Friday, 17 January 2014

Interview with Jay Briggs

Hello Jay! Would you like to introduce yourself to my readers?
Hey lil wasps, I’m Jay Briggs a london based fashion designer and milliner. I currently live out my days in the North of London, some call me the wicked witch of the North, however I put this down to the fact that I live part way between fairyland and the depths of the underworld at all times. This explains why I like to tell a story throughout the pieces which I create, a fairytale with a dark fantasy twist. 

Sounds maleficent! Talk me through an average day in the life of you?
Ooh gosh, two days are never the same and at the minute they all seem to blur into one. If I'm not skulking around the National Portrait Gallery mesmerized by the works of the genius that is Hans Holbein, frantically scribbling designs down (in the black leather bound book that comes everywhere with me) I could be lost in the realm of Philipa Greggory, with my nose deep in one of her incredible books. Or failing that you will find me in my deep, dark cave (my bedroom a.k.a studio) surrounded by a chaos of fabric, feathers, taxidermy, rhinestones and beads preparing for the birth of the new collection.  

Describe yourself as a child?
I was delivered to a young man and woman’s doorstep by stalk, wrapped in a bundle of fur with a note wrote in an unknown language, that not being of this race but an unknown source, as it was a scribble of symbols and letters. These people fell in love with me as soon as they untied the bundle of fur and saw my big blue eyes staring up at them, with a look of confusion on my face. They took me in straight away and called me their own, so my true origins I’ll never really know..... 

Seriously? This isn't a panto, Jay!

I grew up in a small village on the outskirts of a steel city, that being the delightful city of Sheffield, and believe it or not I used to be a relatively normal boisterous child, constantly fighting and teasing my little brother (with everything being his fault, naturally), and I played a lot of sport. Well, that was until an awful experience playing football when the ball hit me clean in the face, and then it was all about Disney princesses, Barbies and the dressing up box... Although I can remember never being allowed a Barbie doll to dress up and play with, so I made my own by making a wool wig for my TY beenie monkey (Bongo he was called but he had to be a she) and made her clothes with bits of fabric my nan gave me, and out of old socks I found in my mum's cleaning cupboard. 

At Halloween (or any chance I could get (mainly at my grandparents houses) I always used to dress up in costumes I made from bin bags, that I’d cut up and stick together with cellotape. I’d always be the first one in the dressing up box, arguing with my friends over who would wear the green dress and be Winnie from Hocus Pocus. (I can remember it vividly, it was floor length, made from layers and layers of green organza, covered in purple sequin flowers. Think of the most hideous dress and that was it! In theory you could say it was only natural that I’d end up going into the fashion industry eventually.

I wonder how Bongo feels about all this today... Has much changed now that you are fully grown?
As much as it doesn't come across that way, as a child I was extremely shy and quiet, and hid the whole playing Barbie's, dressing up, and generally being creative - it all happened behind closed doors - away from my parents, so to them I was pretty much “normal”.  But deep down I always knew I wanted to go into fashion design, but that was too “gay” and I couldn't do that, so at an attempt to suppress that creative side I undertook a Hortriculture and Garden Design NVQ at college. 


The turning point was when I’d finished my NVQ, knowing that my heart wasn’t in it I knew I couldn’t do it for the rest of my life. It was then when things changed in my personal life, and I became the person I was trying to hide to avoid disappointment, that gave me the confidence to go out and do something for me, something that I’d always wanted to do, and that takes me to where I am today, skipping down the yellow brick road to the Emerald City.... 

God I sound like I have such unsupportive parents and that certainly isn't the case, I couldn’t do what I do now without them, and I do it all for them.  They are the King and Queen of my crazy little world.  But to answer your question Ive grown up with a lot more confidence than I had throughout my school years and I’m always the first person to try on a toile or finished garment and have a prance around... naturally... 


So when I first met you Jay, you wouldn’t let me shake your hand to greet you. Instead we had to kiss on the cheek. Have you always preferred the more European way of saying hello?
Portis Wasp, are you referring to me as some form of fashion witch? *Evil grin*  I was merely being my friendly Northern self, besides which, I don’t know where those hands have been... THEM GLOVES! I’ll say no more!

I think my lion gloves are super cute, just so we are clear.

No... I find shaking hands really awkward and professional, and manly if thats the right word... If I was a beefy muscly bear then maybe you would have got a whole different greeting.

That's totally my reason for trying to shake your hand, obviously.  But when we went to air kiss I missed the perimeter's of your cheek and nearly got impaled on one of the spikes on your jacket! Should kissing you not come with some sort of health warning?
Shouldn’t my entire existence come with a health warning?! 

For those of my readers who haven't seen examples of your work, you specialise in making super fancy pieces made out of everyday household items like dead birds and beetle wings. Care to explain further?
My main source of inspiration comes from historical references, mainly from the Plantagenet, Tudor and Elizabethan periods of British history, and the whole idea of dressing up for daily court life and putting on a show for the monarchy.

