September 22, 2017

Lone Star(s)

Texan Levi Palmer is the newly crowned prince of British fashion

This spring, Levi Palmer and his partner Matthew Harding took home £100,000 and one of the most competitive awards in fashion—the British Fashion Council/Vogue Designer Fashion Fund. The duo celebrated at London’s opulent Hotel Café Royal—a world away from the farming community south of Waco where Palmer spent his Goth-fueled teens that inspired the Fall 2017 collection.

Palmer’s formal training began with a 2002 move to Dallas to study design at El Centro Community College downtown. “I love that school. They gave me the foundation I needed,” he says.

Winning an FGI Dallas competition sent Palmer to London where he met native Brit and fellow student Harding. In 2012, they partnered to launch the shirt-focused line Palmer Harding. The London-based label now includes dresses, skirts, even capes, but they’re still widely known as “the shirt boys.”

Fresh off the heels of the BFC/Vogue award, with a line that’s celebrated by critics, and sold in some of the world’s most prestigious stores, Palmer is busier than ever—but not too busy for a homecoming. We chatted with the designer about his latest collection and Dallas roots.

Photo | Damian Foxe
Photo | Damian Foxe

Fall 2017 nods to your youth in Texas. How did you decide to go in that direction?
It was actually Matthew’s idea to explore my youth. He was inspired by some shirts I’d made while at Central Saint Martins, which had a bit of a gothic undertone. He felt those early years and my naive approach to design were an interesting theme. We played with rudimentary pattern cutting in the way I did when was I a teenager—but with more sophistication. For instance, back then I didn’t know how to pattern cut, so I just cut holes and figured out where to place my arms or head to make the most impactful look.

You’ve talked about fashion and its ability to be an armor—especially during your youth. What does fashion mean to you today?
Fashion is a way of externalizing your personality. That could mean an armor when you need to boost your confidence or enhance an aspect of yourself you’re proud of. It can also be a way of showing openness of vulnerability by sharing your imagination and creativity with the strangers you pass on the street. This willingness to separate yourself from the crowd and make yourself vulnerable is often a sign of the most confident.

Did you head to Dallas specifically to go to fashion school?
I actually moved to Dallas from Austin because my boyfriend at the time was offered a promotion and transferred cities. I knew Dallas had a very developed fashion industry, so after moving I started looking at schools in the area to decide which would be best. I discovered El Centro and really loved that they offered a Pattern Cutting and Design degree. The instructors were so supportive and gave me the foundation I needed to build my career and continue my education.

Tell us a little bit about those years in your life.
El Centro was great. I was there from 2002–2005 and was part of an enthusiastic class who pushed one another. We’d be there from 8 a.m. until midnight most nights, just pattern cutting and playing with design. At the time, FGI Dallas offered a student competition called Career Day and a lot of our class entered. We ended up being awarded the most prizes out of every university that applied—our little community college! I won “Best in Show,” which awarded me a month of study in London and a month in Paris. It was that award that made me fall in love with London and gave me the confidence to apply to Central Saint Martin.

What do you love most about shirting?
In your first year at CSM, the fashion courses all do a shirt project. For many, this is the first real making project they’ve ever done, so a lot of the students don’t have the most successful finished garments. Because of my pattern cutting education in Dallas, I was able to come to class with six immaculate shirts—we only had to do one—and ended up selling them to classmates and tutors. After Matthew and I graduated, we were discussing starting a label and thought back to that project. We realized no one was doing directional shirting, so why not apply our creativity to it? Since then, we’ve used the shirt as a blank canvas to create new shapes and attitudes and have developed a strong following.

What do you miss about Texas?
I miss my friends and family, obviously. I speak with a lot of them regularly but it’s different from giving them a hug or sharing a meal with them. I’m in Dallas at least once a year and always stay at Jan Strimple’s house. She’s become a surrogate fashion mother to Matthew and myself. And I always have to visit the kids and staff at El Centro. Forty Five Ten is a must for retail therapy. And then of course, Aw Shucks. It’s actually one of my top 10 favorite restaurants in the world.”

The Details: Shop the latest Palmer // Harding collection at Forty Five Ten, 1615 Main Street.