This past weekend saw some of the biggest names in Italian and international fashion showcase their Fall/Winter collections for the latest edition of Milan Men’s Fashion Week.

While the return of fashion powerhouse Gucci to the menswear catwalk calendar with their first stand-alone men’s collection in three years may have grabbed the headlines, it was Scottish-born designer Charles Jeffrey’s LOVERBOY showcase that brought joy to the Milan runway - and five-star reviews to boot.

The Glasgow-born, London-based ‘self proclaimed club kid’ delivered his Milan Men’s Fashion Week debut with an ode to 'The Slab Boys’, Scottish playwright and artist John Byrne's 1950’s-set coming-of-age stage play about the dreams of three lads who work in a Paisley carpet factory. 

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Jeffrey’s ‘Engine Room’ concept for his latest LOVERBOY collection, which “"blurs the boundaries between magic and working class" had as a “rich point of reference” the “unique combination of stark realism, satire, and surrealist fantasy that permeates John Byrne's entire body of work”.

On the Milan runway, Byrne’s own distinctive personal style was present in the “predominance of fairisle, tweeds and artful accents” in LOVERBOY's Autumn/Winter 2023 collection, as well as the inclusion of “arresting painted scenes” which found their way on to numerous pieces thanks to the support of the playwright and artist’s archive. 

HeraldScotland: Charles Jeffrey was crowned Scottish Fashion Graduate of the Year at the Scottish Fashion Awards in 2015 Charles Jeffrey was crowned Scottish Fashion Graduate of the Year at the Scottish Fashion Awards in 2015 (Image: Newsquest)

Described as “a murky underworld filled with toxic fumes, haphazard machinery and labyrinthine walkways”, the collection was presented via a multi-layered narrative of subcultures which was inspired by Byrne’s “own surreal universe of stories and images, many of which highlight the nuances of working class experience and the power of creativity”.

Presented in three parts, models were split between ‘the Workers’; with their faces smudged and clothed in gray, black and white, starry prints and clawed footwear, the Posers; clothed in sleek tailoring, oversized ruffles and ornate Byrne-printed garments (suits, coats and skirts), and the Snakes; gossip merchants with a Goth edge dressed in dark garments adorned with newsprint prints, all of whom populated LOVERBOY’s recurring mythic floating city of Akuja. 

Known for his punk-inspired, gender-fluid designs influenced by his Scottish heritage and London's queer club scene, Jeffrey called the collection “a celebration of Scotland, workers and Renaissance people”. 

The 32-year-old, who left Glasgow for the capital aged 18 to study for an MA in Fashion at Central St. Martins, revealed that the decision to pay homage to John Byrne first came about after he was introduced to his work by his ex-partner, British Academy-Award winning actress Tilda Swinton, on the set of a magazine shoot. 

HeraldScotland: A model walks the runway during Charles Jeffrey's LOVERBOY Fall/Winter 2023 collection showcase in MilanA model walks the runway during Charles Jeffrey's LOVERBOY Fall/Winter 2023 collection showcase in Milan (Image: Getty)

For December’s 2022 Fashion Awards at The Royal Albert Hall, Jeffrey and Swinton collaborated on two custom Charles Jeffrey Loverboy pieces adorned with prints by Byrne in a floor-length gown and a double-breasted trench coat, with the ensemble acting as a prelude of sorts to his Milan debut.

Speaking to Hero magazine ahead of his Milan debut, Jeffrey said of Byrne’s influence on LOVERBOY's Autumn/Winter 2023 collection: “I took a lot of inspiration from the Scottish artist John Byrne who is sort of a renaissance man, he’s a playwright, an artist and a sculptor. I was introduced to him by Tilda Swinton because he was the father of her children. I’d never resonated so much with someone’s work before. 

“He’s from a different period, he was born in 1940 but all the things he did married quite a lot with my upbringing: we’re both from working-class backgrounds, he saved to go to art school and developed himself. He has this amazing body of work which focuses on the subcultures of 50s Teddy Boys and magical, mythical paganistic scenes, plus The Slab Boys is an amazing colloquial play on words. I was really inspired by that.”

HeraldScotland: Tilda Swinton introduced Jeffrey to her ex-partner John Byrne's workTilda Swinton introduced Jeffrey to her ex-partner John Byrne's work (Image: PA)

The Milan debut for Charles Jeffrey LOVERBOY reflects both its status as an international fashion powerhouse (carried in over 90 stores across the world) and Jeffrey’s reputation as an up-and-coming Scottish superstar, and comes less than a decade after he was crowned Scottish Fashion Graduate of the Year at the Scottish Fashion Awards in 2015 - the same year he launched his very first exhibition.

Back in 2017, American Vogue saw fit to name him "the upholder of all that is human, creative and cheerful about British fashion”, while editor-in-chief Dame Anna Wintour DBE name-checked his LOVERBOY sweaters when asked for her perfect Valentine’s Day gift ideas for 2018. Last year also saw Jeffrey team up with huge British pop star Charli XCX to create a fashion forward film for Samsung.