Theatrics define every LOVERBOY show by Charles Jeffrey, and his Fall/Winter 2019 presentation is no different. This season, the young and wild boys in dystopian fictional stories Lord of the Flies and Peter Pan come to life as ‘Darling Little Sillies’ (an affectionate term for Jeffrey’s tribe of Lost Boys) inside an abandoned warehouse that was once a power station. Dubbed Neverland — a nod to the original play by J.M. Barrie, this decrepit space was the setting for a bizarre yet highly electrifying and energetic performance that demonstrates 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 prance about amidst fallen chandeliers and frolick 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 calls 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 demonstrates 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”, manifests in a collection that deviates from the familiar tropes present in the literature which had spawned this collection. For a collection that is so heavily inspired by Peter Pan, the absence of Peter Pan collars or Peter’s ubiquitous lime green on any garment throughout the collection is telling, representing Jeffrey’s departure from any pre-established status quo or identity, and towards the formation of his own. He reimagines the dull and monochromatic tunics donned by the play’s original Lost Boys, dolling his own tribe up in his signature tartan dyed in conspicuous hues of red, yellow and blue, presenting them in slim-fit suits and midi skirts. There was even a mohair overcoat with a clunky silver metallic chain draping downwards from the collar and along a sleeve. Chunky wool oversized berets and wide, perky-edged lapels on trench coats contribute to the collection’s eccentricity. Some of the Lost Boys also emerged clad in glittery metallic miniskirts, fishnet stockings, and knee-high socks, with one boy 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 continue to dilute predefined menswear codes – another trait that speaks to the queer culture that is 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 an unabashed extravagance and decadence that accompanied the quirky oeuvre. It might not be too outlandish, then, to suggest how the makeup literally references Captain Hook’s occupation in Peter Pan and the island where the boys are stranded on in Lord of the Flies. As comical as these varied looks and bizarre silhouettes might have appeared, the styling of Jeffrey’s Lost Boys was conspicuous, fun and highly imaginative, capturing the whimsicality that one has come to expect from LOVERBOY.
While the bold styling provides a dramatic visual spectacle imbued with deep symbolism, the presentation connotes 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 a carefree, vibrant soiree. Such vivacious activity compels one to imagine a utopia free of restrictions, rules and judgement: the very same set of ideals governing Neverland and Coral Island that permit their inhabitants to truly live in innocent bliss. In this contained space of the warehouse, the Boys are unabashed in their self-expression, relishing the liberation that this fantasied utopia grants them.
Yet, far above the dramatic spectacle and imaginative theatrics of the Lost Boys’ performance, the melancholic soundtrack playing in the background acts as a jarring reminder that ideals of unabashed self-expression is still far from being achieved, especially in today’s society. While the soulful Hope There’s Someone heightens the intimacy of the Lost Boys’ performance and immerses them in a carefree world of their own, it symbolises how the fight against a reality that shuns and discriminates against interpersonal differences is not over. On a more intimate level for Jeffrey, such a conflict between freedom and restriction in this show aligns with today’s increasingly conservative sociocultural atmosphere that rejects and silences the colourful and antithetic qualities that the LOVERBOY tribe embody. In his show notes, Jeffrey highlights how values such as kindness, benevolence and goodness are values still absent from the broader society, citing discriminatory policies against the trans communities in the United States and disadvantageous policies against the disabled in the UK as evidence. With Jeffrey’s label acting as a mouthpiece for queer culture, the show demonstrates how the utopian idealism of the queer community – their hopes to be accepted and normalised in society – is often met with the darkness of a conservative reality that remains highly allergic to embrace queer individuals’ expression of their identities, therefore ostracising them. While the show might have been dramatic and lighthearted on the surface, there are deeper symbolic undertones that remind 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.
As imaginative and lighthearted as this performance might appear, Jeffrey surmises that this show acts as a mirror to his personal reality. The struggle for acceptance over ostracism is a reality that Jeffrey and his LOVERBOY label has been facing since the label’s inception, and continue to contend with till today. Especially amidst a dystopian and discriminating society, this struggle is far from over, with the voices of the marginalised and discriminated still being stifled and neglected. Menswear design boundaries are not the only frontiers that Jeffrey strives to redefine with his shows – his performances also challenge society’s pre-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 the other designers showing during London Fashion Week: Men’s. While his label is still young, Jeffrey’s contribution to the conversation on such contentious social issues acts as a clear indicator of his growth from a young and innocent Lost Boy into a purpose-driven young man.