Orkney, also known as the Orkney Islands, is an archipelago in the Northern Isles of Scotland, characterized by wild nature, sweeping views, and unapologetic Scottish weather. Once a year, in the island of South Ronaldsay mothers and fathers delve deep into their attics and cupboards, proudly assembling their children’s costumes for a tradition believed to be unique to Orkney dating back to at least the early 19th century: The Festival of the Horse, with its Boys’ Ploughing Match — a pagan ritual, still very popular among the rural families of Orkney. In the early days boys would do the plowing competing for who managed to do the most straight and most even furrows. The girls would dress up as horses, sporting spectacular outfits made of collars, hats, belts, pom-poms and fringes. Today the roles are interchangeable, mainly because the boys also want to dress up. Glasgow-born and London-based fashion designer Charles Jeffrey, the creative mind behind the label Loverboy, went back to his Scottish roots by visiting the festival.
After showcasing his collection in London, Charles Jeffrey presented his work in Milan, hosted by LONDON show ROOMS which, for the first time ever, traveled to Italy with handpicked talents. On the day of the preview Jeffrey is fashionably late, and when he does eventually arrive he is dressed in Marni and made up with peach-colored eye-shadow. He’ll be co-hosting Francesco Risso’s after-party that night, hence the Marni dress up. It is generous of a designer to wear someone else’s clothes for their own presentation. As a child Jeffrey moved around quite a lot, his father was in the army and the family followed him from city to city according to where he was based. “I’ve seen a lot of military details and traditional tailoring as a child,” Jeffrey says. “My father and his army peers were always impeccably dressed in their military-wear, with perfectly- polished shoes and insignia”. His parents divorced when Jeffrey was ten and that point he settled down in Glasgow but he still retained a nomadic idea of life. When he was eighteen, he moved to London to study fashion at Central Saint Martins, first a bachelor’s degree, then a master of arts program taught by the late Louise Wilson, followed with a three-month internship at the atelier of Christian Dior. “When I was sixteen I wanted to be a video game designer. I was so into my video games and I loved drawing and inventing characters. When I discovered I was gay and I was trying to find out who I was, the fashion world seemed like a very safe space for being a homosexual and I was drawn to fashion as a powerful way to express myself. I realized that my creative process — drawing and creating characters — could translate into costume and fashion design. Then I saw what London was really like. I heard about the London clubbing scene and I really wanted to be there. I wanted to see Gareth Pugh and Christopher Kane, I wanted to go to Central Saint Martins, I wanted to party”.
Loverboy works as a collective, a platform that people — young people and members of the LGBTQ+ community in particular — use to communicate their ideas. Besides being a fashion designer, Charles Jeffrey is an artist who uses his own artwork as a source of inspiration and enjoys collaborating with other artists, feeding his collections with cross-contamination. Diversity, self-expression and a safe space. While Jeffrey was studying in London he started a club night which had the double purpose of funding his master’s program while at the same time allowing him to express himself outside a school setting, with no marks and no homework. “When you’re doing your master’s [program] it’s all intense — you feel pressured to succeed because you’re paying for that education. The party was just about expressing myself with no rules. I met people who also just wanted to let go. It felt like a melting pot. A lot of these people were queer and LGBT; it’s liberating where you can wear your makeup and people are welcoming in an oh-my- god-you-look-amazing kind of way”.
For about twenty years now, Lulu Kennedy — British fashion’s fairy godmother — has been leading Fashion East, a non-profit organization dedicated to finding and nurturing new design talent in the fashion industry. Each season, Fashion East offers three womenswear and three menswear designers the opportunity to stage a runway show for international press and buyers attending London Fashion Week. Charles Jeffrey — who is twenty-nine years old and
is now presenting his tenth collection — was introduced by Kennedy to the London catwalk nine seasons ago. Since then, he has earned an LVMH Prize nomination, won the British Emerging Talent prize at the 2017 Fashion Awards, and has been hailed by Business of Fashion’s Editor-at-Large Tim Blanks as speaking to young London the way Alexander McQueen spoke to his generation. His message to young people today is about something that is timeless and never goes out of fashion: “one of the main things I try and get out of my college students in London is that anybody can come from any point of view, but it’s only when you get a feeling of authenticity that the result is going to be contemporary. In big corporations, it tends to be a lot more difficult to be agile with new concepts, but at the same time I think there are a lot more voices. It’s a lot easier today than it used to be to find platforms where people can speak their truths. Everyone is trying to be more democratic, more inclusive, a bit more outside the schemes, also because of the climate change the world is now facing. It’s not just about selling and buying anymore”.
Inclusivity and sustainability. Pioneers have been playing by these rules way before they became trends. When genderless had yet to be conceived both as a word and as a concept, a queer DJ and performer from Queens, Telfar Clemens was designing clothes for himself: shaped like typically feminine garments but designed to fit the body of a man. Upcycling is the new black, but before upcycling there was Bethany Williams, for whom fashion has always been first and foremost a means to recycle used garments and waste material. “When I started my label we were putting girls’ clothes on boys but I didn’t feel like I was doing it for a purpose, it just felt very honest. I came from a club space where boys wore dresses, I myself was wearing make-up, and historically womenswear has infiltrated menswear on multiple occasions and in some ways, today strict gender-bi-nary norms just feel dated”.
When it comes to sustainability, Loverboy’s collection was accompanied by his Manifesto For Conscious Practice. The collection spun around two imaginary Scottish subcultures in a post-apocalyptic future: the Danders and the Gladyhhoods. With teddy-boy references, Scottish tartans and kilts, distressed knits, leather harnesses and folklorist elements borrowed from Orkney’s Festival of the Horse, Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh floral Glasgow-style and Jeffrey’s own illustrations printed on the fabrics, Loverboy’s young imaginary Scots combine a strong bond with Mother Earth with authentic intergenerational anger, conveying the latter into an outburst of creativity. As should be. Charles Jeffrey picks a colorful jumper and a long trench coat with bold shoulders. “Chaos and control. Like my father and my mother”.