Entertainer Sheryl Lee Ralph performs "Lift Every Voice", often referred to as the Black national anthem, prior to the NFL Super Bowl 57 football game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Philadelphia Eagles, Sunday, Feb. 12, 2023, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

The small town of Lincolnton, N.C., has a little-known connection to Sunday’s Super Bowl. 

Before the game, when actress Sheryl Lee Ralph sang “Lift Every Voice,” a.k.a the Black National Anthem, she stunned in a deep-red jumpsuit that left some wondering who put her look together. 

The mind behind the design is Lincolnton native Charles Elliott Harbison, founder of luxury clothing brand HARBISON. (Lincolnton, population 11,000-plus, is located about 38 miles northwest of Charlotte.)

Now based in Los Angeles, Harbison stitched the jumpsuit in just two weeks, Ralph’s daughter, Ivy Maurice, told QCity Metro. 

After learning that her mother was scheduled to sing at the Super Bowl, Maurice knew her mother would need an outfit put together by a Black designer. Recalling Harbison’s 18-piece collection from Harlem’s Fashion Row, Maurice reached out to Harbison to discuss her vision. 

“I think Charles Harbison just has an incredible vision when it comes down to how bold his structures are, how eclectic his use of fabric and style is, and I knew that it would just be an incredible combo between me, my mom and Charles,” Maurice said during a telephone interview. 

After Ralph’s Super Bowl performance, Harbison took to Instagram to thank his supporters. 

“Just the outpouring of support and Sheryl and Ivy’s belief in me… it’s been hard and these mile markers, these moments really make it so that this all makes sense,” he shared in an Instagram story.

Harbison did not respond to requests for comment from QCity Metro.

Designer fashion, Southern roots

Harbison launched his eponymous clothing line in 2013, producing luxury menswear, womenswear and accessories. 

Popular fashion magazines, including Vogue and Essence, have described his pieces as gender-fluid, inclusive, colorful and innovative. And famous names including Beyonce, Ava Duverany and Michelle Pfieffer have worn his creations. 

In various interviews, Harbison has discussed how his Southern upbringing influences how he sees fashion, noting on his website that his mother was a source of inspiration for his interest in fashion.

Designer Charles Harbison attends a fashion show during fall/winter Fashion Week in New York  City in 2014
NEW YORK, NY – FEBRUARY 08, 2014: Designer Charles Harbison attends presentation for Charles Harbison at New York Fall/Winter 2014 Fashion week at Milk Studio

Growing up, he watched his mother prepare for special occasions and took notice of how she assembled her outfits, noting her use of “bold hues,” “monochromatic ensembles,” or finishing her look with a “signature accessory,” the website states. 

Harbison has also credited literature with shaping how he sees the world, with the Bible serving as a foundation.

In a 2016 interview with Literary Hub, Harbison said reading Psalm 23 affirmed who he was and how he thought.

“I needed to find information that would tell me that there was an entity that was thinking on my behalf when I felt that even the people and the things around me weren’t thinking on my behalf,” the publication quoted Harbison as saying. 

In an interview with Harper’s Bazaar, Harbison discussed how his love for color came from nature, the “ugly-mismatched things” in his grandmother’s home and the “loud” jackets that his mother wore in the ’80s. 

hella crazy ride’

Harbison holds a bachelor’s degree in textile science and a bachelor’s degree in art and design, textiles and fine arts from North Carolina State University. He later studied textiles in Central Asia and Europe before attending Parsons The New School for Design School of Fashion in New York in 2006. 

Harbison has worked with brands including Michael Kors, Luca Luca and Billy Reid, but he has described the origins of his own brand as something that happened almost by accident. 

While working for Billy Reid, he left exhausted and began traveling and diving into various literary works, which inspired his first sample collection. 

“I came back to New York from St. Croix. I had an interview at some collection, and when I walked in I thought, ‘I’ll be damned if I can do that,'” Harbison told Autre Magazine in 2016.

With Fashion Week approaching, he said, “I just made my own samples and shot something myself. Those images fell in the hands of Mark Holgate at Vogue and Virginie Smith. It’s been a hella crazy ride since.”

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Daija Peeler covers arts, culture, and faith in Charlotte.

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