Photography Rafael Pavarotti
DAZED: From Fine Line to star film roles, Harry Styles has gone from global to stratospheric – now, he adopts his newest mantle. Pleasing, his first business venture, puts beauty and naked ambition front and centre.
In the final leg of his sold-out Love On Tour series of shows, his six-person band took to New York’s Madison Square Garden on the weekend of Halloween. On the bird-call from their faithful leader, his legions of fans turned up to the concert in fancy dress. Crowds outside gathered in traditional All Hallows’ Eve getups of ghouls and goblins, and many paid homage to Styles’ signature style (think feather boas, kick-out flares and heavy-set platforms).
Not one to miss out on the chance for a display of style, Styles appeared on stage as Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, complete with a sparkly blue pinafore with matching bow, and of course, ruby-red slippers (his band make up the Tin Man, Glinda the Good Witch et al). All outfits are courtesy of Alessandro Michele, Styles’ friend and creative director of Gucci, of which Styles has long been a brand face.
Enveloped in the rapture, the crowd hangs on to every minute of his husky growl and swivel of the hip as he breaks out into a spooky rendition of Britney Spears’ “Toxic”. But put aside Styles’ Mick Jagger swagger, and the crowd, made up of all ages, races, genders and sexualities, feel bound to something a little deeper than just the look and charm of the 27-year-old performer. Affirmations of beauty are swapped, expression is celebrated and friendships are formed under the umbrella of the pop phenom. Case in point: ‘#hslotoutfit’ (Styles’ Love On Tour outfit, in case you were wondering) hit 37 million views on TikTok in the US alone.
“It’s funny because I don’t think of myself that way (as a style icon)… but bringing people together is the thing I’m most proud of. (At the shows) I get kind of a front-row seat to see a bunch of people getting in a room together and just being themselves. Not coming to the front of the stage, because they’re hanging out at the back, dancing like nobody’s watching. Having the most basic version of a good time. Humans interacting and accepting each other,” says Styles, expressing wonder at the zeal of his committed fandom, the Stylers. “A room full of people just loving each other is so powerful.”
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA
A few weeks ahead of our conversation, Styles quietly emerges at an airy photo studio in Los Angeles for his Dazed cover shoot. Despite the furiously quick turnaround from inception to execution of the shoot (things in HS’s world happen quickly and meticulously), the star is in wonderful spirits. Perfectly on time, and flanked by a burly and ever-present security guard, he’s quiet and reserved but polite, greeting everyone with a northern accent that’s been slightly tweaked by his years in LA. Immediately, you’re struck by his presence. A certain sort of wanton sex appeal that even the most hardened of critics couldn’t resist radiates when he looks you in the eye, something he’s careful to do when you are in conversation. (A recent study suggested Styles’ sea foam-green eye colour was the most beautiful in human existence.)
He’s dressed in a fitted baby tee and low-slung jeans, kept just so by an umber-brown belt, and finished with a crochet skull beanie that reads ‘attainable’, though I am not quite sure it would look as uncontrived on anyone else. He wears clothes unbelievably well. But that we already knew: the aforementioned face of Gucci is often feted as our generation’s Bowie in his fearless, genderless and boundary-less approach to fashion. He’s donned a frilly gown on a Vogue cover and gets your grandma’s cardi (OK, it was actually JW Anderson) a permanent spot in the V&A.
Our shoot is no exception in bringing on the glam. As photographer Rafael Pavarotti readies his camera, Dazed’s editor-in-chief Ibrahim Kamara takes Styles through the proposed looks for the shoot. He immediately grabs an angelic cream look of a Rick Owens webbed sweater, a Galliano corset, and a Comme des Garçons kitten heel from the splatter of Polaroids affixed to the wall. A psychedelic Prada jumpsuit complete with Swarovski choker is another favourite, and a Balenciaga look with top-hat aplomb is quickly greenlit. At ease in front of the camera, he slips from one look to another, each more fantastically concocted than the last. He’s the right side of confident and seems, through observation, content.
