Poems by Adrienne Rich and Dylan Thomas punctuated the designer's latest show at Kings Cross.
The British Library in London’s Kings Cross is normally characterized by a cathedral-like ambience that lofts over the home of the biggest collection of catalogued books in the world. But on Saturday night, the red-bricked building showcased the Spring 2020 collection of Charles Jeffrey Loverboy. The Scottish designer is deemed the gatekeeper to all that is creative and cheerful about the English capital, picking up where ‘80s London club kids like Leigh Bowery left off, creating a lively subcultural pantomime of patterns and fits.
This latest collection, while still imbued with a strong pulse of fantasy, somehow felt more stripped-back and grown-up compared to Jeffrey’s dreamier incarnations. Inside the main foyer, The King’s Library had been dressed in a snaking runway. Thousands of printed books and pamphlets that make up the collection of George III were upright and encased in glass, framed by stark black wood. The spectacle of regiment was mirrored in the Loverboy designs, a mix of military construction and acid-dripped colors. “You know, my father is a military man, and this is the first time he’s ever seen one of my shows,” Jeffrey said.
The show began with the designer pacing the runway reading Dylan Thomas’ “In The Beginning,” an introduction to his Spring 2020 collection’s distillation of big ideas and civic consciousness. Jeffrey said it “felt instinctive to do spoken word” in the heart of the library: “The library is a good equalizer and it felt right for us to have that space because anybody can come here and learn.” Models in Dr. Martens then strode out to a soundtrack that included The Kills, The Clash, The White Stripes, Suicide, The Stone Roses, and Nirvana. (The designer’s approach might be maturing, but he still refuses to shake off his original anarchic influences.) The classic rock ‘n’ roll cuts were also punctuated by passionate spoken word. Wilson Oryema, known for his anti-consumerist writings, read his poem “Here We Are.” Fellow activist and model Hélène Selam Kleih recited Adrienne Rich’s “Final Notations.”
This collection was not just about Loverboy’s personal growth but a wider societal one. “Overburdened heart and minds, for me, was the tagline for this season,” the designer later clarified. When asked about one of the most prominent issues of the day, the ongoing saga that is Brexit, Jeffrey spoke of its potentially disastrous emotional and practical implications: “I know it can affect small business really badly, and will affect us too.”
It’s not just the concept behind the work that’s echoing the world today and how it’s come to be, the very foundations of the garments are taken directly out of social history. When he began researching for the collection, Jeffrey and his team headed straight to the archives of the Museum of London to ensure the designs chronicled and paid tribute to the workers who made our world a better place to live in: “We had the opportunity to pick out what we wanted to look at, and we said, ‘Let’s look at voluntary service, people who look after other people, and honor those clothes with print and mark making.” He was specifically interested in the teal nurses’ uniforms of the 1940s, which he reimagined in an asteroid painting print.
Civic-mindedness and staying aware are deep-rooted in Loverboy’s DNA (the Fall 2019 collection was set in the Weimar Republic just prior to the rise of Nazi Germany). “It just felt right,” the designer explained. “Loverboy has always been about looking at those who are smaller than you.”