PHABRIK Magazine

The Avant-Garde Architecture of Jeffrey Michael

By Jacqueline Parrish

September 2010
Light-up Lenses, Wheat Corsets, Comic-Book Lamps and Lasers

“Blood, sweat and tears,” Jeffrey laughs from his U.K. studio; pricking his finger while putting the finishing touches on the latest costume piece for legendary pop-rock band U2. “It’s true what they say,” he grins, flourishing a half-stitched-together light-up shoe in one hand: “there’s DNA on these babies”.

‘Charming’ is the operative word to describe Jeffrey Michael; sporting large, black rimmed glasses, blonde hair and a boyish grin, the 24 year old Edmonton native is full of insight and amusing quips. His energy is infectious, his eloquence, refreshing and his personality, endearing.

Specializing in light-up and avant-garde design, Jeffrey is fast becoming one of the most sought out costume and lighting designers in the world. Inimitable talent has both established and up-and-coming stars (such as pop/punk rocker Johnny Lazer) flocking to the creative genius who fashions one-of-a kind pieces for his clients: “(Lady) Gaga doesn’t want what Beyonce has, Beyonce doesn’t want what Rhianna wants, and Rhianna doesn’t want what anyone has,” he smiles.

Self-described as ‘headstrong’, Jeffrey studied architecture at Carleton University, a love of building and creating fueling his years of study. Shifting his attention to a focus on lighting design, Jeffrey refused to be pigeon-holed as a ‘lighting designer’, choosing instead to capitalize on his creativity, dabbling in other design driven industries. A deeply ingrained love of organics and recycling, Jeffrey is always looking for ways to push boundaries; changing ordinary ‘things’ into extraordinary ‘somethings’. ‘Somethings’ which include light-up glasses for pop star Jason Derulo, lighting designs for (make-up giant) Rimmel’s latest campaign, stage designs for songstress Gabby Young, and beautiful installation pieces he’s dubbed ‘The Warhol Screens’ for an art gallery named ‘The Collection’.

“I think the weirdest thing I’ve made so far is a wheat corset; it glows from the inside…..The lighting is a secret,” he smiles when I question him about it. “I like the idea that no one knows how any of it’s done; it adds an element of magic to it, I think.”

Unlike traditional clothing or lighting designers, Jeffrey’s building blocks know no bounds, citing “maple leafs, Christmas balls, wheat, spoons and sunglass lenses” as materials he has used in the past.

“Inspiration is everywhere,” he bubbles. “Just this morning I was walking down the street and came across this pretty purple flower that had little puffs coming off the end of the petals, and as soon as I saw it, ideas started racing through my mind.”

A short tour around his London studio reveals a vision-board plastered with pictures of various celebrities, models and pop stars; Beyonce, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Coco Rocha. “It’s funny,” he grins, “I’ve actually had to remove some people’s pictures from my inspiration board because I’ve begun working with them…it would be a little unprofessional and embarrassing for them to come in and see their picture up on my wall”. On the opposite side of the room, hidden behind an enormous black and white art piece (which will soon see its way into Liberty House, an art gallery in Chelsea) is a different board, strikingly similar to his vision-board but with one small difference; it’s filled with pictures of those that he has worked with. Sort of a personal homage to what he has already accomplished; amongst the photos on this board are Georgia May Jagger, U2, and Johnny Blue Eyes (stylist of Brit band The Gossip, model Kate Moss, Dragonette and the Scissor Sisters).

“I’m terrible at keeping secrets,” he admits while showing me one of his next projects; a light up glass bra for an unnamed celebrity; “I’m not at liberty to say,” he quips. “But, off the record…..” And while I’m also not at liberty to say, I’ll leave off with saying that a good number of pictures are soon going to be transferring vision-boards; an impressive but
not surprising accomplishment for such a talented designer.

When I question him about his experiences with those in the industry, and whether he’s ever found himself star-struck, he laughs and responds with sincerity: “I freak out on the inside, but I’m composed on the outside. My biggest celebrity freak-out has been Lady Gaga; I immediately called my mom. You hear horror stories about people in the industry, but everyone has been so nice. I think that if I only designed clothing, they would rip me apart, but that I’m involved with so many different mediums, I don’t think they quite know what to make of me. There are so many people I’ve met that I look up to. Johnny Blue Eyes is so intelligent and he gives his clients confidence. Emma Crosby (at London a la Mode) is also a big inspiration. She believed in me and got me into Liberties; we’re still very close.”

His next career-move may see him back in his home country (albeit for a short amount of time), and involves a Vogue-caliber photographer, a LABB make-up artist and his team of agents: “You set yourself dreams then when you get to them, you have to make new dreams. You re-prioritize. You can always go harder. You’re the only person that can care about your career”, he says bluntly “you’re the only one that can promote your career.”

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