tim walker captures charles jeffrey at a career turning point
When Charles Jeffrey presented his joyously self-referential autumn/winter 19 show back in January, it felt like the end of one thing and the start of another. Where the Scottish designer goes next will be an awfully big adventure.
Photography Tim Walker
For anyone who has followed Charles Jeffrey’s career over the last few years, his autumn/winter 19 show at London Fashion Week Men’s had the distinct feel of a line drawn underneath it. One door closing. Another knocked off its hinges entirely. Titled Darling Little Sillies — a pull from J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan — it saw the Scottish designer deliver on his Bright Young Thing tag to create the biggest and best LOVERBOY show to date: a superlative display of friendship, love and beauty. “It just seemed right to take stock and be like, okay, what have we done?” Charles says four months on. “Who are the people that we’ve brought on this journey? Why have we done the shows that we’ve done and what does that mean?”
A fixture at LFW since his debut at Fashion East MAN for spring/summer 16, it felt fitting that Charles presented his collection in the industrial surroundings of the Wapping Hydraulic Power Station: its disused engines providing a nod to the Factory-like beginnings of LOVERBOY and its origin story as a multi-headed-monster-cum-club-night, fed on a rotating cast of artists, musicians, photographers and ne’er-do-wells. Its spirit of community informed much of the casting too: the show was populated with LOVERBOY archetypes, honouring the friends and characters that have been part of Charles’s process. Choreographed by creative director Theo Adams, and cast by Madeleine Østlie, many of the pieces in the collection were created in collaboration — with Matthew Needham providing some upcycled fashion wonders, jewellery from Luke Smith and it all came topped off with the millinery magic of Leo Carlton. It saw models such as Maxim Magnus and Finn Buchanan walk in their own individual haute couture looks, while Instagram-found new faces sat in a bathtub overflowing with books. The effect was half catwalk show, half performance art; bringing LOVERBOY to life in its most fully formed iteration yet.
“We just wanted to communicate a world,” he says. “I think that’s why I was so inspired by Peter Pan books, that idea of Neverland and the Lost Boys. We wanted to inject that timelessness into the space. I wanted it to feel like a bubble where time had stopped.” This was Charles at his most joyously personal. While the clothes seemed rooted in the decadence of the 20s — all flapper dresses and elongated silhouettes — it was, unmistakably, him: from the Matisse-inspired cutouts and tartan tippets, to the signature glamorous androgyny, this time traced back to those lionhearted subjects captured by Cecil Beaton in the decade before the world descended into the horror of fascism and World War Two. Its parallels with the similar position we find ourselves in today didn’t go unnoticed, underscored in the accompanying show notes with Peter Pan’s tutoring of the Lost Boys to “take care of everything that’s smaller than you”.
“It felt really instinctive,” Charles says of the show’s message. “There are still laws out there that hurt the LGBTQ community. There are rights for women that are still being fought for. We’re constantly being bombarded by everything that’s going wrong in the world. I think the natural inclination is to help the people around you. Given the kind of platform I have been given, I never want it to be like it’s all about me. It’s about a shared goal. When the tidal wave comes, you’re going to hug the person next to you, not push them away.”
He breathes out and adds a self-deprecating “deep”, but the choice of words and the message of the show do add up to a very real sense of maturity. At 28 years old, with a successful business under his belt, Charles is no longer the club kid upstart, painting his head blue and letting loose at Dalston’s cult nightspot Vogue Fabrics (although he can still let loose, let us tell you). He’s the LVMH Prize-nominated, British Fashion Award-winning head of a label, “speaking”, as fashion critic Tim Blanks put it, “to young London the way Alexander McQueen spoke to his generation”.
“I want LOVERBOY to last for a long time,” he says. “I don’t want it to be one of these things that potentially has a ten year run and that’s seen as a lucky kind of feat. I want it to be more than that. I want it to have a different life and a different path. And I think in order to get it to that stage, I have to be organised and business-minded.” These days, Charles indulges his id in other ways. “It comes when I’m drawing, when I’m doing abstracts,” he says. “It comes from engaging with work or a media in a different way that I haven’t done before.”
And isn’t that what LOVERBOY is all about? “It’s never just been about clothes. It’s about people. It’s about a space which people, anyone, can come and step in.” And the kind of ad hocism with which he now approaches it hints at a designer finally realising his world, in the most complete sense. The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up has grown up. “I’m doing exactly what my 17-year-old self wanted to do and planned to do, which was to have my own label and show in London and do the whole Fashion East thing, and do my own show, do what Christopher Kane was doing or what McQueen was doing or what Galliano was doing,” he says. “And I’m doing that, but I’m also trying other things as well which are unique to me and the brand.”
“LOVERBOY’s always been this amorphous thing,” he continues. “It’s always been something that’s never necessarily adhered to a certain binary code and maybe it’s not a fashion brand in three or four years time. Maybe it’s a series of exhibitions or a radio station, or a TV channel. Why not? There are so many things that I’m interested in and so many outputs I want to use. Maybe it’s because I’m an attention seeker, or maybe it’s just that I want to try everything. But I’d still want LOVERBOY to be there.”
Photography Tim Walker
Styling Charles Jeffrey
Hair John Vial and Revlon. Make-up Lucy Bridge at Streeters using MAC Cosmetics. Set design Simon Costin. Photography assistance James Stopforth. Styling assistance Sam Thompson, Angus McAvoy and Ruby Rainbow Elking. Digital technician James Naylor. Production Jeffrey Delich at Padbury Production. Casting AAMØ Casting. Printed Graeme Bulcraig at Touch Digital. Models Jude, Kieran, Sebastian and Aramish at Tomorrow is Another Day. Grace at Elite. Moon, Davide and Kevin at Nii. Joey and Noah at Supa. Jenkin, Jelle and Aminat at Troy. Brooks, Fish and Luke at Strong. Gulliver at AMCK. Matthew, Nando, Tom and Sonny at ANTI Agency.
Models wear all clothing Charles Jeffrey autumn/winter 19 with upcycled pieces by Matthew Needham, jewellery by Luke V Smith and headpieces by Leo Carlton.