“I always prefer to be the odd one in the room”

Charles Jeffrey appears in the courtyard of Somerset House, a lively purple-furnished and well-suited beacon, a seven-foot skirt on her platforms, a shock of black hair, a face powdered Elizabethan white, full red lips. It’s a perfect visual representation of his funny, talkative personality. The antithesis of quiet luxury, a balm against the rising blandness of fashion. He describes his appearance as “Robert Smith meets Commes [des Garçons]”. These days this is not the norm for him, “I don’t have the time” he laughs, but he is getting used to his upcoming show and exhibition (both at Somerset House where his studio is also located). “I have to dress up to get into the vibe, hopefully that will help me convey it in the show.”

Charles Jeffrey LOVERBOY, Fluid Gender by Tim Walker (Tim Walker)

Charles Jeffrey LOVERBOY, Fluid Gender by Tim Walker (Tim Walker)

The two will act as ten-year markers of Charles Jeffrey Loverboy, a label born out of a sweaty Dalston basement club night, promoted by fashion magnate Lulu Kennedy (head of the agenda-setting incubator Fashion East) and launched express voice-. a fused, lovely and friendly scene that showed, as all good scenes do, a fulsome, miserable moment in time.

Their conception of the creativity that only London can inspire – a Glasgow estate council boy becomes obsessed with The Horrors and dreams of Central Saint Martins, comes to Hoxton, finds himself, his community, his voice.

Jeffrey’s originality was honored by the late, great Louise Wilson (also Scottish), a renowned director of the Central Saint Martins MA fashion design course, who died suddenly ten years ago, at the end of her first year.

He was at the London fashion boom when all his “children” as Jeffrey says, Jonathan Saunders, Christopher Kane, Richard Nicoll, Meadham Kirchoff, Gareth Pugh, were at their height. That success, says Jeffrey, “felt far away, but also, this is possible.”

All the people who were big in fashion were in London because of her. You are in this room listening to pearls of wisdom that you must absorb, it was electric

Charles Jeffrey

“I was a fit model before I started the course” he recalls, “I was always in tutorials because I was tall. [There was this] I really enjoyed her and her teaching, the drama, the performance… All the people who were big in fashion in London were because of her. You’re in this room listening to pearls of wisdom that you have to absorb, it was electric.” “Scary”, he says, but electric.” He was devastated by the shock of his passing. “I no longer cried for a dying person. We had built a strange bond. I got on very well with her, the Scottish thing, I used to get her lunch.”

It has been a long time since Jeffrey was born at Saint Martins. He worked various jobs to support himself, at Acne on Dover Street, brilliantly at Jack Wills in Angel, and at the George and Dragon; as well as applying for all available scholarships and awards.

Loverboy, the club night held at Vogue Fabrics at the dingy end of Kingsland Road, started by accident as his 24th birthday party in August 2014.

“I wanted to look like one of my drawings” Jeffrey says of his appearance on the first night, “I painted myself blue, wore my big red fur BA jacket. It was about meeting and going. I was listening to The Love Below by OutKast. The owner Lyle loved the night so much, he asked me to do it again…”

Charles Jeffrey LOVERBOY SS18 (Charles Jeffrey)Charles Jeffrey LOVERBOY SS18 (Charles Jeffrey)

Charles Jeffrey LOVERBOY SS18 (Charles Jeffrey)

It became a reign of sorts, a new gathering of the great London audience, in the tradition of the Blitz Kids, enjoying the great appearances from Boombox, the new rave night at the Hoxton Bar and Grill that Jeffrey followed in far away in Comar nan Allt. The weekly night also solved two problems – it gave him income, and through the artwork created to promote it, a ready brand that started his MA work. The Loverboy world – with its Warholian factory overtures – was born.

After graduating he was selected by Fashion East, before gaining New Gen sponsorship, the LVMH Prize and a BFC/Vogue Fashion Fund nomination, as well as a British Fashion Award for Best Emerging Menswear Designer in 2017.

His fashion shows often looked towards provocative show pieces, creating an aesthetic that marries the flourishes and pride of the Westwood-encrusted New Romantics with the darker Goth undertones of his love of The Horrors. There are Celtic and historical references to tartan and punky knitwear, which is confusing but also delightfully British.

His last exhibition show in London was “the first September after the pandemic. I was like “I want to scare people, do McQueen, there’s a jungle, I want to explode a car… There were lasers and screaming pagans…” “I did a couple of romantic shows” he says, “ but I always prefer to be the odd one in the room.” This time, things are a little more day to day(ish). “The idea of ​​the show itself is to go from day to night, how can Loverboy exist in someone’s world when they’re awake until they fall asleep? I love Robert Smith, those old Smash Hits magazine photos of The Cure, just waking up in bed, reading the Beano, brushing their teeth, frying them but that whole look.”

