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Harry Styles is a Global Icon for the New Decade

On the brink of releasing his sophomore album 'Fine Line,' the superstar muses on breaking boundaries, his experiences with celebrity, and his close creative relationship with Gucci's Alessandro Michele.
Reading time 7 minutes
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Photography by Daniyel Lowden

Styling by Harry Lambert

 

Harry Styles is the new decade’s ultimate pop idol. Fans pass out, Beatles-style, at his concerts, and 24.9 million followers on Instagram live for his old-school rock songs (Fine Line, his sophomore album, is about to drop) and gender-bending fluidity in fashion, politics, and attitude.

Styles’ song, “Lights Up,” attracted, in whiplash speed, almost a million-and-a-half listens when it dropped on October 11. Just like that, after a short break, rock superstar Harry Styles was back.

After selling 50 million records in six years with the band One Direction (the group is on an indefinite hiatus), Styles broke out solo in 2017. His first eponymous album gave the world an authentic, raw introduction to himself as a solo act. He shed the boy band skin and, in osmosis with the times, became a fluid, inclusive role model for the world—at peace with sexuality, defending marriage for all, and creating a swaggy personal style that enraptures audiences.

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Alessandro Michele, the vibrantly poetic, disruptive creative director of Gucci, dressed Styles for his first tour, crafting a look for a liberated young man conquering the world. After several campaigns and collaborations, this season Michele anointed Styles to embody his house's addictive and seductive new fragrance, Gucci Mémoire d’une Odeur.

Styles has been very busy lately. His new album Fine Line drops on December 13 and is sure to hit massive downloads instantly. In April, he starts the “Love on Tour 2020” global concert takeover, jetting from Berlin to New York to Mexico City and everywhere in between. He mentions he still has fun—listening to Paul McCartney, reading Murakami, and discovering the mind-opening properties of hallucinogenic mushrooms. He also sings with his pal Stevie Nicks.

While waiting to dive headfirst into the maelstrom of a new album—promotions, the tour, and all the exhausting hype of a rock star’s life, the 25-year-old wunderkind reassures himself calmly, with a mixture of reserve and heat, that everything is going as planned. For someone so obscenely famous, Styles is truly just a down-to-earth lad from Holmes Chapel, Cheshire in England. He doesn’t hide away in his dressing room, instead quietly walking around in his underwear between takes. He nimbly picks bites with his elegantly long fingers, nails painted black, from the Asian food delivered without asking for organic celery juice or a vegan meal. “The first smell I remember is probably the smell of my mother’s cooking, the roast she was preparing,” he says, his sea-blue, wide-set eyes glimmering. "And the perfume she was wearing," he adds with a smile.

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Styles’ tight relationship with Michele was hardly manufactured by a marketing team. The duo’s fanciful, creative lines of flight meet, quite naturally. “Alessandro is a free thinker and his way of working is very inspiring,” Styles enthuses. “If he wants to do something, he just does it, and I find it impressive. When you have the opportunity to witness the work of someone who is considered a master, it is quite incredible. There is no question of class, age, who did what. What he does is for everyone, concerns everyone, and I think that every art should be like that.”

Childhood and the potent memories of scent return to Styles’ thoughts, via the new Gucci fragrance. “I really like Gucci Mémoire d'une Odeur for its freshness, but also the fact that it adapts and changes according to the person who wears it, which I find amusing," he says. "It probably reminds me of summer as a child. Being by the lake with my friends, where I grew up, and the smell of wildflowers.” One thinks of Henri Michaux’s famous verse: “Night is not like day; it has a lot of flexibility.”

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“Many borders are falling—in fashion, but also in music, films, and art,” Styles declares with excitement. “I don’t think people are still looking for this gender differentiation. Even if the masculine and feminine exist, their limits are the subject of a game. We no longer need to be this or that. I think now, people are just trying to be good. In fashion and other fields, these parameters are no longer as strict as before, and it gives rise to great freedom. It’s stimulating.”

Styles and Michele have formed an organic bond. “If Alessandro doesn’t necessarily ask my opinion, we show each other things," he explains. "It’s cool to have the opinion of someone who isn’t necessarily in your field, but whose work and taste you respect."

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Styles’ new album heralds a dynamic driven by serious writing discipline and the decision to take total charge of his career. “Songwriting is like surfing," he says. "You can train as much as you want to get on the board, but sometimes the wave comes and sometimes it doesn’t. And yet, we still need to train to become better. You can’t just sit down and decide to write a song and think you’ve written the best song of your life. It takes a lot of work.”

How does this thoughtful young man, who ten years ago worked in a bakery in a small English town and is now a musical sensation who finds himself the subject of countless fans' fantasies and smack in the stormy eye of media attention, find serenity? “Celebrity is something I am still learning, experimenting," he says. "I learn to sort out what I like, what I don’t like, what I’m willing to give in my songs, and what I’m not inclined to share. We have to find a balance. We wonder what people will think of such and such words. And it’s accepting to be vulnerable, but at the same time it’s what makes this whole adventure exciting.”

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This palpable excitement runs through the new album. Styles hopes that it expresses “a feeling of freedom.” This same vibe of unapologetic freedom is part of the work of his many role models—Elvis Presley, Mick Jagger, Stevie Nicks, Janis Joplin, and Prince. “When I look at them, I don’t know what it is, but it’s this, this something special," he says of how these fellow icons inspire him. "They go beyond the limits. In terms of writing, Paul McCartney has always been a huge influence. I had the chance to meet some of them; they don’t stop being great to me.”

Arriving in a car suited for a massive star (private driver, ice cupboard, tinted windows), Styles departs on foot, with a small team, to drink a beer at the local pub.

The scene brings to mind Styles as a scrappy teenager, in a cardigan too big for his lanky frame, eager to invent himself. As the millennial superstar slowly strolls away, the sweet smell of success lingers: a soft-smelling fragrant mist—the romantic mixture of wildflowers, chamomile, and the dreamy mood of Sunday lunch in the English countryside.

Credits

Photography Counsel Clarke Rudick

Hair Alex Brownsell

Makeup Niamh Quinn

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