-shirt.
Famous stylists are relatively new. In Hollywood’s Golden Age – Lambert’s favorite era – actors were styled by studio costumers. By the early 70s, the studio system was over, so the stars were dressing up, which didn’t always go well (Google any Oscars in the 1980s).
It wasn’t until the mid-2000s and Rachel Zoe – who turned her executive (Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan) into stick-thin avatars of herself, and reportedly commanding $10,000 a day – that stylists have become as famous as their clients.
Today, the red carpet is an economy unto itself, built on the (often false) idea that what celebrities wear is an extension of their personality rather than, say, a mutually beneficial marketing tool negotiated between the brand, the celebrity and the stylist. Nobody knows how much money changes hands, but given that many celebrities need stylists as much offstage as they do onstage (the walk-to-the-car-holding-a-juice outfit can be considered as much as what’s worn at the Grammys ) the famous stylist has never been so powerful. Which explains why some of the big names in Hollywood — Law Roach, for example, who put Zendaya in a hot pink breastplate, or Karla Welch, who put Justin Bieber in extra-long-sleeve T-shirts — are familiar names, if you live in that sort of house.
Unusually for a stylist, Lambert has just four clients: Styles, Everton footballer Dominic Calvert-Lewin and The Crown actors Emma Corrin and Josh O’Connor (each of them has a double who tries on held the day before). Lambert is often approached, but usually says no. “I only style people who – sorry to ring all LA – I hook up with or can transform with. I once styled Kylie [Minogue] – but what are you even doing with Kylie?
It’s safe to say that O’Connor’s look is the most conventional. Stars include a navy double-breasted sailor suit with ceramic buttons by SS Daley, worn at last year’s TV Baftas, “but there’s always a little twist, or a twist,” Lambert says “It can never be conventional – I hate it.”
Corrin, whom he met through a friend, came out as gay last year and uses clothes to communicate it. “There’s a pressure on girls who act to be sexy, to be a bomb, to have [their] breasts out. Emma is sexy, but it’s about playing with people’s perception of what’s beautiful,” says Lambert. I’m saying the Loewe dress and balloon bra she wore to the Olivier Awards in April certainly looked like a joke. “Oliviers is a bit stuffy, so we thought, ‘Let’s do something that most people won’t get,’” he laughs. “It’s a conversation, but in a dress. Even the Daily Mail loved it.
As with all designer muses, there is an obligation to wear designers if they are related to them – Corrin was the face of Miu Miu, Styles of Gucci and O’Connor of Loewe. But by using vintage pieces and pushing smaller designers such as Daley, Edward Crutchley and Harris Reed, whose gender-fluid designs have since found themselves at the Met Gala, Lambert is trying to redress the balance of power.
Earlier this year, he declined to appear on the cover of The Hollywood Reporter. “I didn’t come into this job to be on a [magazine] cover. Fashion is scary, fashion week is scary,” says Lambert. “There are ‘faces’, like Anna Wintour, and then there are people like me.”
But because of his job — and because of social media — he’s kind of a face. “Someone took my picture on the bus and tagged me this week. So I’m famous for a particular group of people. The Harrys have nicknames for each other (Lambert is Susan and Styles is Sue ) and the internet is having fun with their relationship, with Reddit threads devoted to unpacking the meanings of those names. Again, Lambert won’t comment, but it seems like an effective way to tell two people named Harry apart.
Growing up in Norwich, Lambert loved clothes, not fashion. He rode trends familiar to a millennial (the emo phase of skateboarding, the Abercrombie & Fitch ripped jeans phase) and, in school, drifted into art. He studied photography at the University of Rochester and although he loved the storytelling side, he stumbled on the technical aspects and instead spent his summers interning at various magazines.
He then moved to east London, just at the end of the nu-rave. “I entered the industry at the end, right after [the recession], when everyone had money, but also right before style became a thing,” he says. He got work as a commercial stylist – including a stint at fast fashion ‘factory’ Asos, and later Topman, but his Damascene moment was ‘adorning Little Boots’ roller skates on a set “.
His most recent client is Calvert-Lewin, one of the few footballers who doesn’t dress like he’s been puked out of a bank. Last winter’s Arena Homme+ cover, in which he wears a flared cropped suit and a glittery pink Prada handbag, was a Lambert blue-tick – haute couture look with an androgynous edge. Is Lambert a football fan? “No. I had to do half a season at Norwich City – Delia Smith’s team – when I was a kid, but only to escort my little brother.
One need only look at Little Richard, David Bowie or Prince to see that androgyny has been part of pop since its inception. Yet in football, outward expressions of so-called femininity are rare. Is Lambert trying to lead a gender conversation by bringing this fashion to the Premier League? Lambert laughs again. “I didn’t bring the handbags to Dominic. He himself has three or four Chanel handbags. But just because someone is a straight male in the football community and has a purse, that shouldn’t be a big deal. But it’s a big deal, I say, in a good way. “OK, yes, I understand how much the [football] the industry can be, so seeing a man with a Chanel handbag is…something. But everyone is trying to tap into that market,” he says of fashion and sports. “Back then, if you were into clothes, you were gay. Now pay attention to your appearance, it’s almost normal.
So it’s no surprise that Gucci recently signed ointment-loving footballer Jack Grealish to face a future campaign. At the mention of his name, Lambert turns around, then denies any knowledge of the signature. I would put a ten for him being involved.
“I think the way men dress is changing,” he says. “The Loewe aesthetic is going to be the next super-brand for young people on the same level as Balenciaga and Vetements [two of the brands responsible for luxury logo streetwear] rewrote what was cool. You can see it happening. To translate, Lambert means pretty and surreal clothes, logoless knitwear and lots of color. Like Styles famous rainbow cardigan – girlish and fun. “It’s the mood change, yeah.”
“When I’m gone,” Lambert said, “I just hope it’s silly things like putting Harry [Styles] in pearls and that men can wear necklaces and that’s not a thing – that’s what I want to be remembered. That and when people dress up as Harry for Halloween. He claps his hands. “It means we did something that had a cultural impact. It means we have succeeded.