It’s a far cry from the vision of the fairly sheepish Harry Styles from One Direction: 16 years old, with a mop of curls. Despite the group’s mega-success of over 70m albums sold worldwide, we perhaps never knew the potential of what lay beneath until the release of Harry Styles (2017), his breakaway solo album after the group’s hiatus and a revealing look at someone whose enigma had been overshadowed by headlines and hysteria.
“I was 16 (when One Direction started), I just kind of finished school and didn’t really know what it was that was happening,” he explains. “Everything was really new and exciting and I didn’t know how long everything was gonna last. It kind of became like, ‘Woah, how long can we keep this going?’ because I really didn’t expect any of this to happen.
“There was a time when I was younger, and I was in the band, when I would have been afraid for everything to have stopped. I didn’t necessarily know who I was if I wasn’t in the band. Now, the idea of people going, ‘We don’t like your music any more, go away’ doesn’t scare me. I think there was a time when it did. It gives me the freedom to kind of go, ‘Great!’ I’m not working from a place of fear. I’m working from a place of wanting to work stuff out, and try different things.”
It’s a sum of parts that has worked well for Styles. His sophomore album, Fine Line (2019), went double platinum in the US and won him Grammy, Brit, and Ivor Novello awards, with Rolling Stone ranking it among its 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, a feat that he has finally had time to reflect on. “I think things are hitting me for the first time,” he says. “It really is the first opportunity where I felt like I had time to take it in since leaving home, to be honest. So, going forward, I’m just going to take things in as they’re happening – how nice some of those things are, how not nice some of those things are – and observe them. When we get back to some semblance of normality, I will check in with parts of myself and make sure I don’t lose myself again and get pulled back in.”
“When do I feel my most beautiful? I would say internally, when I’ve finished meditating or something. Or maybe when I’m asleep” – Harry Styles
While conquering music, he dipped his toes into the silver screen with a role in Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk (2017). He used a world tour that was paused due to Covid to take on a trio of new movie roles. He has a much-anticipated role in Don’t Worry Darling, a psychological thriller set in a utopian California starring Midsommar’s Florence Pugh. Directed by Olivia Wilde, whom Styles began dating during filming, the film isn’t due for release until September 2022. An 11-second clip has been ripped on to fan accounts and cumulatively got over a million views on YouTube. His relationship with Wilde has been a daily feature of celebrity gossip rags, though the privacy around it is closely guarded by Styles and images of them together are scarce.
“I’ve always tried to compartmentalise my personal life and my working life,” he explains. Paparazzi snaps suggest the two are very much in love, though any assumptions on his love life are curtailed for his Dazed cover story.
My Policeman, an adaptation of Bethan Roberts’s 2012 novel, centres on husband Tom Burgess, played by Styles, and wife Marion Taylor, played by Emma Corrin. Set in Brighton in the 1950s, the film follows David Dawson’s character Patrick as he falls in love with policeman Tom and a tug of war of emotions between the three begins. The story explores homosexuality at a time when it was expressly forbidden. Both films offered Styles room to grow as an actor.
“I like to challenge myself and do something different and movies are definitely where I feel most out of my comfort zone,” he reflects. “I’m coming from music where I don’t think anyone really knows how it works, but I am somewhat in my comfort zone! But in movies, when I show up, I’m the new guy. I haven’t been (an actor) for a long time and that’s really cool, I feel like I’ve learned so much and life is about learning.”
And as much as acting is an education, it’s also incredibly personal for Styles. “(With acting), you’re trying to remove a lot of yourself and key into someone else,” he explains. “On the most basic level, it’s like being a kid and you’re playing pretend. I am not a very confrontational person, I think I’m pretty chill, so then when you have a character who is like that, it’s fun to explore.” Styles has never had formal acting lessons, and instead reads scripts with a partner and immerses himself in the “humanity of the character”.
“I think music and acting really aid each other in a lot of ways. In my experience, a lot of the time when I’ve gone to do a film I’ve felt like, ‘Oh, I’m probably not gonna do any music for a while because I’ll be so focused on that’. And then I actually find that, by the time I get home at the end of the day, I just write so much. Any time you are looking at the world through someone else’s lens and exploring different emotions, it feels like a benefit in so many ways.”
