The next time you find yourself paging through a fashion magazine – or if you happen to be in New York City for Fashion Week – keep your eyes open for the work of Charles Harbison ’03, who recently launched his Fall/Winter 2013 debut collection.
Harbison entered NC State with intentions of designing buildings, not clothing; he began his academic career as an architecture major. While he’d dabbled in mediums such as painting, sculpture, and fabric manipulation during high school, it was during a first-year Design Fundamentals course that Harbison discovered how much he enjoyed applying his creative energy to these arts.
“I wanted more of that in my life and studies,” he said, “but didn’t want to abandon my love of math and science that led me to architecture.”
Harbison was able to reconcile his right- and left-brain interests through NC State’s then newly-established Anni Albers Scholars Program, which offers a dual major in design and textile technology. While Harbison described his studio time as “priceless,” he said the most inspirational experience of his academic career at NC State was when he and several other students collaborated to present a fashion show featuring their work. This experiment evolved into what is now known as Art 2 Wear, an annual student fashion show and highly anticipated campus tradition.
During his time at NC State, Harbison pursued summer internships in New York City with fashion industry icons Jack Spade and Michael Kors.
“The connections I made there were pivotal,” said Harbison.
He maintained those contacts while completing his undergraduate degree at NC State, and after spending a year abroad following graduation, he returned to New York. There Harbison studied at Parsons the New School for Design and resumed his internship at Michael Kors, interviewing periodically for full-time positions that were not approved. Harbison continued to cultivate both his skills and his professional relationships, and ultimately landed a design position on the Michael Kors Women’s Collection team. He went on to design for Luca Luca and Billy Ried before taking the leap to go out on his own.
His venture, HARBISON, received the necessary seed funding at the beginning of 2013, and Harbison worked diligently over the next six weeks to have his first collection ready for market in February 2013. His work caught the attention of Vogue; in fact, readers of the magazine will find Harbison featured in its famously thick September issue.
Harbison views the knowledge and connections he acquired in the early years of his career as the “backbone” of his own collection.
“I collaborate on all fronts – every aspect of the design, development, sales, and marketing processes is done by way of a partnership with friends, former co-workers, or individuals I’ve met through networking.”
Harbison relies on these partnerships to overcome his greatest challenge: never having enough time. He sees collaboration not only as the key to improving one’s chances for success, but as an infinitely more rewarding experience than going it alone.
When asked what advice he’d give Park Scholars and other NC State students who aspire to a career in the fashion industry, Harbison replied, “Never believe that studying outside of New York, London, or Paris decreases the likelihood of your success in fashion. Do what you do well, and it will get noticed. But do it well. Very well.”