“Has anyone got a wee cloth,” Charles Jeffrey calls across the room, appearing from nowhere – he’s accidentally spilled hair dye on somebody’s coat. Around us, people are having their eyebrows re-coloured, bright coloured garments are being strewn across the room, and everywhere you look someone is having bold (and somewhat terrifying) makeup applied. The creative chaos is as a result of the Scottish designer’s new exhibition, The Come Up, which launches today at Greenwich’s NOW Gallery.
Following in the footsteps of Molly Goddard and Phoebe English, Jeffrey is the latest designer to add his artistic flair to the space, with giant papier-mâché sculptures, endearing performance and sound making up the full-scale show. Between washes (Jeffrey’s head is smeared in peroxide blonde hair dye when we meet), Wonderland sits down with Jeffrey to talk about The Come Up, his recent Emerging Menswear Designer nomination, and the progression of his creative output.
Firstly, tell us how this exhibition came about.
I was asked by the NOW Gallery if I would be interested in doing a bit of work here; I actually stumbled across the email. I looked it up and was like “oh that’s where Molly did her thing, Phoebe as well” so I was like, “oh god of course it would be a really great opportunity to actually do some stuff that I’ve always wanted to do but never had the opportunity to do it.”
What would you say are the key themes that the exhibition is about?
I guess it’s a sort of reflection on where I’ve come from, so the idea of coming up, rising up – the name obviously has a few connotations, but the main idea is about it coming up and that sort of quick rise that you get in London fashion, and I guess it’s sort of like a reflection of that via my sculptures coming from illustration to sculpture – that transition from being something flat to something 3D. It’s building a space which feels positive, and also making another sort of version of LOVERBOY which is a bit more refined, and in a different place and location.
Where do you draw your influence and inspiration from?
There’s lots of artists I really like, but I refer back to myself a lot, all of the drawings I do feel really immediate and I don’t think about them. I’m going to plan to do a series of flying foxes or whatever, they just sort of come out at the time and the fox itself has been something I’ve been drawing since I was five, so it’s sort of one thing that I’ve been doing for a while.
You’ve been interested in art since such a young age, how did you make the progression to fashion design?
In terms of fashion, my mum always drew and she really encouraged me to draw, so I always had that in my life and then I always remember thinking I was going to do something arty, creative – I was always given that validation. The transition from art came in when I was growing into a teenager and I started realising that fashion was a really great escapism for me growing up as a gay person in a straight vibe, you know fashion had this element of luxury so it gave me an element of sort of escapism, and it was a lifestyle I wanted to get involved in. I would be the most stylish one in the school and I think those sorts of things played out, I remember thinking “yeah I really want to get into fashion design” so I heard that Saint Martins did that, that’s why I applied! I was really into Gareth Pugh at the time and I knew that he came from there so I was like “OK I have to apply for this school” so it kind of came from there.
Your shows often involve some element of art and performance, do you consciously seek to blur the line between performance and fashion?
I get all of my ideas from listening to music and walking, so whenever I walk home or walk to the studio I blast music and I think the idea of the pace of walking and listening to music stimulates me to think about what I want to do with my work, so I think that idea always sort of blends to a performance aspect, because if it’s coming from all these pulsations. I think anything that is put down the runway, I’ve already listened to in my head and formulated the bare bones of it, then its realising it’s not the exact same thing — dances for example, I was just listening to a lot of techno and that’s what I was seeing and I think the only way to realise that is through doing performance work.
This exhibition contains lots of different elements: sculpture, performance, sound. How would you describe the exhibition?
For the general exhibition, hopefully there’s going to be the remanence of the performance left on top of the sculptures for a while afterwards, so I’m hoping people will still feel an echo of what the performance was on the [launch] night, but I really want people to feel like this is a safe space where they can feel like themselves and relax or get a feeling of freeness or a resting of some sorts. I never want my work to communicate anything other than freedom and positivity, even if that does come from a darker aesthetic, whereas this one’s quite bright and positive and happy, and I really do want people to come here and feel at one with themselves and comfortable enough to express themselves on the sculptures with ideas to draw their heightened versions of themselves.
Alongside the exhibition, you’re just been nominated for Emerging Menswear Designer at the Fashion Awards. How are you feeling about that?
I’m over the moon, I mean the nomination alone is such a great validation to my team, you know we work so hard and my team work so fantastic, they bend over backwards for the crazy things that I want to do, and for us to be nominated, it just feels like a big pat on the back for everybody so it’s great, it’s really nice!
You’re showing at LFWM in January. What can we expect from your AW18 collection?
I think it’s, hopefully, going to evoke some sort of off-kilter emotion, hopefully!
And can tell us about what else you have coming up.
We have the show and a story coming out in Candy magazine, which is really nice and I’m really excited about [it], and then hopefully there’s going to be some stuff I’m going to be doing in the future in New York, which is potentially art based, but it’s all very much in the making!
So, do you hope this is the start of a long (revived) relationship with art?
I hope so, it’s just a kind of nice way to sort of mark our territory. I guess whenever we go somewhere else it’s like “OK, we know we’ve got all these sculptures we can do as well as a show, as well as a club night” this is another sort of weapon in our arsenal, so I’d like to explore that further and every time we do a project I’d like to think it’s another weapon we can use, or like a positive thing, like another banana!