Charles Jeffrey LOVERBOY London Fashion Week Men's SS19 Show (PA Wire/PA Images)Charles Jeffrey LOVERBOY London Fashion Week Men's SS19 Show (PA Wire/PA Images)

Charles Jeffrey LOVERBOY London Fashion Week Men’s SS19 Show (PA Wire/PA Images)

It represents the more commercially desirable label, which is backed by a minority stake from Tomorrow, the fashion group that also invests in Martine Rose’s ex-Vogue venture Coperni and Lucinda Chambers’ Colville. But then you can’t be ten years old in this environment without an eye on the bottom line.

“I like Paul Smith” says Jeffrey, That company is great. I want to be someone that is [around] for 50 plus years. I remember him saying in a speech, “You have to do your thing that will get you the pocket money.” He said one year, he made £7 million on crossovers. I think that’s about being really stuck.” Jeffrey doesn’t do cufflinks, but he does have a strong line in floppy-eared bean hats, which are often a cult seller.

“You want people to be able to see themselves [in the  brand]. That’s important but there’s also that thing, okay, where’s the balance? Some people think we’re a beanie [hat] brand.”

His current thinking on how to reconcile those two aspects is, “It’s finding a way to steer the ship so that people who are building one thing can see something else in what you’re doing. And then the crowd that you want to nurture and bring forward with you, what are you doing in that space?”

Charles Jeffrey at his SS24 show in Milan (Charles Jeffrey)Charles Jeffrey at his SS24 show in Milan (Charles Jeffrey)

Charles Jeffrey at his SS24 show in Milan (Charles Jeffrey)

It’s a healthy consideration for the label which pulls in around £5 million in revenue, much of it from wholesale accounts. In retrospect, it was lucky that Matches quietly dropped it (after being brought forward and promoted by their buying director, Natalie Kingham).

“We were lucky. We have had a big explosion, we have Dover Street (where its art installations are a feature), the hat explosion happened, it is still expanding. But I’m always aware that it can come into play at any moment, we’re at the mercy of the wholesale situation.”

His answer is to look at the brand in the broadest sense, ideas rather than fashion. “It’s not just about clothes, [there’s] performance, nightlife, makeup, music, so many spaces we could take advantage of. My goal in the next three years is to try to plant some seeds in another area. I understand how Loverboy is in people’s lives, how can we entertain people who are not as important as the product?”

Fashion is pop now, but before there was this niche element

Charles Jeffrey

Ten years is a long time in fashion and that is why he wants to commemorate the moment. How difficult would it be to launch Loverboy now? “London in particular is very challenging for young people to come out and do things. It’s really hard, but then” he pauses, “it’s also easy in that respect [with] social media and the reach that people can have with the quick virality of something… Fashion is in the mainstream now, but before there was this niche. Because of the democratization of it by diversifying it, so many more people can contribute, and that’s a good thing, but fashion has changed.”

What about London nightlife? Is he really on his knees?

“If you put your ear to the ground, there’s always something going on. It’s happening all the time. It’s clear that there is a pandemic of strange spaces.” Jeffrey, however, at 33 years of age, has different priorities. “When I finish work, I want to go home” says the former party producer. “I just moved into a new place, I decorated over the weekend. I love it. I want to play video games, chill, maybe have a guy for dinner, I’m sober again, which is really important to me.” A settled home is precious to the ex-army boy who moved around until his parents split up when he was 10 and he settled with his mother and younger sister in Comarnallt, outside Glasgow.

Tilda Swinton and Charles Jeffrey at the Fashion Awards, 2022 (REUTERS)Tilda Swinton and Charles Jeffrey at the Fashion Awards, 2022 (REUTERS)

Tilda Swinton and Charles Jeffrey at the Fashion Awards, 2022 (REUTERS)

The exhibition at Somerset House will document the story of Loverboy, from its earliest club incarnation to pieces worn by Harry Styles and his current muse Tilda Swinton (whom he dressed for the cover of Vogue). Swinton also hopes to attend his show on Friday. He plans to seat his mother next to her.

“She sometimes looks like this for the show, she’s really Carolina Herrera, a long maxi skirt with a white shirt. It is brilliant.” His younger sister, who works at Barlinnie prison in Glasgow, will not be there. “She is on holiday in Japan. They keep me grounded” he says.

Loverboy Tales, Somerset House, 8 June to 1 September

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *