Vale Harry Watt

Our Creative Director, Chris Kontos, says goodbye to late Adelaide-icon, Harry Watt.

Fashion trailblazers Harry Watt and George Gross. Photograph: John Minihan / Associated Newspapers / Shutterstock

As a child growing up in Adelaide during the 80s, there was a type of glamour that existed within the A-lister fashion and party scene, like something out of my favourite TV show, Dynasty. In a time before social media and reality television was even a thing, if you weren’t printed in the social pages you were no one. I remember always wanting to be part of this amazing scene, attending parties and dressing the likes of Adriana Xenides.

This is when my love of South Australian fashion, glamorous events, and Harry Watt started.

For the younger generations, Harry and his partner George Gross are fashion royalty. The iconic Karl Lagerfeld and Anna Wintour were just starting to make waves in their careers when Harry and George had already created theirs. They led the charge of fashion in Australia and were trailblazers in our industry.

My first memory of Harry (affectionately known as HA to those who knew him well) was when my aunty took me to the opening of an amazing new and exciting shopping centre The Metro at Unley. Everyone was there to celebrate, and I remember walking into to the brand new George Gross and Harry Who store. It was like a dream I never thought would come true. The boutique had a marble counter, the chicest sales ladies, fresh floral arrangements and the most beautifully made clothing I had ever seen. From pink leather to studded fitted blazers to the hottest colours and shoulder pads for days. I was in heaven, and still feel overwhelmed when I think about it. I decided then and there I was going to work in fashion and most definitely for George Gross and Harry Who.

Cut to 15 years later, I had just finished my TAFE SA degree in Fashion Design and was working in retail. I was buyer at the coolest shop in Adelaide, Miss Gladys Sym Choon, where I met designer and local talent, Liza Emanuele. Not only was she running her design business ‘IT Girl’ from their famous Gilbert Street offices, but working closely with Harry on his collections. I was in awe, and was lucky enough to score an interview for an assistant role.

I can’t even remember my interview because I think nerves had got the better of me, but I do remember receiving the call from Harry to tell me I got the job. The fact that he called personally was enough to send me pear shaped, but he called me “my dear boy” which he continued to do over the 15 years I knew him. For two years I worked with the duo, myself and Liza and the team. It was a dream come true.

Harry was cheeky, talented, funny and devilishly handsome. He told the most amazing stories and always brought a lot of laughter to our small office. I don’t think I cut it as an assistant, but I got really great at making an instant coffee, which Harry always complimented me on. Harry taught me that fashion was meant to be fun, and should make a woman feel all amazing emotions, hence his clothing was loved by so many, including the late Princess Diana.

Those who knew Harry knows he loved a party, and God could he organise an amazing one!  If it wasn’t dinner at the Hutt Street apartment for the editors of Harper’s Bazaar, it was celebrating his 70th birthday with feathered burlesque dancers and Champagne flowing.

They boys taught me to work hard but also to take time to celebrate the wins, and those parties were a testament to that.

Over the years, distance and time grew, but my love and respect for Harry remained. It was always a big cuddle and a double kiss with “how are you, my dear boy?” whenever I saw him.

Sometimes it takes the passing of someone like Harry to make you realise how lucky South Australia was to have such an icon representing this state, how much of a trailblazer he and George were. How lucky I was to be in the presence of such greatness and kindness. I will never take for granted the time I spent with Harry, and how he taught me to be fun but stay cool and classy.

The song Somewhere over the rainbow was one of his favourites and, whenever I see one, it will be him telling us that he is around.