Having left Birmingham to “escape” a turbulent home life, but with no roots fully developed in the capital, he has the air of someone lost and meandering: “There’s nowhere in east London that holds my heart and makes me want to go back. Not that it’s boring; it’s definitely better than Birmingham.”
Currently unemployed, but with aspirations to go to art school, he hopes to make his mark on the world through his style. “Everyone tries to leave an impression, and they do it in the way that comes most naturally to them. I guess I want a reaction, at the end of the day. I don’t want to die and be forgotten, so I’m gonna bring it.”
Jake’s appearance is a mass of curious iconography – bound dolls, horns, handprints, inch-thick black eyebrows. I ask how he would sum up his look, but he can only shuffle around the question. “I am not happy with myself at all right now. Nothing sits properly, nothing works. I am so unstable at the minute. In and out of these shared houses. I was run out of my last house because they couldn’t cope with my blue face and my dolls.”
Eventually he settles on classing his style as, “very much about recycling; I can only work with what I’ve already got so I’ve sold things and adopted things. I am definitely going for an ethnic look. Harem pants and turbans and things. I like things that are big on drama; volume, big shoulders, big frames. Anything that makes your waist look considerably smaller, just because it’s an unusual and dramatic silhouette to have. Headgear is always part of what I wear, but for no reason other than because I don’t like my hair! I’m getting a weave, though, when I have a job.”
Jake has no money, and hasn’t bought anything new for months. It would be easy to assume that if he had more disposable cash, his style would be similar, just more well-stocked. He disagrees. “No, if I could shop all the time, if I were rich, I would look very different. It would be so much better, a whole different creation. I’d have more makeup.”
He becomes more animated and bright while describing his first experiences of makeup, his naturally playful smile widening over soft features: “I think I got my makeup done for the first time in Birmingham when I was 17. I just sat down in this chair in Illamasqua is Selfridges and said to the makeup artist, ‘make me look dead,’ so we just got out all these dark colours, and made my eyes look sunken, and lighter foundation so I was very pale. And then the eyebrows came. I just loved the brute force of them and they’ve stuck with me since.”
“I’m in London to escape. Although I always think that there are other people that had it so much worse, I did not get on with my Mum for a very long time. Social services were involved, police were involved a lot.
“We only get on well now because we’re so far apart. I went back over Christmas and had to leave early because I couldn’t take it, which really upset her.
“Was school hard? I can’t really tell, because I can laugh at all that now. But my mum was completely unaware of what was going on. She was unaware and unsympathetic.
“The homophobic abuse that I was getting at school, I was getting at home too. She said those things to hurt me, more than out of any genuine homophobic feeling. Although she does have issues with me being gay, too. She is a black woman after all. The majority of what she believes in, I have absolutely no interest in. I’m not even slightly religious. God did nothing for me. Without especially trying to be, we’re complete opposites.
“There’s many factors that have made me who I am, but I am not going to deny my family life – it’s there, isn’t it. We had a turbulent relationship and it’s definitely going to have an effect on me.
“There’s probably still a trace of rebellion in what I do, but it’s also taken on a life of its own. This is just who I am, now.”