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Jeffrey Michael

Friday 10 February 2012

Hi Jeffrey, How are you?

Very excited, and feeling like all the last minute details are finally coming together that have been in the works for several years !

So you are about to launch your first collection, you must be very excited, tell me why you wanted to offer this in addition to your custom designs?

In working as a custom costume and fashion designer, the joys were that each piece was unique, one of a kind, and a showpiece for an exciting purpose on stage or on the cover of a magazine and I always got to work deeply and knowingly with each client, learning their histories and ways of life to infuse into the pieces. Transitioning into the exciting world of creating an entire collection to me, is then almost like the next step in actually creating a whole world of make believe. Understanding how and what the woman you image, wearing your clothing is almost like being a story teller, or a director in a film. You have to imagine an entire creation from how she walks, to how she feels about the world. Its very exciting to have such an opportunity where you are actually physically bringing life into the world via the symbolic woman you are presenting.

Before you settled with ‘The Preternatural Deity’, you originally considered calling your collection ‘Creation, Destruction, Creation’ which was reminiscent of Nietzsche’s theory of creative destruction, he said “Every act of creation is first of all an act of destruction.” Do you agree with this? 

In the process of discovering my themes and inspirations for this collection I did heavily look at the idea of of the creative, destructive cycles in life, and in different philosophies. What interested me the most was in the acts of destruction there was always something else created. This concept that things always exist and move through form is quite stunning when you sit back and realize that through an act of destroying a garment, a new living piece can emerge. This idea heavily plays out in the visceral stimulating slow motion video in which the elements are seen to interact and plague the woman deity in each shot. Fire burns, water drenches, wind blows etc influencing and interacting with these characters. It is a play of emotion, pain, suffering, and almost a resolving oneself to the effects of the elements that have been inflicted upon these women in the film in the end and their journey through that. I have always been interested in these basic earth elements, and how they influence our lives and play out in our perceptions of the world and ourselves.

How did the collaboration with Crisian & McCaffrey come about?

Last fashion week, I was introduced to Crisian & McCaffrey via a fantastic stylist, Claudia Behnke, wearing an amazing pair of shoes by them. What I really noticed as well last season was how important shoes were becoming as a major point of notice as a fashion trend during the street photos. People were literally coming up and taking photos of only peoples footwear. A changing world compared to previous fashion weeks. This put into my head the idea that I really had to pay attention to what my models were wearing, and therefore the rest of the week I looked very hard at what was on the catwalks. I really wasn’t inspired, and had to find a heel designer that was both modern, elegant, high fashion, and also just at that special tipping point into finding huge success and recognition. It was important to me that they were interested in collaboration because some of the shoes are actually matched to the materiality of the dresses, such as the feather shoe, and the key shoe which compliment those textures of the garments. C & M literally have been amazing to work with, and I’m so lucky to be doing this project with them for the show.

You are known for creating pieces for your celebrity clients, do you think the catering to the satisfaction of someone else’s wishes makes your job so much harder than merely creating something for a fashion model, who would be obliged to wear what they were given? Or do you think there is little difference, the intrinsic pleasure of the wearer is a want for any designer. regardless of the circumstances? Do you find the challenge thrilling?

In fact, in my process of working with celebrity clients, right from the beginning I would and will always bring them a finished, final look of what I am suggesting after a deep reflexive discussion and learning about who they are. To date, every client has been very very happy with my conceptualized creations, and have all taken them. I am really lucky, and I feel like it is just knowing them so well that they are excited and delighted to own and wear the piece in their work or personal lives. And then to the other part of your question, I think when your making something for a collection, you really have to begin to understand who your market is, and what that woman is like. Does she go out every evening to new restaurants in the trendiest part of town, or is she a socialite? Does she want soft expensive materials, or does she want something that is affordable that she will wear every single weekend for a whole year as her favorite piece? These literally have an effect on the types of materials, and the concepts that come up around a collection. I start with my layered and overlapping views and inspirations, and then simultaneously imagine what type of girl will be in the dresses in the end. There are of course showpieces in the collection, but I also was imagining my pixie pop star clientele on the red carpets wanting pieces that could move and flow with their needs, and also cause a media stir with something exceptional and unique. The greatest satisfaction that I have had in the finished garments is seeing people I don’t know, see the collection for the first time and say that they want to buy it, or own it in their own wardrobe. Already I know that the pieces have then hit their marks and I can take a breath easy.

How specific have the requirements of your clients been? Do some give you more freedom and creative license than others? Anyone you especially enjoyed designing for, perhaps due to a connection or some shared vision?

