Last week I sat down to watch the new Blitz kids documentary, Blitzed: The 80s Blitz Kids' Story, certifying my love for all things New Romantics. As I watched, enamoured by the party goers of the 80s reminiscing on the iconic Blitz club, not to mention Stephen Jones nonchalantly admitting to his pretentiousness as a Saint Martins student back in the day, I wondered, 'who's our equivalent now?' Is there still a party culture that exists in fashion, allowing people to be their authentic selves and nothing but? Or did lockdown cancel that along with everything else that involves having even the tiniest bit of pleasure? I can't speak for the future, especially a post-COVID one, but I can vouch for the fact that pre-2020, there most certainly was an equivalent of today thanks to Charles Jeffrey's hot, sweaty and most of all notorious, LOVERBOY nights. Earlier this week, I sat down with the young designer to interview him about his new A/W 21 collection, Gloom. During our zoom, I asked him if he'd gotten round to watching the Blitz Kids documentary on NOWTV, 'no, but I was asked to be in it actually'; he responds. Of course he was! How could I or anyone else think otherwise?
The bygone LOVERBOY nights of a forgotten age were chaotic to say the least. They'd hypnotise you from the moment you arrived, forcing you to submit yourself to the moment, allowing yourself to be unapologetically you. They were uncontrollable at worse, sensual at best. (Often both, though.) Partying into the early hours the following day, sweaty bodies rubbing up against one another (remember when that wasn't illegal?), make-up melting, love pouring out. If you ever went to the club night, there was no mistaking you were anywhere else, apart from maybe the odd feeling of being transported back to 1989, the backdrop of Leigh Bowery's Taboo nightclub awaiting.
From the outside, LOVERBOY appeared to be wildly dazzling, almost as if everyone automatically left their problems at the door following the unspoken rule of 'NO ENTRY IF YOU'RE FEELING GLOOMY' present in every guest's mind. LOVERBOY nights were essentially swirls of excitement mixed in with a sea of smiles plastered on the most irresistible makeup looks of the season. When accepted by the majestical head-spinning universe that made up the Charles Jeffrey LOVERBOY aesthetic, being your authentic self never seemed happier (nor more fashionable). Careless dancing, careless kissing and careless singing; isn't that what life is all about?
Jeffrey assures me that the late nights aren't always about the hot sweats and passionate moments filled with joy despite my previous thoughts. 'There's a darkness to it too,' he admits, which brings us to his A/W 21 collection, Gloom. 'I wanted to emphasise the idea that it's important to feel darkness; it's important to feel negative emotions and embrace them.' The Lao Tzu quote, 'The flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long' springs to mind. LOVERBOY is undeniably about having fun, and the more fun, the better. Alas, things can get tricky when you refuse to let in any other emotion. 'When you completely deny it (the sadness), something worse will happen, and that's what I'm trying to portray.'
There's undoubtedly a poignant truth to Jeffrey's words, even if it is a bitter pill to swallow for some. It's comforting to know that even the people that appear to be having the best time, dressed up to the nines looking nothing but utterly fabulous, are, at the end of the day, only humans too. Humans with beating hearts, with brains that run a bit too fast sometimes - no one can truly escape their feelings - and it's imperative to embrace all aspect of life in its entirety. 'I think everyone sees LOVERBOY as positive and a joyous clubby brand, but there are moments in that and in life that can be very dark - this collection is about including all of that.'
The clothes this season also speak of this idea of 'gloom' that Jeffrey has taken on. Always known to create designs that are often associated with the brightest of colours and illustrations so turbulent they sometimes make you feel like you're in a Jackson Pollock painting, Jeffrey's A/W 21 collection is a bit more sombre in tone, and in colour. The press release, written by Jay McCauley and Fanella Hitchcock, refers to Gloom as a specific 'stillness': 'The stillness of an Irving Penn portrait, of a daguerreotype, of a Vanitas painting: the fruit is rotting, and everyone aches from holding a pose, but in this anticipation there is excitement. The moment before 'curtain up' is stretched out, suspended, pregnant with potential.' This stillness isn't directly translated through to the core of the collection but rather the complete opposite. There's movement and lots of it; the tumbling of fabrics, repeated use of threadbare tartan (of course, this is a Charles Jeffrey collection after all) and the all-round unkempt look, making the models appear as though they've been caught in a frantic state of panic or the clothes resembling the brink of something, but not quite there yet. Make no mistake though, this collection is unapologetically Charles Jeffrey LOVERBOY through and through meaning once again, the differences between Jeffrey's work and the look worn by Adam Ant for his 1980 Ant Music recording onTop of the Pops are second to none.
