The first time I ever saw Jake Starr was at a pub. He was there with his friends, I was there with mine, but he stood out to me instantly, owing to the Opal card he wore attached to a gold hoop earring. The earring (which he wore to our shoot, to my delight) does tend to garner a lot of attention, he admits to me as we sit down at a cafe. “The amount of times people have come up to me and been like” he mimed leaning down awkwardly to tap his earring against an imaginary Opal reader, and put on a dopey voice, “‘aw, do you tap on like this?’”
The earring is such an iconic Starr look; as much a part of him as his enviably natural ginger hair. “Ron Weasley, but make it fashion,” he joked, sweeping a few strands out of his eyes as he poses during the shoot.
Starr is a photographer and stylist hailing from Sydney, though “definitely not an influencer of any kind - yet!” he told me, with a heavy emphasis on the “yet”. Having taken up photography as a creative outlet at the age of 16, the now 20-year-old has increasingly taken interest in fashion as a means of self-expression. For Starr, photography was the gateway drug into the world of fashion. It led him to a minor op-shopping addiction, and from there second-hand fashion became an entry point for all fashion.
For the teenaged Starr, clothing was a projection of who he wanted to be; a way to feel more confident in a body he felt uncomfortable in. “In high school I didn't really like the way I looked,” he admitted. “Fashion became a sort of garb to express who I wanted to be. It allowed me to become more satisfied with my body, to embrace it.”
Starr’s style is certainly unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. It incorporates all sorts of unconventional clothing pieces, like the apron he wears in lieu of a top during our shoot, or the curtain tassels he attaches to the belt loops on his ski pants. Throughout our chat, that’s one theme we somehow keep coming back to: just how much he thrives on taking something ordinary, something you could so easily find in your house - an apron, curtain tassels - and wearing them as clothing.
“My vein of fashion is very self-made. It's a little bubble that thrives on whatever people can throw together or find. It’s sort of a scavenger’s bubble,” he said.
His fashion is all about the subversion of tradition and expectation; reappropriating the old, outdated or conventional and creating something new and eye-catching. “It’s somewhere between high fashion and anti-fashion,” he explained. “It’s trash-fash, in the purest sense!”
Ultimately, Starr describes his styling process as a balancing act: between masculine and feminine; luxe and cheap; vintage and contemporary. “It’s like a power play between these different demographics of fashion,” he added.
It’s not really about being overly controversial or attention-seeking. Starr explained that he’s simply “disillusioned” with corporate-owned fast fashion and its unethical implications. “It’s a bit scary in the way it’s molding the entire fashion scene, really,” he told me. He prefers to seek out inspiration elsewhere. A big influence lately, he revealed, has been his upbringing. “I come from a family that’s just sandwich-bread-white,” he said, a little tenderly. “A little bit white trash, a little bit bogan. With my fashion, I’ve been trying to diversify that country, bogan culture into something new.”
Starr attributes his love of the arts to his family. He describes his grandparents as his biggest influence; the people who introduced him to art and photography and have always supported his self-expression. His grandma, he told me proudly, is his biggest fan. “She’s also my biggest critic,” he laughed. “But she just loves a man in a dress!”
His aesthetic is not really the type to ever be fully adopted in the mainstream, he admits, and I can’t help but agree - I can’t quite imagine ever seeing his sort of looks filling the #ootd Instagram feeds of any of my friends, but that’s exactly what makes it so charmingly unique. There aren't many people out there who would willingly wear crocs and socks, let alone make it work as a look. There aren’t many people out there who would think to pick up an everyday household item and incorporate it into their daily outfits - it simply wouldn’t occur to them. If it did, they’d be too scared to wear it in public, to willingly attract the kind of mixed bag of positive and negative reactions that Jake gets.
As we walked through Sydney University between shoot locations, I watched as eyes are drawn as if by a magnet towards Starr’s outfit - from that earring, to the aged printed fabric of the apron, to the patchwork skirt and all the way down to the polarising choice of footwear. Their expressions flicker somewhere between amusement, shock, distaste and oftentimes admiration for someone who has the guts to wear such an outfit with such casual confidence. Once upon a time, he found it a little scary, he admitted, this uncertainty about the reactions he was sure to provoke. Now, however, he simply embraces it. He unabashedly takes the stares in his step as he strides along the footpath. “It’s to be expected when you’re dressing like a fuckwit most of the time,” he shrugs with exaggerated nonchalance. “Just don’t let others define your fashion.”
Social media, Starr said, is a great tool for self-expression according to your own rules. “I love it, I absolutely love it,” he gushed. “It takes out the middleman of agencies and the corporate side of fashion and leaves it completely in the hands of the user, or the merchandiser, or the young creatives who are doing things differently.” He finds his following and his community with other young creatives - those on Instagram expressing themselves through fashion, illustrations, photography and various other art forms. These are the people who inherently appreciate the unexpected and the bizarre; champions of quirkiness and fans of trash-fash such as Starr’s. They are the people aiming to break down concepts of the conventional and the traditional; to subvert gender norms and societal norms and any other norm that comes their way.
“Too many people resign their clothes to being ironic or whatever. Get past it and just own what you’re wearing.”
“Even if it’s crocs?” I laughed.
“Even crocs,” he agreed.
Follow Starr’s photography and styling via his Instagram, @j.starrphotography.
For more from the photoshoot, check out photographer @oliviarepaci on Instagram.