We Talk To Charles Jeffrey About His New Exhibition ‘The Come Up’
Fresh from scooping the British Emerging Talent for Menswear prize at this week’s Fashion Awards, Charles Jeffrey is a man riding (very) high. He has also just opened his first ever exhibition, The Come Up, an immersive installation at NOW Gallery in Greenwich Peninsula that not only invites viewers into the world of his LOVERBOY label and club night, but asks that they participate themselves. Based around his brilliant illustrations, which have long adorned the pages of 10 Men, the exhibition reinterprets the works through suspended sculptural pieces that are as invigorating as they are materially inventive.
Public involvement and inclusivity have always been a feature of Charles’ work – most recently, at his Spring 2018 show earlier this year, where the dance troupe were publicly recruited via Instagram from his many adoring followers. His vibrantly colourful displays of costume and set design often blur the boundary between fashion and performance art, and now, he has entered the white-walled realms of London’s art scene, translating the same infectious energy and enthusiasm that has made him one of London’s most exciting designers. We spoke to him for a quick chat on his debut art show…
FINN BLYTHE: How did the exhibition come about? Was there more freedom than when you’re making a collection?
CHARLES JEFFREY: The NOW Gallery stage a fashion commission every year – last year’s was with Molly Goddard, who’s a friend of mine – and their team got in touch earlier this year to see if I’d be interested in putting some ideas together. It’s kind of a dream brief for me – we were essentially given free reign. I mean, as it is, we work in a pretty outside-of-the box way across everything we do… but to not have any parameters – apart from walls and a ceiling – has been a joy.
CJ: A lot of the sculptures are characters or shapes I’ve obsessively drawn since I was little or that have featured in LOVERBOY artwork since we launched the label, the fox is a good example. On reflection I think a lot of that unconscious decision making was based around the fact that I want the experience of coming into the gallery to feel really safe, and these familiar faces, motifs, whatever, make me feel that way. Starting from touch points that are second nature and then working out new ways to breathe life into them felt like quite an instinctive way of working.
FB: At the private view you had a performance with Theo Adams that spoofed the fashion industry – how did that fit with the exhibition? Why’s that kind of satire important?
CJ: It was kind of a piss take of lots of things – of fashion, of the art world, of how people see LOVERBOY, of industry events… certainly of me! I wanted to revel in not taking it too seriously. It’s just not me. The idea behind the performance was to create a bit of shock and awe and we’ve had the most amazing feedback from it. We cast a line-up of performers who are all my friends, collaborators, people who never need me to explain too much. It’s the kind of creative shorthand I really enjoy.
FB: How do you see “The Come Up” and your fashion shows/collections being linked? And to your club nights before that?
CJ: Both the exhibition and our club nights are about feeling joyful. There’s a lot of synergy there around being colourful, expressing yourself and having a laugh.
FB: You encourage people coming to the exhibition to draw themselves – what’s the thinking behind that? Why did you want the exhibition to be immersive?
CJ: I think anyone making art would like the idea of being able to have people interact with it and be able to see and feel that connective tissue with an audience, it felt like the most natural way to anchor the work in a sense of intimacy. It’s supposed to feel naive, sort of sweet and primary school-esque… We’re asking visitors to draw either themselves or a kind of alter-ego onto some of the sculptures. I’m really interested in the concept of identity.
FB: What’s your favourite object from the exhibition?
CJ: I love the hand sculpture. It’s made from painted calico and wire. I’ve drawn hands since the beginning of LOVERBOY, I’m not sure what it is I like about them so much – it’s something about a kind of humanity. Could be a hand-hold, could be a slap in the face… it’s about feeling.