Jack Irving is best known for sea urchins. Big ones, like the iridescent tentacled dress he fashioned as a 21-year-old Central Saint Martins-undergrad, once donned by Lady Gaga to the final night of her Artpop World Tour in Paris. Or the bright orange inflatable showpiece he sent down the runway of his February 2017 presentation that, when at full-mast, knocked iPhones from the hands of courtside editors.
Hailing from Blackpool, a beachside resort town which the London-based artist describes as “the Las Vegas of the United Kingdom,” Irving’s sculptural garments retain much of the classic over-the-top glitz of the showgirl costumes synonymous with his hometown. But with a penchant for soothing David Attenborough-narrated documentaries about the deep sea, he’s regularly inspired by the mysterious supernaturality of oceanic creatures — man o’ war jellyfish, feather duster worms, and, of course, sea urchins have all informed aesthetic elements of his work. He grounds these seemingly disparate references with carefully engineered technology.
“I have this muse character in my head, an alien showgirl,” Irving says. Imagining an intergalactic raver on a party bus through space, bopping from planet to planet, each of Irving’s new collections or projects thematically reflect the aesthetic elements of her journey. “My last collection was all purples and blues, so I imagined the surface of the planet she landed on was like Pluto. Then her clothing and the way she behaves reacts to the environment of that planet. I picture it as a whole story.”
Whether he’s creating yet another custom outfit for Mother Monster; installing a performative art piece at the Victoria and Albert Museum; or designing “a big, sort of sculptural ballerina, flowery thing” as a costume for the Spice Girls comeback tour, this creative process rings true. “The mood boards are very big, like thousands of images,” he says.
Recently, the aliens landed at W London’s Leicester Square outpost, where a multi-million pound redesign (unveiled during London Pride in June) saw Jack Irving Studio entering foreign territory: interior design. In his first brand collaboration, Irving teamed up with the hotel group to create a limited-edition collection of spiked, sea urchin-shaped pillows that are available in all newly renovated 192 guest rooms and suites. Comprised of an innovative “techorative” material, the pillow appears as a muted slate grey to the naked eye but, when photographed with a camera flash, the smart fabric transforms to multicolored iridescence. “I wanted to create something almost like a ball of energy,” Irving says. “And we’re in Soho, the energy center of London. Everything is happening here, and everything's around.”
The tech-forward nature of the pillow fits well within the W London’s renovation, which makes the hotel the first in the United Kingdom to fully embrace DigiValet, a system that allows guests to control in-room temperature, lighting and media, room service, and streaming services from a user-friendly tablet. “So this is my version of a pillow, but what is my version of a chair?” Irving wonders. With such a playful ridiculousness and theatricality to his body of work, interiors may seem like an unexpected foray for Jack Irving Studio, but his collaboration with W London may have galvanized the 28-year-old artist.
“Oh, I'd just love to do an entire hotel,” he says. “I'd design the toilet.”