Representing the creative future

Wrap her in upholstery: Jack Davey’s Featuring Daphne

Jack Davey made one of the most memorable collections of the Royal Academy of Art Antwerp’s graduate shows in the past few years. But no matter how well he’s done in the fashion field, making clothes simply wasn’t enough to artistically express his point of view— while in his first year of his second degree at the same college (now studying sculpture), he talks with us about the rules and language of the fashion system, fetishism and designing the extreme, boys wearing dresses, and the debate surrounding body image and model size.

To start off, could you please tell us a bit about yourself?

I suppose my background up until moving to Antwerp was fairly straightforward. Of course it’s important, but I’m not sure what to tell you! I grew up in Stamford Brook, London with my parents and my sister. A lot of people seem to know exactly what their earliest memories were – I have absolutely no idea. Worryingly perhaps, my only clear memories are of the last six years of living in Antwerp. Everything before that seems to be a blur. Before moving here, however, I did do my one-year foundation at Central Saint Martins. That was an experience, to say the least. At least one that inspired the decision to leave London and head for the continent. This is now the 6th year I’m living here. I try to come back to London as often as I can, but it’s never often enough.


You were recently chosen by Ann Demeulemeester for her exhibition in Brussels, along with Pierre Renaux and Jezabelle Cormio. She cited you work as being “funky, outside the fashion system itself” as the primary reason for your selection. How would you define “the fashion system”? Where are its borders located and is it possible to operate outside?

Well when I was working on my master’s collection — in fact when I was working on all of my collections, I was never thinking about ‘the fashion system’. For me, the system of fashion has got absolutely nothing to do with its true essence or why I am interested in it. What attracted me to fashion was the ability to create an entirely new world and tell a story. I don’t believe that the fashion system is representative of this. Sadly, the borders no longer lie in the limits of a designer’s vision of creativity, but in the expectations of others and in the expectations of trend, etcetera. Of course it’s possible to operate outside of the fashion system, it’s just very rare that you see someone truly creative actually doing so.


Can the fashion system be understood as a language? How is literature (stories and symbols) present in your way of experiencing fashion or art?

First of all, I think it’s very difficult to understand the fashion system as a language. Simply because the ‘system’ is made up of so many different entities; you have important figures like designers and pattern makers who actually make the ‘fashion’ happen. But you also have stylists, bloggers, market researchers, photographers, celebrities, buyers and magazines. The whole thing is very muddied, so I don’t think that there is a universal language for the fashion system. Regarding my own work however, trying to convey some kind of language is extremely important. I think visual communication is one of the most powerful things – but you have to be sensitive to it. Research is extremely important for example. This is not to say that everything you do or appreciate has to have a meaning, but you should at least be able to understand its context. My experience of fashion and art is based on a want to see and feel something that I perhaps don’t understand and can’t necessarily explain. I believe if you truly respond to something visually, without justification as to why, you will subconsciously start to create a language and a story in your head. It’s a wonderful feeling.


There is a huge debate in the fashion industry about plus size and getting rid of anorexic models. I saw a couple of shows from Royal Academy, including yours — did you have this question present during your casting? 

In all honesty, it is very difficult for me to offer a concrete opinion on this. This debate has been going on for years, yet it’s incredibly contradictory on so many levels. Of course I believe that presenting an unrealistic, unattainable body image to young people is unhealthy, but not if you are able to show them the alternative. There is too little being done within the fashion industry to promote normal body image. I think it’s fine that tall skinny girls are on the catwalks, just as I think it’s fine that overweight girls are on the catwalks, but you have to find a balance. That is why it is so contradictory – fashion doesn’t belong to the ‘normal’, it’s not concerned with inner beauty. Who wants normal when you can have extreme and crazy? Fashion is not there to teach us a lesson about how to be grounded and love ourselves; it is there to show us the fantasy – however decadent or flamboyant. By its very nature it embraces the extreme and over-the-top.

