Gary Harvey: A Man For All Awards Seasons

Green Carpet Challenge

First published in 2011. Words by Livia Firth

I’m delighted to tell you that my gown for the Oscars will be made by South-East London’s finest, Gary Harvey.

Some recent history as to how Gary and I got together (if that’s the right expression!):

Back in September as Noi Collective we staged a really fun one-off event at the Garden Party to Remember, where Eighties popstar, Sinitta, was up-cycled live in front of the audience and we created an atelier live on stage with help from Junky Styling, John Paul Flintoff, Orsola de Castro, Traid and many others. In the mayhem, Gary Harvey, the former creative director for Levi’s created a dress from scraps of waste from Vivienne Westwood’s studio. “I need someone to model this dress,” he said. “I’ll do it!” said the fantastic Erin O’Connor. She ducked behind a screen on stage and emerged in a piece that was made by Gary in approximately 20 minutes. Somehow he’d brought together an old Mickey Mouse T-shirt and a grey/silvery stripe stiff cotton. And made it work.

Of course Gary is very well known in the sphere of sustainable style where he has brought his own band of eco-consciousness to couture. A former creative director of Levi Strauss he only began designing when he needed a dramatic piece for a jeans shoot and ended up using 42 pairs of Levi 501s to create a dress. Then he became the king of reuse. He is now known for creating extraordinary silhouettes out of everyday garments – previous pieces have been made from 18 Burberry macs, 28 army jackets, and 30 copies of the Financial Times.

You will guess these are pretty enormous gowns! Throughout this challenge I’ve always steered away from gowns that are too big. So I have to say I was a little nervous. Would I be in 4,000 yoghurt pots? 200 copies of the phone book? I had no idea!

Fortunately Gary did. Without doing the big reveal I can tell you that Gary’s design is made from 11 different dresses. He has scoured Southeast London for the right pieces, from Cancer Research shops to vintage boutiques, such as 360 DEGREES-VINTAGE in Greenwich, which is owned by Kit Allen and her daughter, Lynn Burgess. All the pieces we are using are from the era of The King’s Speech. Gary is all about authenticity so wanted to be sure we get the right fabrics and the right vibe. Every element – including zips, corsetry and the original toiles – is recycled. The only thing that we’ve used that is new is the thread that actually stitches the dress together.

And rather than prescribing his eco-vision, Gary allows you to be part of the design. I hope both of our outlooks and personalities will be evident in the finished piece – this is where Rome meets Eltham! His construction techniques are from a different era, based around a corset. If feel it’s a really authentic piece and I’m so excited about wearing it.