On a warm evening in early June, a small crowd gathered outside a home in Grandmont Rosedale to watch a Cass Tech student embark on a rite of passage: senior prom. A backdrop image of stage curtains hung from the garage, a red "carpet" made of tissue paper was rolled out down the driveway. At its end, between a pair of red-and-black balloon columns, the star of the show, India, posed for photos in a backless, floor-length red dress.
Amid the coo-ing crowd of mostly older family members, the dapper designer behind the look that would carry India through the night snapped photos with a Canon hanging from his neck. A T-shirt he'd had custom-made for the occasion served as an identifier: In red glitter lettering, designed to look like dripping paint, was the hashtag #HarryRich.
Harry Rich is actually Harry Richmond, a 28-year-old self-taught fashion designer born and raised in Detroit. Like many artists, Richmond's craft is not his primary source of income, and he spends his days working at a Chrysler factory. But this June saw Richmond clocking almost as many hours at the sewing machine as on the line. Six years of building his brand through social media and word-of-mouth had collided with the elaborate affair that is prom in Detroit, landing Richmond right where he wanted to be — designing high-end custom gowns and selling them for more than $600 a pop.
Though dressmaking seems like a natural fit for Richmond, who was raised as the only boy in a household with six women, he got his start in men's streetwear. Richmond began by cultivating his own style during a stint working at the old Snyx Sneaker Bar on Linwood while still in college. He rocked oversized coats before they were cool, swapped baggy jeans for skinnies at a time when people told him it was "the gayest thing ever," and customized his Timberlands with patterned swatches and paint. He started designing in 2012, when he forecast a trend that had yet to hit stores — jackets with contrasting sleeves.
"Everywhere I went, I could not find a denim jacket with cheetah-print sleeves," he said. "A young lady in one store was like 'Men don't wear print sleeves,' so I was like 'OK, yeah, I'll make it.'"
After soliciting help from a designer for whom he'd previously modeled, Richmond used his little cousin's Bratz Doll-brand sewing machine to bring his vision to life. Almost as soon as he rocked it, four friends put in requests for their own jackets. Later that year, celebrities were seen wearing the same look at the BET Awards.
"Growing up, outside of my neighborhood and my community, I was a shy guy, not too confident in myself," said Richmond. "But putting stuff together ... my confidence grew. With designing clothes you have to be really comfortable with who you are.
"Today, I don't feel like nobody's greater than me, nobody," he said, laughing.
Many people also don't have as much drive. In the limited time outside his 40-hour work week, Richmond makes dresses, which typically take about 14 hours apiece to produce. He does this all as he continues to grieve the death of his mother, who passed from a heart attack in March. She'd had health problems in the years leading up to her passing, and Richmond had moved to Highland Park to serve as her primary caregiver.
As he hung back from the crowd congregated around a smiling India and her date, Richmond described how he finds the strength to keep going.
"Some days are good, some days are bad," he said. "This morning I woke up like 'No,' but I had to remember I had a prom [send-off] today and this is really a great feeling. Proms and making dresses is so stressful, but seeing how happy they are at the end has to be one of the greatest feelings ever."
From our 2018 People Issue.
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