“I always prefer to be the fool in the room”

Charles Jeffrey appears in the courtyard of Somerset House, a vibrant beacon of purple kilt and suit, standing seven feet tall on his platforms, a mop of black hair, an Elizabethan white-powdered face, full red lips. He is the perfect visual representation of his fun, outgoing personality. The antithesis of quiet luxury, a balm against the increasing dullness of fashion. He describes his look as “Robert Smith meets Commes [des Garçons]”. These days this isn’t the norm for him, “I haven’t got time,” he laughs, but he’s currently getting into the mood for his upcoming show and exhibition (both at Somerset House, where his studio is also located). “I have to dress up to get into the atmosphere, which will hopefully help me express it in the show.”

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

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

Both will serve as markers of ten years of Charles Jeffrey Loverboy, a label born from a sweaty club night in Dalston’s basement, championed by fashion fairy Lulu Kennedy (head of agenda-setting incubator program Fashion East) and articulating a gothic style. fused, queer-friendly scene that, as all good scenes do, captured an overwhelming, raw moment in time.

Its conception is illustrative of the creativity that only London can inspire: a Glasgow councilor 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 honed by the late, great (also Scottish) Louise Wilson, legendary director of the Central Saint Martins MA fashion design course, who died suddenly ten years ago while he was with her at the end of the first year.

It was in the heyday of London fashion when all her ‘babies’, as Jeffrey puts it: Jonathan Saunders, Christopher Kane, Richard Nicoll, Meadham Kirchoff and Gareth Pugh, were at their peak. That success says that Jeffrey “felt far away, but also: this is achievable.”

All the people who were big in fashion in London were because of her. You’re in this room and you hear pearls of wisdom that you have to absorb, it was electric

Charles Jeffery

“I was a fit model before I started the course,” he recalls. “I was always in extra classes because I was tall. [There was this] the whole appeal of 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 and you hear pearls of wisdom that you have to absorb, it was electric. “Terrifying,” he adds, but electric.” He was devastated by her shocking death. ‘I’ve never cried more for someone dying. We had built up a strange bond. I got on very well with her, that Scottish thing, I always made her lunch.

Jeffrey’s existence at Saint Martins had long been a busy one. He worked various jobs to support his livelihood, at Acne in Dover Street, brilliantly incongruous at Jack Wills in Angel, and at the George and Dragon; as well as applying for every available scholarship and award.

Loverboy, the club night at Vogue Fabrics on the seedy side of Kingsland Road, accidentally started as his 24th birthday party in August 2014.

“I tried to look like one of my drawings,” Jeffrey says of his first nighttime look. “I painted myself blue and wore my big red BA faux fur jacket. It was about meeting and dating. I listened to The Love Below by OutKast. The owner Lyle liked the evening so much he asked me to do it again doing…’

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

Charles Jeffrey LOVERBOY SS18 (Charles Jeffrey)

It became a revival of sorts, a new gathering of London’s dramatically dressed scenesters, in the tradition of the Blitz Kids, with the extravagant looks of Boombox, the now rave night at the Hoxton Bar and Grill that Jeffrey had followed from afar in Cumbernauld. The weekly evening also solved two problems: it provided him with an income, and through the artwork he created to promote it, a ready-made brand that his MA work began to inspire. The Loverboy world – with its Warholian factory overtures – was born.

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

His fashion shows have often evolved into provocatively spectacular performance pieces, framing an aesthetic that combines the flourish and fantasy of the Westwood-clad New Romantics with the darker Goth undertones of his beloved The Horrors. Celtic and historical references go hand in hand with tartan and punky knitwear, there is shock, but also the whimsical, typical Britishness.

His last show outing in London was “the first of September after the pandemic. I was like, “I want to scare people, do a McQueen, there’s a jungle, I want a car to explode… There were lasers and pagan people screaming…” “I’ve done a few romance shows ” he says, “but I always prefer to be the weirdo in the room.” This time, things are a little more mundane(ish). “The show itself is the idea of ​​going from day to night: how can Loverboy exist in someone’s world as he wakes up until he falls asleep? Smith, those old Smash Hits magazine photos of The Cure, just waking up in bed, reading the Beano, brushing their teeth, having a bowl of food, but in that full 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’s a reflection of the more necessarily commercially minded label, which is backed via a minority stake by Tomorrow, the fashion group that also invests in Colville, the post-Vogue venture of Martine Rose, Coperni and Lucinda Chambers. But then you don’t live ten years in this environment without an eye for profit.

“I like Paul Smith,” says Jeffrey. That company is great. I want to be someone who is [around] for more than 50 years. I remember him saying in a speech, “You have to do your thing to earn the pocket money.” He said he made £7million on cufflinks in one year. I think it’s about being steeped in reality.” Jeffrey doesn’t make cufflinks, but he does have a strong line in his floppy eared hats, which are a cult and frequent bestseller.

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

His current thinking is about how to reconcile these two elements: “It’s figuring out a way to steer the ship so that people who pick up on 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 generates around £5 million in revenue, much of which comes from wholesale accounts. In retrospect, he was lucky that Matches had quietly dropped him (after he had been appointed and defended by the heyday of purchasing director Natalie Kingham).

“We have been very lucky. We’ve had a big explosion, we’ve got Dover Street (where his art installations feature), the hat explosion happened and it’s still expanding. But I am always aware that it can happen at any time, we are at the mercy of the wholesale situation.”

His answer is to look at the brand in a broader sense, ideas that go beyond just fashion. “It’s not just about clothes, [there’s] performances, nightlife, make-up, 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 am aware of how Loverboy exists in people’s lives, how can we entertain people who care less about the product?”

Fashion is now pop, while before it had a niche element

Charles Jeffery

Ten years is a long time in fashion and that’s why he wants to mark this moment. How difficult would it be to launch Loverboy now? “London specifically is a big challenge for young people to get out and do things. It’s really hard, but then,” he pauses for a moment, “it’s also easy in that [with] social media and access that people can have through the rapid virality of something… Fashion is now pop, whereas before it had a niche element. The democratization of it through the diversification of it has allowed so many other people to contribute to it, and that’s a good thing, but fashion has changed.”

What about nightlife in London? Is it really on its knees?

“If you put your ear to the ground, there is always something going on. It always happens. There is clearly a pandemic of queer spaces.” However, at the age of 33, Jeffrey has other priorities. “When I finish work, I want to go home,” laughs the former party supplier. “I just moved to a new place, which I decorated this weekend. I love it. I want to play video games, chill, maybe invite a guy over for dinner, I’m sober again, which is very important to me. A permanent home is valuable to the former army boy who moved around until his parents divorced when he was ten and he settled with his mother and younger sister in Cumbernauld, 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 documents Loverboy’s story, from its first club incarnation to the pieces worn by Harry Styles and his current muse Tilda Swinton (whom he dressed for a Vogue cover). Swinton will hopefully also be at his show on Friday. He plans to have his mother sit next to her.

‘She sometimes does this look for show, it’s very Carolina Herrera, a long maxi skirt with a crisp white shirt. It’s pretty fantastic.” His younger sister, who works at Barlinnie prison in Glasgow, will not be there. ‘She’s on holiday in Japan. They keep me grounded,” he chuckles.

The Lore of Loverboy, Somerset House, June 8 to September 1

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