In October, the Twitterverse erupted after Variety’s Matt Donnelly spotted Styles’ blink-and-you’ll-miss-it role as Eros in Eternals, the newest mega-movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, directed by Oscar winner Chloé Zhao. Styles cautiously checks the publication date of this Dazed story before confirming his inclusion as the brother of villain Thanos. “I’m only in right at the very end,” he says humbly. “But who didn’t grow up wanting to be a superhero, you know? It was a great experience and I’m so grateful to have gotten to work with Chloé.”
“There was a time when I didn’t know who I was if I wasn’t in the band. Now, the idea of people going, ‘We don’t like your music any more’ doesn’t scare me. I’m not working from a place of fear” – Harry Styles
With his career expanding from global to almost stratospheric proportions, Styles has made room for other projects instead of taking any iota of spare time for himself. Namely, Pleasing, his shape-shifting umbrella company that will see him take the leap from musician to mogul. The first drop from the Pleasing universe? A curated line of products that speak to the celebratory beauty sensibility that Styles is known for. He talks me through the genesis of Pleasing from his hotel room in Boston, while massaging his undereye with The Pleasing Pen, a dual-ended eye and lip serum infused with okra, marshmallow and lingonberry, a delicious-sounding concoction that I’m told helps with tired eyes. “It was an idea I’d kind of had for a while,” he describes. “I’d been talking with a couple of people close to me, like Molly (Hawkins, Styles’ creative director). Firstly, I just thought it would be fun but, in actuality, Pleasing is about a couple of things.”
“It’s starting with nail polish, because that was kind of the birth of what it was for,” Styles continues. “Me seeing a colour on a flower or a wallpaper or something and thinking, ‘Oh, I wanna put that on my nails’. It was a fun little project, but during the pandemic, and when we eventually named it Pleasing, it felt like it was so much more than nail polish. I’ve always found that the moments in my life which have brought me the most joy are the small ones, whether it be, you know, the end of the night under the stars or a bite of food, or sitting with your friends thinking, ‘Oh, I’m never gonna forget this’. It’s always those moments that I find have the longest-lasting effect on me, in terms of sparking something wonderful in me. I really think that the essence of Pleasing is finding those little moments of joy and showing them to people.”
The collection cleverly eschews the usual cosmetic tropes of concealment and masking, and instead celebrates illumination: highlighting what’s already there, in a way that democratises who can see themselves as part of the Pleasing cosmos. The product line starts small, though I have been promised there is more to come, in a sporadic drop-style format: a ‘Pearlescent Illuminating’ serum, ‘Pleasing Pen Matte’ lip oil, and ‘Perfect Pearl’ nail polish, all of which have been mindfully and sustainably made. “I don’t think that putting someone’s face on something sells a bad product,” says Styles firmly. “The product has to be good, and I think our product is good.”
The lustrous finish of the plant-based nail polish was created to mimic the iridescence of pearls (a string around his neck being one of the star’s signature flourishes). Styles and his team have created the Pleasing line with the lightest possible footprint in mind, using post-consumer plastics and compostable paper printed with bio-sourced inks. “We also totally understand that we are putting more product into the world, so if we’re gonna do that, then we have to do it the right way,” says Styles, his hand gestures showing off a marigold and optic white manicure.
“I also think that what this can become is so much more than just products you can buy. I think it’s about giving, and giving back. I am blessed to have fans who are so supportive of me, who believe in freedom and who have created this safe space for each other. Pleasing is really for them. That feeling of community is kind of what we would like Pleasing to (reflect).”
Styles is transparent about his approach to Pleasing. Business and money-making aside, he wants to build a platform that can put ideas, creativity, and empathy front and centre. “I think we have an opportunity to make something really cool, a company that operates in a completely different way,” he says. “I think the true DNA of Pleasing is about working with talented people who might not necessarily have the light shone on them, and collaborating.” A humanistic approach to a beauty company is a novel idea, though a complicated one. Can a modern beauty brand really ask you to come-as-you-are and buy into the added extras? Styles doesn’t seem put off by the challenge. “As humans, we are always changing we’re always learning new stuff and I don’t know why a company can’t operate from that same kind of standpoint.”
