John William, fashion editor
In Nicolai Gogol’s drama “The Government Inspector”, Khlestakov, the young playboy from Moscow who turns up to cause hullabaloo in a provincial town is described as having hair that resembled “a rabbit on fire.” For many years I puzzled, trying to imagine what this could be like, until I met John recently and saw his hair. Conservatively short around the sides but with a spectacular mass of long curls erupting from the crown and spiralling recklessly in every direction, it is like a fountain in the wind or even, you might say, like a rabbit on fire.
Although, as editor of Pigeons & Peacocks magazine, John William presents an appearance that is striking to behold, there is far more to him than meets the eye on first impression. Upon introduction, when John talks, it is with a maximum number of exclamation marks, so it was no surprise to me when I received an email from him that commenced in the same way, “Hello!!! John here!” I can only admire how John has made audacity into a style because I surmise he is at heart a shy person who has adopted this demonstrative self declaration as a means to overcome his natural reserve and engage with the world openly. As such, John’s construction of himself represents an heroic and engaging triumph of style, qualifying him as a one of life’s true fashion pioneers. He is a true original voice in the barren wilderness of conformity crying out, “Hello!!! John here!”
On the day we met, dressed down for the working day, John was rocking a chunky eighties sweater with images of cocktail glasses, carnival streamers and harlequin masks knitted into it, accessorised with a gold chain round his neck displaying the name “Divine” (referring to the star of John Waters’ masterpiece “Pink Flamingos” who is John William’s personal inspiration). Baggy trousers rolled up to his ankles revealed two-tone wet-look and suede brogues with Forget-me-not blue socks. Yet in spite of his loud clothes, when John settles down to a conversation he speaks quietly and thoughtfully, presenting his opinions lucidly.
Speaking of his unremarkable upbringing in Liverpool, John revealed, “I knew what I wanted to do since I was ten, at thirteen I bleached my first pair of jeans, cut them up and safety pinned them back together again, and it was the first example of the power of presentation – because it completely changed the way everyone saw me and taught me the power of constructed identity. Monthly, I wrote to every fashion magazine from Sleaze Nation to Vogue asking for an internship and when at fifteen I was invited to do work experience at Dazed & Confused, I worked at McDonalds until I saved up the money to come to London for the first time.”
Clearly an operator, John was disappointed by the lack of initiative shown by other students on his fashion journalism course and went out and won commissions, submitting a portfolio of his published work at the end of the year. With equal aplomb, he persuaded the London College of Fashion to give him the budget they would spend on their prospectus to publish his magazine, Pigeons & Peacocks, and allow him freedom to pursue his own innovative editorial policy. An enlightened decision that has proved to be a sympathetic reflection upon the college itself.
I wondered if John’s ambition was to pursue the fast track of success in fashion journalism, but he dismissed it. “I don’t want to be Anna Wintour!” he protested, as if the unlikely transformation were literally at hand, before he proceeding to elaborate upon his own more egalitarian philosophy of fashion, “Pigeons & Peacocks is not prescriptive, it is a collection of diverse opinions and stories, I want people to feel they can become involved and I get emails from fifteen and sixteen year olds submitting ideas. It’s not about selling someone the shoes they can’t afford or the sweater they don’t need. Fast fashion is horrible and people are wising up to it. As a weirdo, at least you are spared the pressure to accept the package that is being sold to everyone else through advertising, because as a weirdo you don’t want it in the first place. I think that whole Tom Ford idea is embarrassing now. Who’s got that money to spend? And who wants to live that life that’s presented top to tail and floor to ceiling?”
John is twenty-two and articulates the voice of a generation who have seen the excesses of consumerism and reject the waste of resources and the human exploitation it represents. In its place he proposes a manifesto of do-it-yourself creativity that does not involve spending a great deal of money but requires thought to decide who you are and how clothes can be part of your individual expression. I was inspired to meet someone who has grown up through the sordid events of recent history and emerged idealistic.
When he proudly rolled up his sleeve to show me the fine tattoo on his arm of Casper, his beloved blue-eyed Siamese, and the one on his shoulder that reads “I want to be the girl with the most cake”, I could not help smiling because there is a rare playfulness about John that is equally disarming and appealing in its candid emotionalism. All John’s thoughts are in motion, pursuing his ideas about people and the culture of clothing open-mindedly, to see where it will take him and what he can learn.
Pigeons & Peacocks is currently preparing an East End issue that looks at the role of clothing and style in the diverse and complex cultures here, far beyond the realm of fashion. We look forward to it with eager anticipation.