Truly they come to me for an image consultation. I come to them with a vision of how I see them living out the life of a piece. Is it for the stage, is it for static shots, will they be moving in it, will they be dancing in it? It really changes the type of costume or collection piece, and also their personal tastes come into things while the ideas are mixing in my head. I always have a gut reaction when I first see someone and I typically almost 90 per cent stay right on what first pops into my heads for them. Always trust your instincts because they are always right ! I really enjoyed designing the lit bodysuit piece for Groove Armada’s Saint Saviour because she is just such an amazing woman both on stage and in person. She is so humble and was such a pleasure to work with. She was even kind enough to give me front row tickets to the show and to have a chat with her backstage. That was the farewell concert for Groove Armada, so I felt like I was there for a part of history being made. I’m excited to see Becky (Saint Saviour) at the debut show as she is really excited to see it all.

Your renowned for your light up costume pieces, are they highly difficult to create? A health and safety concern perhaps?

Everything worth something takes time, and love, and effort, and pain. I’m not going to lie and say its just so simple. But after time you know what goes into something and you take the right amount of time to make it and make sure it goes well. Its all about learning and understanding a material, and then moving outside of the normal parameters that you would expect to see a material in. I really want to push the initial ideas I have been working in, to create the future of designer through visual projections in clothing materials, as well as using light as a materiality, instead of a gimmick. As for safety, simply its LED, you’d have more chance burning yourself by rubbing your hands together vigorously than on any of the tiny batteries sewn in.

Of course finding favor with musicians for their videos and live performances, does it make you nervous watching them perform when in your light piece, like a parent watching their child in a play?

Absolutely 100%. I can barely watch when they invite me. I remember so many concerts actually turning away for the first few minutes, while my friends turned me back around. It’s like watching your children go off to school for the first time. You worry about how everyone will like them, and what if this or that.

You dressed Marina of Marina and the Diamonds, she seems to have a quirky personality and playful sense of style, was that a fun commission?

I loved working with Marina. She wore a custom piece front row London Fashion Week, and specifically at the Mark Fast runway show. She got a lot of press from the piece (some good, some bad) but it was really amazing to just see her so supportive of new designers. We literally changed her and walked right out into a sea of paparazzi, which for me was stunning to see her handle so many flashbulbs with such poise and grace. She is such a talented song writer, and really a good person at the heart of it, which I think makes things hard. We have had some amazing chats about life, and what happens as things grow as a musician and designer and I am really happy to have her seeing my first debut collection, when some of the pieces in it were definitely in mind for her.

What do you think of the symbiosis of music and fashion? Who is your favourite band or singer/songwriter?

I think it is so important. I always say to my clients, the visual is almost 70%, where the music is 30% these days. Its all about the photos, and the video that go with things because people are so visually stimulated. TV, IPAD, phones, billboards. Its almost like if the image doesn’t work all the hard work in the studio can go down the drain. So I always emphasize getting things right. I really learned this while in NYC last summer working with some managements and their artists. Ive seen horror stories of them trying to brand artists and spending 100,000’s on photo shoots only to re shoot and again and again because the look doesn’t suit and they haven’t spent the time to figure out who they are as a singer and a person. My favorite singer would have to be Beyonce. She has it all. She is elegant, graceful, and just over the top in her vocals. She has the most amazing costumes, stage, and she is all so in tune with everything happening on her teams. It is really a dream to create tour pieces for her. One of my ultimate goals among many.

You have also been featured on television shows, tell me more about your experiences and what it involved?

Ive done several shows in England working with some very amazing people. Ive done ‘Got to Dance’, as well as Louis Spence’s Showbusiness for shows, and then worked on the Rimmel London commercials with Georgia May Jagger. Working on sets really opened up my eyes to know how big teams work, and how the production behind something really comes together.  Its all about learning and making new friends on set. I really got along with Georgia and she was so personable and kind. We chatted about Canada, and her family and she even signed my Vogue cover that had just come out with her on it. She said it was the first time she had every autographed something before. So lovely.

How would you describe your work?

It is a search for meaning in natural and organic materials, meeting elegant old Hollywood iconography. I love the glamour, grace and layering of old Hollywood women and silhouettes. But I am also obsessed with layered textures and 3D patterning that can take one repeated texture and make a whole dress out of it. I love to explore materials, but in a way that expresses a living creation on the body. I am still completely an architect at heart. My palette has just changed slightly.

Do you have any favourite fabrics to work with or is the novelty of experimentation with new ones even more exciting?