If you’re looking for self-confirmation regarding your body image in fashion, go somewhere else I’d say. Just as suddenly promoting overweight models isn’t the responsible solution in combating anorexic ones. Fashion of course plays a large role, but it is not entirely to blame. We can’t always point the finger at fashion accusing it for promoting distorted body ideals – we also need to look to ourselves. For example, people in the UK are statistically getting fatter every year yet still consume clothing and buy into every possible and latest fashion trend. So where does this leave us? What was everyone thinking when Kate Moss, the centre of controversy regarding skinny models, releases a collection for Topshop? You tell me. Contradictions contradictions contradictions… Regarding my own collection, I wasn’t concerned with this debate – I had only one criteria which was that they needed to be tall. That was as much practical  — the dresses are very long — as it was relevant to the concept.

You have done a menswear collection before the Daphne womenswear: the “Doofpotoperatie”. What was the catalyst for this transition?  Do you believe in the dissolution of gender division in fashion design?

There was no immediate catalyst in the transition from Menswear to Womenswear other than the want to explore a different way of creating fashion. The woman’s body is totally different to a man’s and it poses all sorts of new design challenges. I was always very interested in cut and form and doing a womenswear collection allowed me to play with what I had already learnt from menswear and translate it. Regarding the dissolution of gender division, I’ve always liked the idea of things being unisex. Wearing dresses as a young boy – it’s only when you are told that they are for girls and you look like a freak that you become conscious of it. Conceptually it poses a very interesting question. The topic of gender in general is of course extremely important and I believe sociologically we should be much more open regarding the gender roles that are given to us. Physically I’ve always felt very male, but I never understood other boys around me growing up or that need to adjust your personality to fit that role and what society expects of you. I tried to communicate that in my menswear collections – a certain ambiguity. All the men I look up to are mostly artists, cross-dressers or cross-dressing artists, all of whom are quintessentially male in my eyes. I guess doing a womenswear collection meant that I could approach the design process as an outsider in order to achieve an entirely different result.


The models, and this is consistent in both your menswear and womenswear collections, had their faces covered. What was your thought process behind doing that?

I suppose it comes from an innate and sincerely deep joy of putting stupid things on my head. At my home in Antwerp we have an entire cupboard full of stupid hats and wigs that always manage to find their way onto the guests’ heads. As before mentioned, I’m also very interested in things that are ambiguous and slightly unattainable. Covering the face is an interesting way of doing this, especially in regard to gender identity. In my 3rd year collection Doofpotoperatie the use of full covering masks and sequins came from a drawing I’d done and I simply thought it looked really powerful in combination with the rest of the silhouette – the headscarves covering the sequined masks was a direct reference to the research and inspiration that I had done for the collection. For Featuring Daphne however the process was slightly different. The collection itself was inspired by sculpture, in particular the Bernini sculpture “Apollo Pursuing Daphne”, and of course the design process started with the towering headpieces – in a way the headpieces formed the basis and everything else grew from there. It was my original intention to have all the faces entirely covered, but for both practical and aesthetic reasons, I made a few changes. Also, in making them I suddenly became aware of the fetishistic references that allowed me to play with other styles to enrich the collection.  I also believe in the spectacle of fashion – the silhouettes themselves were supposed to be imposing and almost intimidating, especially in the case of the completely spiked headpiece.

What does the future look like? Designing your own label? Apprenticeship?

I’m very excited about the future. The moment after graduating is inevitably very daunting… Realising that you are completely by yourself and that if you want to make things happen you’ve got to stop whining about how difficult your privileged life is and just get on with it. For me that took form in undertaking a second degree. I’ve always considered my approach and way of thinking to be much more connected with the fine arts. I was lucky/unlucky enough to have done an unpaid internship in Paris after my first year at the Royal Academy and I swore to myself that I would never submit myself to that kind of horror ever again so studying seemed to be the best. I’ve just finished my first year and I absolutely love it. The self-awareness and discipline that I got from fashion has been translated very well into how I approach my sculpture work. So the future, as it looks for now, sees me staying in Antwerp for the next few years and completing my degree; hopefully continuing to work on projects outside of my studies in the meantime. If I were to do an apprenticeship, it would be with an artist.