Tempe: What made you want to swing back the other way?
Charles: I interned in Paris [at Christian Dior] and remember the Saint Martins lot, because we were all together we were dressing up a lot. We went to Alber’s [Elbaz, former creative director at Lanvin] ten year anniversary party and everybody looked fucking amazing in the Saint Martins crew, everyone had a different look and I really got off on that. We were in the lead up to going into final year and because that’s your first big body of work you want to express yourself, so when I got back I remember dressing up a lot more, wearing dresses... not in a ‘gender’ way, I think it was more in a Kurt Cobain way, but you know, having the opportunity to dress up. There was that feeling of, “Oh my god, this is my last year of being in such a creative environment – not in a work environment where I get told not to wear shorts.” I felt like I had an opportunity to really express myself one last time and that really came through in dressing, as well as the work. Actually for my MA, I got taken on by Louise [Wilson, former course director of the Central Saint Martins fashion MA] because of how I was dressed.
Charles: Yeah, I was wearing a floral dress and a square felt t-shirt I’d knocked together, long hair with backwards cap, Vans and knee-high socks. I walked in and put my portfolio down and she was like, “I bet none of that is in here.” And I was like “Hmm, it is...!” [raises eyebrows] pointing at pages and she was looking through and she goes, “That’s not what you’re wearing.” She asked me who my favourite designer was: I was really into Meadham Kirchhoff at the time and she said she could see that. We had a chat and I ended up being the only one in the year she said yes to on the day, and it really validated that idea of dressing up. And when we got asked to do the first club night I remember thinking how much I missed Ponystep and that whole vibe, and how I wanted to do something like that.
Tempe: That’s so often the best fun, getting dressed before going out.
Charles: CLike that Leigh Bowery film [The Legend of Leigh Bowery, 2002] with them just getting ready the whole time. There was a time in my room where I had two big rails, mirrors in the kitchen, make up and it would be my door wide open and me and Jack [Appleyard, Jeffrey’s close friend and set designer, who also creates accessories for Jeffrey] wandering in between my room and the kitchen getting ready for ages. It’s such a nice feeling. You’re in that safe space and you’re charging yourself up.
Tempe: So that’s where it all started and then you kept the LOVERBOY night going through your studies.
Charles: Yeah I started it on my MA, we were on summer break and someone offered me the night because it was my birthday, then we did it again and I started to realise I could make quite good money from it, some nights I was making £1,500, so I could pay my rent and have some money left over for college. Before that I actually nearly had to drop out, even though I had a scholarship for my fees I had no money, I was working two jobs – in a call centre and in a bar – and I didn’t know how I was going to do the course. But the party came along and kept me going.
Tempe: And now you’ve come so far and you have Fashion East, how does it feel to have that kind of support?
Charles: It’s amazing. Beforehand, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with the MA, because after I went through the rigmarole of doing the collection we came to the conclusion that I didn’t necessarily work as a designer in the format that they work in an MA. So I didn’t see myself being employed in a design house, because they didn’t really work in the way that I was working. I was making lots of images, and styling a lot – I actually thought because I was more in that realm that I would go into styling, which is funny because I’m still doing that now, it’s my favourite thing. But on the MA we figured out there was a way for me to work that incorporated styling, and that worked with my illustrations and drawings. I remember having this conversation with Fabio [Piras, MA Fashion course director, CSM] about maybe doing something where we make objects and things and see how LOVERBOY does on that format. But then Fashion East offered me this platform to do it in a fashion design sense, they were really open and said I could do whatever I wanted, to see it as a chance to express myself. So when it came to my presentation, we were like, “Let’s rejig some of the MA stuff and show what we’ve been doing for the past six months but put it in a party context, out of that sterile MA way, in an art gallery format.”
Tempe: You had a strong reception, was it encouraging?
Charles: I think so, it was nice to have that validation on top of what I’d done on my MA. Because I’d kind of come out of the MA, if I’m honest, with a bit of a lack of con dence in designing. I kind of felt like, “OK, maybe this is not for me, I’ll head down the styling route and see how that goes,” so then seeing people wanted to buy it and to see more from it, I thought, “If it means this much to so many people, and I was able to pull it off with no budget, then let’s just see how it goes.” One thing I will say about myself is I’m able to find and craft things, like the Savile Row project which allowed us to have those pieces in the [FW16] collection.
Tempe: You seem to be able to make things happen.
Charles: With a lot of stress [laughs].
Tempe: Yeah, and you work it.
Charles: Yeah totally, and when it came to doing the second collection that’s when I had access to a pattern cutter for the first time, Naomi [Ingleby], who’s fantastic. On the MA I would sit and do these line drawings and Fabio would be like, “It’s so fake, this isn’t you, what you were wearing just now is so much more refreshing.” So my sketchbook was literally just loads of self-portraits like this [motions to an image on the table], wearing stuff in different ways over and over again, and then we’d put it on a model so it was in another context, and they were my sketches. There would be times where I’d be like, “So we’ve got this jacket pattern, can we do it with the button like that” [moves his jacket button up so it’s skewed], “I really want it to look a bit drunk,” and I’d be drawing an illustration of it being a face and dribbling and Naomi would say, “Yeah we can do that.” I’d be like, “Really? That’s amazing!” With the MA they really push you to figure that out by yourself and then you get the support afterwards, and Naomi is amazing, and suddenly it felt like I was playing the role of a designer, we would be doing fittings and it was like, [sits back in his chair like he’s studying clothes on a model] “Hmm OK I think this has to be higher.” And then it started to feel real.
Tempe: You suddenly had a team of people there to help you create your vision.
Charles: Yeah, and I remember watching that at Dior, which was fabulous and great and incredible to be in the place you’ve seen in movies, it was another experience that made me lose a bit of confidence as a designer, because I find it hard to work in the way they wanted me to – to make loads of samples and fabric manipulation, they’d ask me to create volume and I’d be cramming lots of stuff together which isn’t very Dior, and I’m like, hammering things like “There’s your volume” [laughs]. I remember loving the woman who did all the castings and worked with the models.
Tempe: Has it been tough?
Charles: Oh god yeah. I’m this disorganised, la la person with a lot of energy, and sometimes I wonder how I’ve been able to get it this far and have all these people like Régine [Amichba, Jeffrey’s intern, who’s working next to us] and Arnis [Koleda, Jeffrey’s assistant]. Production is why you can see all these designers often just fall by the wayside, it’s absolute hell. You set aside so much of your time to focus on that and you almost lose touch with the product you’ve made because you make it so many times. That being said, the fact that you make it for other people and you see other people wearing it balances it out. The money side of things is hard but it’s slowly sorting itself out, the ideal situation for me is where I can be this sort of vibrating being that comes in and has a timetable that’s set and then hopefully we get funds. It gets hard but after doing two collections I know I want to have this brand, I want this to grow and to be self-sufficient. But I also want to be able to go off and do things that I absolutely adore doing, like shoots and styling, working with people, drawing and making things.