Meet Jack Irving: The Designer Bringing Bearded Drag Queens to the Fashion Week Runway

In a time of what seems to be political gloom, the fashion weeks of the world have responded with glitter. From Ashish’s fabulous runway, boasting sequin freaks doused in sparkling inspiration from Lucha Libre wrestling from Mexico to Public School’s “Make America New York” parodied slogan runway, designers and artists are searching high and low to project some positivity into our lives.

Which is why it’s probably the perfect time to introduce Jack Irving to the scene, the multi-disciplinary designer bringing outrageous inflatables, bearded drag queens and a whole new level of aquatic camp-ness to the runway. Imagining his pieces as a show with the main focus being on the theatricals and eccentrics of the fabrics and silhouettes, Irving’s work is bright, colourful and metallic.

Irving’s newest collection recently wowed the fashion scene at the On|Off show at the Oxo Tower. From working with Gaga to the aquatic collection, we caught up with the designer:

Your most recent collection stood out as particularly aquatic – somewhat of a camper and more playful Plato’s Atlantis – what inspired the collection?

My main inspiration is deep sea creatures and futuristic themes. I like to see my models as Alien Showgirls and for me this collection was about creating an army of alien showgirls who have just landed in London for another cosmic planet and are here to take over so – yes – it has a tongue ‘n’ cheek vibe. I want my work to come across as fun and still follow through the futuristic element. A showgirl always makes people smile so I hope I achieved this.

The shard corsets you’ve made are beautiful, tell us how they became a thing for you?

Thank you so much! They started out as a bit of an experiment which involved me testing out the capabilities of the material. Luckily they worked out really well so I got over excited and made multiple versions in different variations. My aim was to create cosmic armour for a superwoman figure within the collection with these pieces.

And you used bearded drag queens in your most recent LFW show (including HISKIND favourite Maxi More), what was the concept behind this?

The concept about using a bearded drag queen was that I wanted to bring an element of surprise to the show and in my mind, my army of alien showgirls are the most weird and wonderful but yet the most beautiful and Maxi More is exactly that and so much ‘MORE’. This was also the reason she came out right in the middle of the show. She was the tipping point in the collection to show things were about to get more excessive.

Maxi is a very special friend to me and has been a friend who has been there for me throughout my journey to where I am now. We actually met at a bus stop 3 years ago and I was so mesmerised by her energy and her look encapsulates everything I represent as a designer. I really wanted the show to be a celebration of every type of person and gender and Maxi defies all gender stereotypes. She’s a superstar and she blows everyone away when they see her so it was a no-brainer to have her in the show.

Where did this whole inflatable concept come from and what draws you to it so much?

From when I was a kid I was always obsessed with anything which was big or transformed. I started playing around with inflatable in my final year at Central Saint Martins and spent months refining and re-designing my formula for making inflatables. I love how a piece can essentially be 2 outfits once inflated and then deflated. I have many more inflatable concepts up my sleeve for future projects.

Who and what are the biggest inspirations for you?

My biggest inspirations in terms of designers are probably Thierry Mugler and Bob Mackie. I’m inspired by a variety of things. I’m obsessed with science documentaries about deep sea life. I also look at comic book references as well as old 1980s showgirl, cabaret imagery and bring it all together to drive the inspiration.

And you’ve previously worked with Gaga, tell me how that came about? She’s quite the fan of you and your work!

Yes! It was one big dream come true. It came about as after graduating I emailed loads of people my work to put myself out there and a few months after doing this some of these people had forwarded my work onto Lady Gaga’s team. A few months later her team emailed me saying they loved my work and wanted to work with me. It was all incredibly exciting and I’m so grateful she supported me. It meant everything! I’d had the vision for that outfit for nearly 5 years previous and to see it come to life on Gaga was just the most incredible moment!

Where now for Jack?

I have lots of ideas where I want to go. As well as a fashion and costume designer I also create installations and set design pieces. I’d love to create some installations based on the themes I explored in the collection. I also have a few projects in the pipeline which I sadly can’t discuss yet. All very exciting though.

You can check out all of Jack’s work on his website here and follow him on Instagram here.

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