I used to never work with fabrics. So funny to be here now and look back. But I love chiffon. I love the lightness it has and how it captures light. I enjoy using it because you can create a woman almost as light as air. You can shape and sculpt her body with the chiffon and make her float as if on air at the bottom of the dress. Or bring it up high with pleating and all of a sudden she is a fashionista glamazon. Its just an amazing fabric. Of course I also love using organics like wheat stems, or husks, grasses, layered twig and berries. I dry them and then resin them to create a strong usable material to overlay onto dresses.

As someone who does set design for theatre and concerts and adverts, I would imagine your catwalk shows to be more skillful and considered than others….

I have spent almost 2 years planning and imagining the concept and layout of my space. I have been sketching how I wanted the impact and video to interact with the active viewer in the space, as well as the live models and lighting. It is controlled down to the last seconds. I even had the music in my head so long ago. Haunting, almost like in outer space, and the video to be in hyper slow motion to emphasize the beautiful panic reactions created through interaction with such strong abrasive elements. Literally assaulting the woman in the videos with the fire and water. Of course the initial vision was about the production level of an Alexander Mcqueen show, so I had to bring things down to where I could afford. But I have some amazing over the top presentation ideas. Water tanks, glass cubes, lit ablaze runways. I have almost four shows planned out in my head and the dresses are evolving to suit these habital spaces in my mind as time inches closer to them.

You were inspired by the golden age of Hollywood. Who was your favourite actress of that era?  Mines Audrey. From the teaser video for AW12, where earth, wind, water and fire are represented by different models, it seems thematically based around elegance and the elements, do you think people think these are contradictory ideas? Do you think they have an affinity?

The collection was based around Audrey Hepburn as Sabrina, Marilyn Monroe, and Elizabeth Taylor in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. There really is such an amazing depth to the visuals and characters that were created in these women, and they showcase the dark, mysterious places that we have fallen in love with in these stars. Elizabeth Taylor is such a passionate angry fiery character against Paul Newman and I watched this movie many times during the making of the pieces. And the films are completely the playing out of this Hollywood symbolism in my search for symbolism in the woman. She is this immortal creature that we look to, to define what life is. She is a symbol in every culture, religion, and text, and also we search for her daily in our modern lives which is even more fascinating. We idolize these Hollywood women almost as if they were religious figures, as they play as equal an important role in how we live our lives through our popular culture of film and music. In the film they definitely have an affinity in that each video is the exact same – each woman is dealing with the suffering of being inflicted upon by this created force. The element tears down upon her, and she panics, and then slowly morphs through this pain into resolve and acceptance of her circumstances. The models did such a beautiful job of taking these directions and creating a living breathing character out of them.

What drew you to fashion?

London. Its like a vortex pulling any creative person into it. I was so blessed to have people realize my talents, and allow me to use them in creating these stories that I now get to present. I just can’t say it enough, it really is a blessing and a continued feeling of thanks for coming into this world. Of course coming from architecture, in my mind I feel completely at home. The process I use to create is exactly the same process I used to analyze and interpret how things existed during my architectural teachings. I just get to use my hands and explore materials at a one to one ratio instead of it all being theoretical on some site far far away. I get to meet my subject, and learn from them, and then create. Its a fascinating process to me.

Tell me about your life before in Canada?

In Canada I constantly longed to be in Paris, and London. In my architecture studies we had trips abroad as part of our learning and I fell in love with a place that was so ahead of Canada in its open acceptance and participation in fashion and design. It seems here right down to the very core people are interested in expressing themselves in a way that Canada just hasn’t gotten to yet. Give it ten years. Its really moving so fast now, and every time I return back to Canada I am excited to see progress and new ideas about fashion and design. In Canada I lived all over the country, and I’m thankful for my upbringing as it really affected how I design and my love for nature and infusing that into my creations.

How important has London been in developing your aesthetic?

It is completely where I become a designer. It transformed all of my book knowledge and teaching into real physical manifestations. In both architecture, and design. I found myself here. I became the man I am today because of the people and experiences I found here. I made the case here, but London offered countless opportunities to shape me into who I am today. A proud international fashion designer, who is ready to take on the world and show them my imagination start to finish.

Where did you study?

I studied architecture at Carleton University in Ottawa Canada. Its the capital of Canada and has a beautiful river running through the small city. In the winter it freezes over and you can skate the entire length of it in amongst the tall buildings. Its like a bizarre dream. If you can imagine ice skating the Thames, then that is exactly what it is like.

How has your style developed?