It’s a venture that leaves Styles, whose public persona has been carefully and sensibly guarded, open in a way that he hasn’t been before. “We’re Pleasing and we’re not perfect, and we are always gonna be trying to learn to do better,” he admits. “Do I have any idea where Pleasing will be in five years? No. Obviously I have an idea of what I would like us to be aiming at, but honestly, I don’t know. That’s what makes it exciting to me.”
I ask him when he feels his most beautiful. “I don’t think being beautiful or feeling beautiful is about looking good. When people are happy and glowing, they’re radiating. And that’s what I think the products do, it’s about helping you feel beautiful.” He pauses thoughtfully, and repeats my question back to me, “Hmm, when do I feel my most beautiful? I would say internally, when I’ve finished meditating or something… Or maybe when I’m asleep!” he giggles.
I comment, more than once, on how at peace Styles, whose every move is writ large on the internet, seems. What he takes from his glam-rock icons (Prince, Freddie Mercury, Elvis Presley), he grounds in his everyday-ness. He’s never let his stardom eclipse his need for normalcy. “I read The Architecture of Happiness by Alain de Botton, and there’s a chapter where he talks about the idea of emptiness being more important than fullness,” he says. “How a lot of things can be really distracting, especially in the home. I think about the space that I want around me; I need it to be calm.”
“You know, I read another book by Jon Ronson called So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed,” continues Styles. “It got me thinking, for a long time, about how scared I was of saying or doing the wrong thing, and how much trouble that would get me in. I was still growing up, making mistakes. I’m not ashamed of those things any more. I’ve seen subconscious changes in a lot of places in my life.”
Just as he’s trying to imagine what a beauty brand can mean for a younger generation, he’s also looking at the future possibilities of pop music, albeit starting from a clean slate. On the precipice of his Saturn’s Return (Styles turns 28 in February), he seems ready to enter a new, risk-taking and career-defining chapter. “I have unlocked an ability to be myself completely, unapologetically,” he says with conviction. “I started only listening to classical music because it felt like it gave me a blank canvas to work from. So I wasn’t hearing things I would then be referencing. I think that so much creativity comes from my boredom and giving myself the chance not to be distracted by things. I’m the most human I’ve felt in a long time, for sure.”
Observing Styles in his different guises – heartthrob, musician, business owner, friend – the character that defines him now, more than ever, is himself. “I sometimes feel like I’m supposed to be floating on this cloud of success and happiness, and obviously that’s not how it works,” he muses. “I think through my own sense of self and personal journey, I am realising that happiness isn’t this kind of end state.” And just as Dorothy clicks her heels to return home in The Wizard of Oz, when Styles speaks about his journey from then to now, and everything the horizon could hold, it’s almost as if he is coming home.
The Winter 2021 issue of Dazed is available to pre-order now and purchase November 25
Credits: hair CANDICE BIRNS at STATEMENT ARTISTS, make-up DANIEL SALLSTROM at MA+ TALENT using PLEASING by founder HARRY STYLES, nails SIGOURNEY NUÑEZ using PLEASING by founder HARRY STYLES, set design IBBY NJOYA at NEW SCHOOL, photographic assistants FELIX TW, BYRON NICKLEBERRY, PETER WINTERSTELLER, MICKEL GARRETT, JOEY ABREU, digital operator NICK MARSHALL, styling assistants MIRKO PEDONE, ANDRA-AMELIA BUHAI, ANASTASYA KOLOMYTSEVA, LENNON GABRIEL, KAROLINA FRECHOWICZ, KATE ADAM, ENYA KOLLEK, tailoring HASMIK KOURINIAN, SUSIE KOURINIAN, set design assistant KRAIGE TOBIAS, motorcycle JEFF VERGES, production HANNAH MURPHY at CONNECT THE DOTS, executive production WES OLSON, production coordinator ZACK HIGGINBOTTOM, production assistants TCHAD COUSINS, JUAN CALVO, NICOLE MORRA, special thanks HARRY STYLES’ creative collaborators HARRY LAMBERT and MOLLY HAWKINS
Text Lynette Nylander
Styling Ib Kamara
Taken from the winter 2021 issue of Dazed. You can buy a copy of our latest issue here
Trust Harry Styles to bring meaning, quite literally, to Halloween. Harryween.