SS18 "PORTRAIT OF A LOVERBOY"
If one of the fundamental rights of civilized society is the freedom to dress up, have fun, and demonstrate exactly who you are, then Charles Jeffrey is currently the upholder of all that is human, creative, and cheerful about British fashion. His first stand-alone show began—and continued—with a half-kindergarten, half-pantomime troupe of dancers of all sizes, making merry as they stomped around wearing pink-painted homemade cardboard shapes. The first impression was of watching some kind of all-pink rite of spring, then out came the celebratory mishmash of characters. They were dressed in checkered or striped trouser suits, baby doll dresses, Dior-like pannier skirts, Elizabethan doublets, bondage pants, or empire-line gowns. Anne of Cleves wimples, mobcaps, and top hats adorned the heads. Quite deliberately, it was a nonlinear, century-jumping affair. “The past is a country anyone can visit!” Jeffrey declared after a rapturous reception for the performance. “We decided to take that as our motto!”
The ‘we’ and the ‘our’ is the collective point about the Loverboy phenomenon. Jeffrey is less a singular design genius—though his particular talent is painterly, spontaneous illustration—than a ringmaster and pied piper of many who have formed a movement sprung straight out of the British art school tradition. Working from a subsidized studio in Somerset House, Jeffrey orchestrates the performance director Theo Adams and 3-D costume designers Gary Card and Jack Appleyard, calls on former Central Saint Martins classmate Richard Quinn for prints and the expert seamstress Sybil Rouge for tailoring.
Yes, older eyes can see where it’s all kindled. This volcanic eruption of escapist LGBTQ creativity consciously follows in the footsteps first trodden by Vivienne Westwood and John Galliano and all the London club kids in the ’80s, from Leigh Bowery and Taboo to the New Romantics and Kinky Gerlinky, right through to Boombox in the early aughts. The difference now is that the political backdrop has changed so much. The hedonism acted out here was not so much the usual outlet of fashion students dressing up and showing off as a brave standing-up for openness and self-expression in a world where all kinds of rights are daily under attack. As a line in the press release put it, “As reality becomes more unrecognisable, an absurd satire of itself, the romantic fantasies of our imagination become more real than ever.”
Still, what was most remarkable here was the sense of transformative joy rather than anger that Charles Jeffrey and company communicate together. Choosing to be cheerful is in itself an act of defiance against the forces of darkness, and that feeling ran right through the audience. Beyond the spectacle, too, there’s another sense of seriousness: These clothes aren’t just costumes, but increasingly well-made and ‘real.’ In a crazy election week in Britain, this seemed like another sign of a new generation stepping up to stake their claim to be recognized.
Location 180 Strand
Words by Sarah Mower