At the moment I’m entrapped in the novels written by Phillipa Gregory which tell the story of women who history forgot, yet initially were the driving forces behind the huge changes evolving the shape of the country, however their whole lives were suppressed by men.  Only their vanity and enchantment was to their advantage. It's these types of women which I want to dress, the women who take power into their own hands, stand tall for what they believe in, but above all enchant their victim. Witchcraft also plays a huge part in the design process as it is an aspect which has always fascinated me from childhood. I love the preconceptions and mystery which surrounds the concept or idea of witchcraft in general.

You have treated us to a first look at your new lookbook which features pieces from your first collection. Would you like to talk us through some of the designs and what the concept was for the shoot?
My debut collection entitled “Malleus Maleficurum” is based on witchcraft throughout the 15th and 16th century.  The “Malleus Maleficarurum” was a book written on the prosecution of witches in 1486 by Heinrich Kramer, a German Catholic monk which served as a guidebook for inquisitors during the Inquisition, and was designed to aid them in the identification, prosecution, and dispatching of witches in the later years. Silhouettes from the collection are inspired by the exaggerated and dramatic cuts of the fashion's worn by the monarchy and noblewomen of the Elizabethan court, with a gothic twist. The luxury and pompousness of the court is translated in the 15,000 taxidermy Elytra jewel beetle wings which were individually hand stitched to each of the garments, along with the thousands of duck feathers. French lace, leather and sequined fabric also plays a large part within the collection, by bringing it up to date.

The lookbook tells the story of a dark, mysterious queen, cursed with her vanity, and in order to feed the enchantment bestowed upon her, she must suck the very soul, the life force, from all the beautiful young women and men of her court, in order to feed her radiance.

Was it not a little creepy shooting your lookbook in a cemetery?
A creepy lil graveyard in East London could never scare the Prince of Darkness, however talk about the groundskeeper and that's a whole different story all together, “I often talk to the graves”.  We will leave it at that. *shudders*

In all seriousness, your work is bloody marvellous! How long did it take you to make some of these wonderful pieces?
The full collection took a solid 5 months of practically no sleep to create. From the designing, pattern cutting and toiling process to the finished pieces which then had to then be hand embellished with the beetle wings. I was very fortunate to have an incredible team of interns who really believed in the collection and would help out wherever they could, and my mum was a complete godsend, she embellished the full beetle wing dress all on her own.

Lordy, what a trooper!  

As well as this lookbook, where else will my readers be able to see your creations in print?
Most of the editorial pieces of the collection have been shot for magazines released this year, however I've had pieces in Triade Magazine, StyleNoir magazine, and Ive just had a cover story for the new Fashion Swift magazine. Ive also had online coverage on, Italian Vogue, Phoenix magazine and Glassbook Magazine.

If you could design for any celebrity, who would you choose and why?
It would complete my life if Grace Jones wore a headpiece, or Gaga did her thing wearing Jay Briggs....

And what would be the perfect soundtrack to go with your designs, would you say?
Matthew Stone Hotmane I think the track is called.... Its been said my taste in music is rather appalling.  If its not Gaga or Madonna, or camp eighties disco I don't have a clue.

A guilty pleasure you can’t seem to quit?
My 20+ cigarette a day habit. I often question if I was a chimney in the industrial revolution in a previous life.

A song that makes your heart skip a beat? 
Annie Lennox - 'Love Song For A Vampire', without a doubt.

Which item of clothing in your closet gets most wear and why?
Greg, my gorilla onesie.  You try working in spray on leather trousers and fur!  The outcome is rather disastrous.

Would you like to ask Portis Wasp a question?
Out of all the insects you could have chosen to name yourself after why a wasp?

It was quite a random spur of the moment decision, I guess.  I watched a great production of Iain Banks' The Wasp Factory in the Byre Theatre in St.Andrews and thought it was quite punchy... Having a sting in my tail n'all that.

What happens next?
I’m currently working on my new collection entitled “Melusina”. The collection will be split into two, the first part will see the launch of the new collection of headpieces in February, and used as a “teaser” for whats coming next with the full collection being launched in September with a show, a fashion film and fairytale book. This year will also see a range of one-off, super exciting creative collaborations, but I can't say too much as I'll be hung, drawn and quartered!

Thanks Jay!

Jay Briggs is represented by Lewis&Leigh PR should you want to contact them with any enquiries relating to Jay's collection.  For future updates on Jay's work please click hereAlso on Twitter and here.

“Malleus Maleficurum” 
Lookbook Credits:
Photographer: Fabio Esposito
Model: Beki Adams
Stylist: Lucy Ansa-Addo
MUA: Jennifer Parker
Hair: Gaby Winwood
Photographers Assistant: Marco Pantella


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