Growing up “watching women be disrespected and mistreated”, it was only logical for Tottenham raised and London based designer Ricky Wesley Harriott to channel all his creative power into celebrating his heroine’s individual strengths. That’s why, for Wesley Harriot’s A/W 17 collection, he looked to no other than Japanese underground gangs of the 1980s, where women were proving themselves amongst male dominated environments. With inspiration drawn from the fearless female riders of Bōsōzoku, the Japanese motorcycling scene, and the women of Yakuza, mafia-like underground organisations, Wesley’s quest is to “channel those experiences and views into visual narratives celebrating that powerful force”.
With such a strong mind-set, it’s no surprise that what first and foremost triggered him about the women of Bosozoku and Yakuza was their uncompromising approach to standing their own ground: “The gangs these women joined are so much to do with masculine ideals and points of view, I became obsessed with the idea of these women being respected and feared in the same manner as their male counterparts,” he explains, “I loved that when a woman was a part of these gangs her gender wasn’t her weapon it was her ability to handle her business and demand respect.”
Questioning gender and stereotypical approaches alike, Wesley turned to streetwear and workwear to visualize his empowering viewpoint: “For me it was all about crafting an intimidating silhouette. I designed this collection like a uniform and would constantly think how a group of these women coming towards me would make me feel. If I was locked in a room with women in these garments, I would either want to join them or get out of there as quick as possible.” To make his vision feel as authentic as possible, he also incorporated key elements of those women’s fashion into his designs: “I looked to the Bosozoku uniform, the workwear! It’s so genderless when you see them standing together, you don’t think ‘he’ or ‘she’ because their presence defies even looking for a gender”.
With mens- and womenswear being often shown together now, designers like Grace Wales Bonner giving a new layer to menswear, and traditional barriers being seemingly broken down, making clothes for a wearer, not the wearer, sure feels like a very now approach. For him, gender is more about the bigger picture, Wesley explains: “Gender doesn’t exist to me so much in my design process. It is more a question of communication. I don’t ever design with the intention to make a person look like a girl or boy, I design with the intention to communicate a message, a feeling, or a story. I wanted it to feel so much less about women looking hot, and more so about women being ready”.
A goal equally as evident in the designer’s S/S 17 collection, where he set out to make women look like fearless Japanese femme fatale, once again drawing from his long term fascination with Anime. “I am constantly building an image for these fictional heroines that I want to place in reality. Growing up I always wished I lived inside some of the manga I would read or the games I would play, so for me it’s about making these women come to live.” With fashion as that bridge into reality, supported by Wesley’s strong believe in clothes as a tool of empowerment, the designer’s goal for his namesake brand of course isn’t any short of that determination: “I want Wesley Harriott to be that brand you wear when you need some armor.”