“Do what you want to do, don’t worry about the industry”
I meet the elusive Clifford Jago by the Thames to ensure complete anonymity. He dodges questions when I ask about where he’s based, where he works, where he’s from. He makes wild claims about living with Burial and going to art college with Banksy; maybe it’s all true, maybe it’s all fabricated. All we know so far is he is a ‘fashion stylist and a freestyle motherfucker’.
In a critique of the fashion industry, Jago pushes his styling to the forefront of the imagery in his latest project, Clifford Jago and the Tulip Chewers. Set in Amsterdam, Jago wanted to change the perception of Amsterdam from the images of ‘lads and stag parties, spliffs and hoes’ that we’re so familiar with. Jago explains how inspiring Amsterdam was for him: “It’s quite exciting how everyone is connected to photography there. They absolutely love it. Everyone would come up to me as I was styling, asking what was going on, they were so intrigued. It’s completely different to London, the whole city adores photography. They’re really engaged in the art culture in the ‘Dam.”
Using found objects, material, and clothes from charity shops, Jago’s style has a unique organic quality. “A subconscious mess” he calls it. “I chuck everything in a bag and go. It’s a lot of cutting and making things on the spot. When you’re in the moment you can have six models waiting for you, it’s an immense pressure to make something out of nothing. I completely make it up, always self-editing as I go. It’s all made very spontaneously.” Jago is the creative director for all the images, creating the outfits, picking locations, and all the photography is credited to Clifford Jago though he doesn’t press the button. In keeping the true photographer (or photographers) under wraps, Jago can eliminate the distraction that arises from ownership of an image from simply pressing a button, so readers of the Tulip Chewers focus solely on the styling and the image before them.
Set in the Keukenhof fields, Jago’s imagery makes you question the standard ‘fashion image’ with its lack of brands and crafted style. There’s no hair or make-up, Jago simply says its “restrictive, distracting, and unnecessary.” He comments on the futility of it all, moaning about how long people work to get the ‘natural’ look when they could just, go natural. His attitude toward fashion itself is refreshing; by using none of the big brands, the readers’ questions their role in the imagery which is beautiful, charismatic, and most definitely fashion.
Working within the DNA of a fashion magazine, everything inside The Tulip Chewers turns the framework on its head. Mock adverts in the Jago aesthetic show how advertising could work if it broke free from its rigid constraints: “It’s putting Moschino on the same level as Leyland Paint, and saying look, it doesn’t matter what it is, just have fun with it.”
We talk about nature on our walk whilst admiring the beautiful autumn colours around, and I ask why natural products feature so heavily in Jago’s aesthetic. He replies, “they’re organic, easily accessible, interesting, and seasonal. Fashion seasons are going out of fashion but nature seasons are always in fashion. And even though they bring out the same collection four times a year it’s always completely new.” With a wry smile, he adds, “this winter season from nature has been great so far, and they haven’t even brought out the snow yet.”
Jago’s attitude is a refreshing look at the fashion industry which can be so adverse to change. The Tulip Chewers show that style doesn’t mean brands; just like Amsterdam doesn’t mean ‘spliff and hoes’.
All proceeds from Clifford Jago and the Tulip Chewers go to supporting Cancer Research.