During a season unlike any other, designers have been presenting their collections in myriad alternative ways, from still- and moving-image, to physical objects such as publications and socially distanced runway shows. Of course, the latter have not been possible – or thinkable – for many. This has been a particular shame for designers like Charles Jeffrey, whose shows, bordering on theatre, often represented the highlight of the London Fashion Week schedule. Charged with an electric, no-holds-barred creativity, these shows were all about freedom and community – the very antithesis of this current moment we are living through, marked as it is by restriction and confinement. Still, Jeffrey was not to be deterred.
Today, the designer reveals his “viscerally happy, exhilarating and kind of chaotic” Spring/Summer 2021 collection, entitled The Healing, via a project created in collaboration with his friend, the photographer Tim Walker. A campaign as well as a physical object – a boxed concertina zine, which will no doubt become a collectible item – the project comprises a series of euphoric photographs of Jeffrey’s community, dressed in his collection. While the images pay testament to his creativity as a designer, and to Walker’s inventiveness as a photographer, it is a relatively pared-back offering from Jeffrey, who says he deliberately kept it free from the “bells-and-whistles outside of these gorgeous adorned bodies”.
Here, Jeffrey discusses the project in further detail, revealing how it came together and what it was like working with Walker.
“Anyone who is familiar with what we do as a brand will, I guess, be able to work out how devastating it was to realise at the start of the year that we weren’t going to be able to show. It felt, back then, like something physically being taken away from us. Shows and physical happenings have been such a big part of our DNA for the past five or six years, that we were thrown into a bit of a momentary slump. That was the beginning of the year, obviously, and a lot has happened since then. A lot of opportunity for growth, and change, and new mindsets.
“This new body of work – ‘The Healing’ – is probably the longest collection we’ve ever worked on in terms of end-to-end time span … It’s been a real journey with this collection. And we’re choosing to present it not only as a digital release – it’s anchored by a beautiful campaign shot by my dear friend Tim Walker – but also as a physical object. It’s been rendered as a book; a boxed concertina zine, which has been art directed by the really wonderful team at 23. They’re responsible for LOVE magazine, and countless other amazing projects – it’s been a thrill to get to work with them. The boxes are not only being sent out around the world, to the people who’d usually come to our shows, but we’re also making them available to buy. I like the democracy of that; that our customers can tangibly get a piece of the action just as a critic or a buyer would.
“The project has done a bit of a full-circle journey … We’re thinking of it as documenting a mood shift. The collection started in one place and the realisation of the project ended up somewhere very different. When we were designing, we explored a lot of ‘stay away’ ideas – it was a time when we were all completely isolating. So we started thinking about colour and how colour features in nature as a warning sign. Lots of deadly nightshade plants and orb spiders. We then started to approach it all quite differently and it sort of bloomed into this idea of colour as therapy … We looked a lot at chromotherapy, an amazing ancient practice that’s still around now, which uses coloured light to align with chakras. I’m quite into that stuff! We took colour as the continued anchor, and explored the kind of nervous joy we were all feeling about being able to see people in the flesh again. It became quite primal: there’s a lot of ‘altered states’ we’ve looked at. Joy, sex … We’ve gone very sexy this time, actually!
“My creative process always features a lot of walking and listening to music – it’s where I get all my ideas from, I go into something called the theta state, which is where our brains move to when we problem solve. Some people get it in the shower … ! We liked the idea of the concertina element of our book sort of replicating that, this long line of images almost reading like a train of thought, or stream of consciousness. I wanted it to really take up space.
“The first time I met Tim was for a shoot – he shot me in a set-up where I was squished by a huge shoe for Oxfam … ! He then shot my work three times for various things, and we became close friends. He’s like a mentor to me in life. I kind of forget he’s Tim Walker The Legend. He’s an incredible person. The project was just super in-the-moment and instinctive; Tim knows I like to bring a lot to the table, and we shot so many people in such a short amount of time. The energy on our two shoot days was really quite electric. We deliberately kept the set-up quite free of set or bells-and-whistles outside of these gorgeous adorned bodies. People weren’t cast as ‘characters’ other than themselves – it’s a very real treatment.”
The boxed zines can be pre-ordered on loverboy.net by signing up to the brand’s newsletter.