Although Gloom may feel like a bit of an unexpected emotion for the happy-go-lucky club kid's designer Charles Jeffrey to embrace, there's more than meets the eye rather than just feeling sad or overwhelmed. Choosing to follow on from his S/S 21 collection Healing, Jeffrey told me this felt like a natural progression for him. 'The Healing for me was about smiling in the face of adversity, moving forwards through the pain and trying to be as uplifting as possible.' Indeed, when the world is in turmoil as it was last summer, someone has to inject somewhat of a feel-good factor into fashion. Jeffrey went on to reveal that, 'During lockdown, you don't get the same sort of validation after a show, so I had this moment of okay, wow, we've just done this new project, and it's great that we've got it out, but the world hasn't changed. I was burdened by the fact I had to adhere to all these lockdown rules, along with everything else going on at the time.'
Speaking true words of wisdom and acknowledging the times where it's harder than usual to 'smile in the face of adversity', Jeffrey went on to explain that, 'You can only be positive for so long and for me, it felt right to discuss this idea of feeling low and validating that as part of my actual healing process.' Sounds like gloom's the word. The Christmas period also solidified Jeffrey's reasoning for adopting the word 'Gloom' for this collection. Like everyone else, the designer's Christmas was everything but designer. With Londoners led to believe they'd be allowed a break from restrictions around the Christmas period, the UK government decided to scrap their plans last minute, urging everyone to stay put and not go ahead with Christmas celebrations. 'Christmas was when I felt the pandemic at its peak because, like so many other Londoner's, I wasn't able to go home. It was a very dark period for me actually, and even though we had conceived the idea of Gloom beforehand, the feeling I felt the past winter emphasised this whole thing and set it in stone for me.'
An unlikely inspiration for Jeffrey's A/W 21 theme of gloom was also the one and only Dr Seuss. 'During that period, I became interested in these paintings called Midnight Paintings by Dr Seuss.' For anyone who isn't familiar with the children's icon and his creative flair, the Midnight Paintings is a body of work by the late artist that liken to the style of Hieronymus Bosch yet remain unmistakably Seuss-like in their character. 'He'd done the body of work for his own personal pleasure', Jeffrey tells me, 'the Midnight Paintings are entirely opposite to this joyous cartoony world that we so strongly associate with him; they're sombre, delicate and dark and most importantly, feel like they're in transit which is what I wanted to convey too, a transitory state.'
As for the film's concept, the piece of work had already been made in collaboration with a friend sometime before. For the sake of collaborating on a personal project in lockdown, Jeffrey teamed up with his long-time collaborator, and personal friend Thurston Redding and the rest is history. 'There was no intention of linking that project with this collection,' Jeffrey informs me. 'It became based upon this idea of limbo we all find ourselves in and being bombarded with negativity all of the time through television or any social media, really. It's about this existential feeling that can only be likened to Harold Ramis' 1993 Groundhog Day, where everything is happening over and over and over again, and we wanted to create an introspective character who was going into their own psyche, exploring the chambers of the mind.'
With movement direction by another frequent LOVERBOY collaborator, Kate Coin, Gloom slowly started to come together, and coupled with Jeffrey's feelings of deflation, it felt like a natural progression to incorporate the film by Redding into A/W 21. Jeffrey further notes that his research process is, like many young designers of the moment, distinctly hands-on. 'I usually begin by styling looks from old LOVERBOY shows to build silhouettes. From there, I'll pay closer attention to detail and will go on to transform the garments', changing them any way he sees fit. 'Last season we couldn't do that because of the acclimatisation to the lockdown rules and so resorted to designing on a computer which is very flat.' He went on to acknowledge that the original 'primary' way of working '...allows for different techniques that we wanted to try to shine through.' I failed to ask about the techniques he was referring to, as I was more drawn to the photomontages on outerwear which are a new addition alongside his signature whacky illustrations. 'It's a nice evolution, and we had a lot of fun using stills from the film to print onto some of the pieces; it all felt very...', he pauses for a hot second before carrying on, 'circular.'
If Charles Jeffrey's Gloom has taught us one thing, it's that designers are human. Indeed, the best designers aren't afraid to be. They, too, like us, experience emotion and everything else that goes along with the fortune of having a beating heart, from the positive to the negative; this year has been undoubtedly tough for all of us. It's OK to feel Gloom; we wouldn't be human otherwise.