Theatrics define every LOVERBOY show by Charles Jeffrey, and his Fall/Winter 2019 presentation was no different. This season, the young, wild boys from dystopian stories Lord of the Flies and Peter Pan came to life as ‘Darling Little Sillies’ (Jeffrey’s affectionate term for his tribe of Lost Boys) inside an abandoned warehouse that was once a power station. Dubbed Neverland – a nod to the original Peter Pan play by J.M. Barrie first staged in 1904, this decrepit space was the setting for a bizarre yet highly electrifying and energetic performance that demonstrated a hauntingly personal exploration of the label’s growth through the years.
Against the heart-wrenching aural backdrop of Antony and the Johnson’s Hope There’s Someone, Jeffrey’s Darling Little Sillies pranced about amidst fallen chandeliers and frolicked inside a giant ivory bathtub filled with torn pages from books. With a gay air of innocence and decadence surrounding their merrymaking, the sombre tune crooning in the background called to mind a contention between the utopian ideals commonly associated with freedom of self-expression and the dystopian nature of today’s increasingly conservative society, creating a conflict between fantasy and reality that demonstrated the highly personal journey of Jeffrey’s – and by extension, his label’s – growth from a Lost Boy into a man.
This stage of LOVERBOY’s growth, which Jeffrey describes as “the end of a chapter”, manifested in a collection that deviated from the familiar tropes present in the literature which spawned this collection. For a collection so heavily inspired by Peter Pan, the absence of Peter Pan collars or the ubiquitous lime green of Pan’s outfit throughout the collection was telling. It represented Jeffrey’s departure from predefined identities of the Peter Pan tale, and towards the formation of his own take. He reimagined the dull and monochromatic tunics donned by the play’s original Lost Boys, dolling his tribe up in his signature red, yellow, and blue tartans, presented as slim suits and midi skirts. Chunky wool oversized berets and comically wide lapels on trench coats contributed to the collection’s eccentricity. Some of the models also emerged clad in glittery metallic miniskirts, fishnet stockings, and knee-high socks, with one even donning a crimson bias cut dress with frayed trims – a dramatic reference to Captain Hook, perhaps? Feminine in cut and appearance, these bold and highly provocative clothes continued to dilute predefined menswear codes – a trait that spoke to the queer culture characteristic of Jeffrey’s shows.
Naturally, this gender-blurring extended beyond the clothes alone. Some of the Lost Boys had thin black brushstrokes painted above their lips, resembling thin moustaches, and thick layers of gold and coral eyeshadow connoting unabashed extravagance and decadence that accompanied the quirky oeuvre. It might not be too outlandish then to suggest that the makeup referenced Captain Hook’s pirate way of life in Peter Pan and the island where the boys are stranded on in Lord of the Flies.
While the bold styling provided a dramatic visual spectacle imbued with symbolism, the presentation connoted a playful sense of childish naïveté and innocence. Throughout the performance, Jeffrey’s Lost Boys danced and frisked around the show space in their extravagant costumes, their light movement exhibiting vibrant carefree attitudes. Such vivacious activity compelled one to imagine a utopia free of restrictions, rules, and judgement: the very same set of ideals governing the fictional Neverland and Coral Island that permit their inhabitants to live in innocent bliss. In this contained space of the warehouse, the Boys were unabashed in their self-expression, relishing the liberation that this fantastical utopia granted them.
Against the spectacle and theatrics of the show was the melancholic soundtrack playing in the background – a jarring reminder that ideals of self-expression are still far from being achieved in today’s society. While the soulful Hope There’s Someone heightened the intimacy of the Lost Boys’ performance and immersed them in a carefree world of their own, it also symbolised the fight against a reality that shuns and discriminates. This conflict between freedom and restriction aligned with an increasingly conservative sociocultural atmosphere that rejects and silences the colourful and non-normative qualities that the LOVERBOY tribe embody. In his show notes, Jeffrey highlighted values such as kindness, benevolence and goodness still absent from broader society, citing discriminatory policies against the trans communities in the United States, and disadvantageous policies against the disabled in the UK. With Jeffrey’s label acting as a mouthpiece for queer culture, the show demonstrated the utopian idealism of the queer community – their hopes to be accepted and normalised in society – and the often-met darkness of a conservative reality that remains highly allergic to embrace queer individuals’ expressions and identities. While the show might have been dramatic and lighthearted on the surface, the symbolic undertones reminded the audience that this open-minded and accepting group still faces resistance and oppression from society, and reality for the discriminated is still far from utopian or ideal.
The struggle for acceptance over ostracism is a reality that Jeffrey and his LOVERBOY label have faced since the label’s inception. Menswear design boundaries are not the only frontiers that Jeffrey strives to redefine with his shows – his performances also challenge society’s existing schools of thought and biases. Instead of backing down and bucking to the trends, Jeffrey grows emboldened by these differences, leveraging on them to create a memorable spectacle that persuades and prevails, establishing a clear distinction from other designers showing during London Fashion Week: Men’s. While his label is still young, Jeffrey’s contributions to the conversation on such contentious social issues act as a clear indicator of his growth from a Lost Boy into a purpose-driven young man.