Meeting of minds

Designer Charles Jeffrey in conversation with John Vial, Global Influencer for Revlon Professional UK & Ireland

John: How important to you is your hair?

Charles: When I was a teenager I was really into my hair, and as I used to be a bit emo I would bleach my fringe, add stripes of colour, etc. Changing the colour of my hair was one of the biggest things I did as a designer – it created an alter ego. As a designer you have to be a person who talks about your work and who does your work, so you need like a media profile. Operating as a different being helped me overcome self-consciousness.

John: Who inspires you in fashion?

Charles: Tim walker is an amazing photographer, he has shot Vivienne Westwood and loads of people – his aesthetic is portraying a dream and telling a story. Just working with him and John Galliano was amazing, pushing vision, thinking outside your comfort zone. It showed me I don’t always need to do a series of jackets or trousers – I can draw pictures on them; make everything tell a story. It was inspiring not thinking about sales.

John: Are you finding that as time goes on and you’re boundaries, turning it upside down, as you become more successful is there a pressure on you from a commercial angle? So, if I go too far will it sell? It’s the same for hairdressers and I wonder if you have felt that?

Charles: Yes, pushing boundaries can sometimes mean garments becoming expensive. Our market for Loverboy is a young, queer customer. We make outlandish, crazy pieces but we also water it down into smaller, more accessible items because we want them to be affordable to our market. It’s hard when you are a small business, you need bulk to get it made cheaply and that’s an issue for small businesses because we can’t do that. It’s hard but we try to find solutions, we keep at it, invest in stock at certain times – limited edition T-shirts work well for that.

John: Who is your favourite designer?

Charles: Vivienne Westwood, without a shadow of a doubt. My dad would give my mum a gift of Westwood every year, so her pieces were always in our home. Her take on things amazes me. I watched a BBC documentary on painted ladies and I totally saw where she gets inspired.

John: Do you think there is something maverick about her, slightly rebellious?

Charles: I think there is something romantic about her. The way she designs for a woman… There is the male gaze, the gay gaze but the way that a woman designs for a woman, there is nothing like it. At the Relik vintage clothes store you can see her historic clothes but they are still timeless and so relevant. You can see how she draws on history, like suits of armour, etc.

John: Over the last few years there’s been this massive invasion from Scotland – Christopher Kane, you, Johnny Saunders…

Charles: There is something about Scotland! It’s like we have been hard done by, and we want to show we are as good as the rest. That William Wallace romanticism, when I go back to Scotland and I go hiking with my grandad in the hills and mountains – it evokes something in you. I am using lots of Scottish materials this year. For the first time I have used tartan in a collection and there is nothing like Scottish cashmere…

John: Which celebrities do you think have good style?

Charles: A certain member of One Direction was seen wearing something of mine recently! My first-ever bespoke client was Mr Harry Styles. He has a vision of how he wanted to look for his new release and we made him 15 looks in total. He wore one of our jumpsuits on The Late Late Show.

John: What excites you about the fashion industry?

Charles: It’s constantly changing, social media is making a huge difference. I teach at St Martins and seeing how the students communicate online inspires me. In a recent project they had to create an alter ego, and many used social media to do it. Using social media to create art – that’s cool.

John: What social media do you use?

Charles: Instagram is almost like my portfolio now. I love Instagram Stories, you can catch up on what your friends wore last night even if you stayed in!

John: Do you read magazines and if so which ones do you read?

Charles: I always look at magazines. I love Man about Town, Redition, Another Man… I contribute to Another Man and I recently did a story in Rome with amazing sculptures and we froze our butts off at 3 in the morning. For a magazine you will do that!

John: Do you like colour?

Charles: I love colour! My hair is blue, pink and yellow right now! During my BA I played with lots of dark colours but for my final collection I went into primary colours and fake fur sports coats. I was looking at Matisse’s use of colour to communicate a woman’s body – it moved me to tears. Colour is such an important aspect of the design process. There are so many artists who are obsessed with colour – so many had a blue period. The idea of being obsessed with colour and using it in different ways is incredible. We have such an emotional connection with colour. It literally moves us.

John: Your shows always make a big statement. People are interested in how we collaborate on the hair

Charles: The first time we worked together we wanted all the models to have different colours. It was based on immediate reactions – one model had jet-black hair and we turned him yellow and purple, the second model we made him a bullseye, and the third a Brussel sprout, just crazy and fun. Our second show we made a mini magazine for you, with kiss curls and shaved wigs. The last show we did was the most elaborate, with punk references, Celtic spikes and a royal character that closed the show. You can do it all, and always find a way….

John: Years ago, when we did men’s hair it was just a bit of gel and a bit of wax and that was it. How much that has changed?

Charles: Yes, everyone is a different model, everyone has a different look. This year it’s the biggest show we are doing, this season all about height and volume.

John: How would you advise a young colourist to collaborate with designers?

Charles: Do rather than think. Take images. Test. Put them on your Instagram and share your images. That kind of confidence makes people want to collaborate with you. That’s why I work with you, John – you never say no and I have complete confidence you can do anything.

Hear from John and a panel of exceptional artistic talents LIVE at Creative HEAD Education’s exclusive NEW event, Artworld, on 26 June

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