I have really refined my creative and sewing skills over the last few years. I’ve learned how to pattern cut, and source fabrics, and how to do a lot more fancier techniques. I was self taught so I spent a lot of time with my seamstresses asking a million questions, and learning the official lingo, instead of using my own speak. I still get puzzled looks from my seamstresses now and then, but we seem to speak the same language more and more. Sometimes I know something is possible using a different method though, and then we get into it as I have to prove my case. They want to do things the traditional way, whereas I’m inventing strange new darting techniques, and hemming, just gets the team laughing (and fuming) sometimes. I have to say though, that as a designer I have really grown from these experiences and I will keep being right in there watching every piece being made during sampling to get a feeling and understanding for every cut and silhouette. Design wise, it is really still the same from when I started. I explore, I understand, I marinate in the ideas, and then I let them fall out whenever inspiration strikes in my day.

Any faux-pas to admit either in your own personal style or in your early designs?

God ! What designer can’t look back at their designs and shudder at certain pieces. Of course. But the thing is understanding that you learnt something from them and moved on. I am ten times the designer I was last year. And I hope I will be 100 times the designer this time next year. Ive learnt so much making this collection that will all show better in next seasons collection which is already designed and getting ready to be made when I get back to my team after fashion week.

Your favourite garment?

My favorite piece is the top secret piece in this collection that I have been physically working on for the last 9 months. Carrying it like a child almost ! It has literally taken that long from sourcing the materials, to hand making the whole dress. As we speak I’m still doing minor little adjustments to it till its perfect. And further back, almost a year and a half ago is when I first started discussing the piece for the celebrity it is custom made for. They heard my idea for it and went, WHAT? That is amazing, but WHAT?! So look for that in the show. You’ll know which one it is …

Highlights of your career thus far?

Seeing my piece on Jessie J, on TV. Love her. Excited to work with her again and to see her at the show!

Most surreal moment of your career?

First sitting with Lady Gaga’s stylist and seeing my costume pictures on their studio boards, and realizing they were chatting about me during the conceptualizing of some of their work.

Do you take much inspiration from art, music, films and literature? Any in particular you’d like to name?

Everyone of those. I am like a sponge. Everything going in comes back out in the shape of a dress.

Apart from your current and past collaborations, any future dream ones?

To work with Gareth Pugh would be amazing. Would be awesome to do a capsule collection for Top Shop. Would love to work doing costumes for a Tim Burton film.

Anyone you’d particularly like to see wearing your designs?

Rihanna, Beyonce, more on Jessie J. Anne Hathaway on the red carpet, love love how elegant she is.

What would you say is your design signature?

Layered textures. Unique materiality. Technology infusion. Soon to be with this collection mini dresses for pop stars and long elegant dresses for red carpet.

Any comments on London fashion?

LOVE. Amazing. Pushing the limits and the MA shows are worth it. GO SEE THEM !

Anyone you admire in fashion design?

I very much love the house of Mugler. Valentino is inspiring to me. Iris Van Herpen really gets me excited. Charlie Le Mindu. All very ground breaking people in their own rights

Do you have a muse?

I watch ‘Factory Girl’ on loop repeatedly over and over – it to me is like the how to, on becoming the Andy Warhol. I love Edie Sedgwick. She will always inspire me and push me and make me realize that I must be careful to balance and respect myself and others. I love Sienna Miller playing her even. I just love everything about that film and the imagery of that time.

Tell me something about yourself that few if any people know?

Oi. Ponder Ponder – I talk to my plants? I don’t know. Maybe that I really do want to settle down and have a family at some point. A husband, two kids, a dog. I have it all planned out.

What makes your heart sing?

Old movies, records, specifically Amy Winehouse on record. Cooking. So relaxing. Sunny tropical beaches. All the typical cliches no?

Any hitherto explored directions that you would be keen to embark upon?

I definitely want to work towards branding. Fragrance, the whole thing. And I definitely will be moving into films and creating like Jean Paul Gaultier did for the Fifth Element. I want to make a mark onto the world.

What are your plans for 2012?

My debut collection, my Spring Summer Collection. And moving into some exciting exclusive stores. Getting international press. Having the brand recognized and requested. Getting my second phase investor to create a larger and more stable brand. Bringing on new team members. And creating a solid future for myself and my Jeffrey Michael creation which is now outside of myself.

Any advice to bestow upon aspiring designers?

Be delusional in believing in yourself. To the point of hilarity. Talk to yourself and role play winning awards, meeting your celebrity idols, them wearing your clothes. Rip out magazine articles of your favorite designers and re write your name all over it and read it back every day as if you were written about. Step outside your comfort zone and realize that you are going into this alone and have to be strong enough to carry it off all the way to when you have people standing beside you praising it all. You get there! Make the move and sink into it!