The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has upended fashion's old guard. As mass gatherings are banned around the globe thanks to preventative lockdown measures, the runway show as we knew it lies dormant, as does the bricks and mortar retail business. The sense of community that is integral to fashion, preserved through in-person shows, events and parties, is dissipating. Or rather, it is moving online.
Community is the founding statement behind Scottish designer Charles Jeffrey's brand. After moving from Glasgow to London at the age of 18 to undertake a BA in fashion design at Central Saint Martins, Jeffrey searched for a parallel creative venture to fund his MA. The answer? A monthly club night called LOVERBOY, created by Jeffrey and his tribe of friends and collaborators and hosted at Dalston venue VFD (formerly Vogue Fabrics). 'There's a responsibility for all of us to constantly try and build safe spaces for people, whether that's in the work that we do, or in spaces that we create for other people,' said Jeffrey in a 2018 interview with SHOWstudio. The nightlife venture proved to be a smash hit, with Hari Nef, Ib Kamara and Matty Bovan all making appearances on the club circuit in its heyday (Jeffrey later secured the cash to do his MA and studied under the late Louise Wilson at CSM). Although currently on hiatus thanks to lockdown, the LOVERBOY club night is an integral part of the Charles Jeffrey universe - the night informs the brand, and vice versa.
The days of Jeffrey's ecstatic, performative catwalk shows and club nights are on hold for now, but the pandemic has provided new outlets for the designer to translate the LOVERBOY universe into the digital sphere. 'I have been watching and reading lots of content to do with the universe and space,' he says over email. In a new video and series of images capturing Jeffrey's PS21 collection, the alienation of lockdown is channelled through a fisheye lens and distorted soundscapes. The images put the subjects at the centre of their own universe - a feeling which, for many, has been exacerbated during lockdown, while their titles imply the rollercoaster of thoughts and feelings we are prone to during periods of extended isolation. 'So over all of this,' reads one screenshot, 'Seven steps from space,' 'Low battery' and 'The sleeping city' read others. 'Every day is the same,' says a voice in Of not sure what to do, a trippy seven-minute film shot entirely at night by Jeffrey's intern Talia Beale.
Below, we chatted with Charles over email about lockdown, spirituality and self-portraiture during the pandemic.
Violet Conroy: What’s it been like working on your brand during lockdown?
Charles Jeffrey: It's been mostly positive. Working remotely is definitely the new normal, however we have found solutions for ways of working that allow for the LOVERBOY creative process to continue its unique way.
VC: Why did you look to the concept of stream of consciousness for your June 2020 collection?
CJ: I think it's probably the beginning of a larger observation of that concept really - the mind, consciousness, spirituality. I think everyone is very cerebral at the moment due to being confined. I have been watching and reading lots of content to do with the universe and space, and I think it's interesting to see how my work attempts to personify those ideas through material, garment types, print and styling. I have a particular aesthetic and make specific design choices through the current body and mind frame I inhabit. It's interesting to watch what it does.
VC: The lookbook for your S/S 21 collection, shot by Tim Walker, was equally warped. What do you like about these visual effects?
CJ: It's what just feels right for me at the moment. I always adored the work of Man Ray and Andre Kertesz, and had been playing around with my own self-portraiture warping for fun really. But then when I saw it could be a vehicle for pushing the likes of Tim Walker into new paradigms, then it became even more interesting to me.
VC: How did you come up with the idea of the film, Of not sure what to do, and what is some of the messaging behind it?
CJ: I’m lucky in that the work I do allows me to play and try things - I don't have to answer to anyone. This pandemic has been a golden opportunity to explore avenues I would never have had the ability to before. I wanted to make my own sounds, so I did. I worked with my intern, Talia, and gave her free rein to film the jersey collection how she saw fit, and I responded with sound. Talia made two films, one daylight film with myself and one at night with our model Ralph, which is the film you are referring to. Talia proposed something quite dystopic and unending, so I responded with sounds that came from space, and slowed down recordings of myself chatting wet sentences and nattering noises. I then layered it with sounds of vehicles to give it some sort of direction, I had fun! I guess it's up to the viewer how they want to respond to it, but it's just nice to put work out there that isn't so serious or considered. It just is, and that's valid.
VC: What are you looking forward to in 2021?
CJ: Maybe making more sounds/soundscapes. I have no idea what I’m doing but it's new and fun, and really quite rewarding.
The Charles Jeffrey LOVERBOY PS21 collection is available to buy now on LOVERBOY.net. Watch Of not sure what to do and SO over this below.