A subtle yet rich language underpins Sarah Harris Gould and Lauren Tapper’s design philosophy.
For the founders of fashion label Harris Tapper, minimalism reigns – just look at their meticulously curated wardrobe staples. But there’s also a feeling that the design duo wants to impart to their customers. Throughout the brand’s five-year evolution, this has remained constant.
“It’s a subtle emotional change,” Tapper tells Broadsheet. “There are little nuances, like how a pant is hemmed, how a shoulder is set, whether there’s canvas interlining in a blazer … and whether you realise it or not, [it] makes you stand up a little bit straighter and have slightly more confidence.”
When the duo started Harris Tapper in 2017, the brand was founded on the simple foundation of shirting – a classic, well-tailored cornerstone of a woman’s wardrobe. Now, they launch four new collections a year of sophisticated, structured suiting and left-of-centre dresses, tops and skirts that easily traverse the office and special occasions.
Harris Gould and Tapper had been working together for two years on the Aotearoa expansion of Topshop (now closed) when they identified a gap in the local market for quality women’s shirting.
With Harris Gould’s background in production, buying and brand management, and Tapper’s design, visual merchandising and public relations experience, their complementary skill sets held them in good stead to fill this niche.
Harris Tapper launched in December 2017 with a capsule collection of 12 shirts in different styles. The brand quickly grew a loyal customer base, thanks to the support of Aotearoa’s tight-knit fashion community, and retail stalwarts such as Olivia Vincent Healy of Muse Boutique and Sonja Batt of Scotties Boutique. Both were the brand’s early brick-and-mortar stockists.
One year in, stores started selling out and there was demand for more. “Customers were directly asking ‘Oh, I’d love a trouser with this’, and ‘Do you sell a full look?’” recalls Harris Gould. The designers listened, and gradually extended to include other garments in 2019 – all designed with the same woman in mind.
“[Our] pieces make it easier for the woman to get dressed in the morning. Our customer is so busy and has such a multifaceted life – they have kids, are running from work to meetings, and we can make it easier in the morning by offering pieces that work seamlessly with each other and work back to other pieces in the wardrobe,” says Tapper.
As well as its new seasonal releases, the brand stays true to its minimalist mindset with an evergreen edit consisting of tried and true best-sellers, such as the Kate shirt, Marta trouser and Irving trouser that never go out of stock – or style.
While Harris Gould and Tapper have found their confidence and commitment to core wardrobe essentials, it’s been both an intuitive and data-driven business journey. “We’ve had to listen to our own voice,” says Tapper on the brand’s decision-making and design process. “And trust what we’re doing,” adds Harris Gould, who draws on her extensive buying experience to ensure there’s a commercial element to their creative endeavours. “For pre-autumn 2023 we analysed the last five years of data and looked at what our best-sellers were – our best-selling colours, shapes – and have tweaked them and put them into this collection … timeless shapes that you can trust, and that we’re becoming known for.”
The launch sees the brand’s understated, “quietly luxurious” elegance come through in a concise edit of 30 pieces.
Harris Gould and Tapper often look to the arts for inspiration. This time, they drew references from the portraits of Austrian expressionist painter Egon Schiele’s, and French interior and product designer Andree Putman’s functional approach to everyday objects.
The resulting collection is both striking and pared back, an assured release that consolidates the brand’s identity. “Our roots are still there. It’s part of our evolution. Pre-autumn 2023 is so us: it’s sophisticated, it’s minimalist, it’s tailored. It’s what we think the wardrobe needs and what we want to wear. If we wouldn’t wear it, then it’s not in the collection,” explains Tapper.
Harris Tapper dipped into international luxury retail in 2021 and was stocked for a time at Deborah Symond O’Neil’s Mode Sportif in Sydney. It also held a two-month pop-up at iconic London department store Harrods.
But despite finding success offshore, Harris Gould and Tapper acknowledge there’s still room to grow in their own backyard. They recently refurbished their inner-city Auckland showroom as an appointment-only space for clients to have the complete Harris Tapper experience. “Relationships are really important to us,” says Harris Gould. “They always have been.”
“[Seeing] someone put on [Harris Tapper], and watching their behaviour change, that’s what design really is. When you make something and the proportions and the fit and the fabric and everything comes together,” adds Tapper. “It’s all the little details that have a gravitational pull towards excellence, and that’s what we’re chasing.”