Listen, I’ve come to accept that even after living in London for six years I’ll never fully understand the British, nor will I ever fully grasp the idea of Britishness. Its class system, the overly fake politeness, the increasing level of social division, and every cultural nuance in between.
What I’ve always understood, however, are its sartorial codes and what they represent in the broader culture. And for that, look no further than S.S. Daley, the new namesake brand by Steven Stokey Daley, whose crochet cotton shirts, floral headpieces, and knitted argyle sleeveless vests couldn’t be from anywhere else but from the UK.
Its inspirations are clear when I call him a week before his debut show and he shows me his evolving moodboards depicting old photos of Kate Bush, Lady Diana Spencer, public school students, paintings by David Hockney and Josh O’Connor who portrayed a young Prince Charles in the fourth season of Netflix’ hit series The Crown, whose head is cut out and stuck on an antiquated image of the real Prince Charles.
Old meets new. The same approach the designer takes to his brand where tablecloths, old curtains, and anything else that might serve as a fabric and can be found at a flea market or charity shop is transformed into something novel.
“There’s something about loving the clothes even more because it feels like they’ve got a past life to them. There’s very much a soul to his clothes that feels new but old at the same time,” Harry Lambert, stylist extraordinaire of Harry Styles, Emma Corrin, Josh O’Connor and more, tells me. The former who he styled in a full S.S. Daley look for Styles’ ‘Golden’ single. “I feel like he’s doing something that’s missing in the landscape of British menswear.”
And Stokey Daley is already embraced by many. Journalist and writer of What Artists Wear, Charlie Porter, tells me of Steven, “One thing fuels another, his politics gives him his drive, an ambition which pushes the scope of his design, with a command of menswear which then becomes a vehicle to express his politics. It’s a circularity of talent that he’s had since the beginning, and which gives him so much potential to keep saying something important in the years ahead.”
Paul Roseby, CEO and Artistic Director of the National Youth Theatre of Great Britain, with whom Stokey Daley has collaborated with for his first theatre-inspired collection writes in saying, “Using theatre to animate a new fashion collection is a thrilling way of engaging our talented young cohort, who don't pigeon-hole themselves to one art-form in the way previous generations have, so it's fitting that we're sharing their voices on a new platform. We're proud to be celebrating Steven's journey and talent with this unique new collaboration that brings together the best of our creative industries.”
There you have it, loved by many, about to be known by all. So I gave the guy a call to introduce myself.
Christopher Morency: Steven, it’s the first time we’re meeting. Tell me a bit about yourself. Steven Stokey Daley: I’m based in Haggerston and between Liverpool and London. I'm from Liverpool where my grandmother used to work in a clothing factory. It closed down like 25 years ago and we sort of rallied the women together who used to work with her and created an unconventional sort of localized production set up there. We started working with them last summer and we've sort of rallied together and come back together to do it. We’re sort of reforming a small localized production setup that brings them back to do what they love to do.
Is your grandmother involved in your business as well? She is but she doesn’t have the best hand-eye coordination. So, she's taken an administrative and a managerial role which she absolutely loves to do. She's good. She keeps me organized.
Did she get you into starting your own label? Not really. There's never been this romanticized version of how I ended up doing design. I was always very interested in theatre. When I was 18 I applied to study it and two days before I was meant to leave, I no longer wanted to do it. So I applied for an art foundation last minute and somehow ended up in design. The thing about theatre is that the representation of different people is partially nonexistent. There’s a disparity in higher arts and culture between working class people, and it’s a luxury to be able to do theatre successfully.
True. However I think that isn’t necessarily different in the fashion industry where those that go to the prestigious design schools have a set trajectory of success, as much as we want to pretend that isn’t the case. It’s frustrating to see. No, for sure. I think that's definitely something I've come to realize in the last year. We started as a business with our main source and biggest source of income being via our direct customer channels, and I know that a lot of designers in London don't have that. So, that made a huge difference in my ability to do this. I do look around and see this trajectory that we know so well and it’s a hundred percent impossible to do it without money.
You graduated Westminster University over lockdown last year. How was that? So, we were so lucky in Westminster. We showed our final collections just before we got into lockdown. And so, I went to lockdown with people asking to buy trousers and things. Then during lockdown, I felt like I had so much time on my hands to do that. So, I just started to fulfill the requests one by one. I then met Harry [Lambert] who pulled some styles and brought it to a much bigger platform with styling Harry [Styles]. Suddenly my channels were inundated with orders and requests. It was exciting but also weird considering I had literally just graduated a month before.
Just circling back to fashion education. Having graduated, what was different in reality compared to what you were taught? There's a culture surrounding fashion education that encourages everyone to be wholeheartedly creative and to throw balls at the wall, and who cares about a career, you should sacrifice everything for creativity. [But] that's such a dangerous way to educate people, especially the younger generation. Having just left the fashion education system, so many people really do adopt that mentality and that nature of, ‘If we just be creative, we're going to be fine.’ But as boring as it sounds, there has to be a sense of realism that sneaks into that. This whole culture of ‘it’s creativity or die’ is really dangerous when you have to have a way of sustaining yourself as a business. I’ve just always felt so far removed from that, and had a different mindset about it.
For your debut show, theatre and fashion finally come together. Why? We’re working with the National Youth Theatre of Great Britain, who are an incredible organization that offer access to theatre, performing arts, and just a different breadth of creativity for those who can't necessarily afford to attend drama school, which are all privatized, so they're very expensive. I joined the National Youth Theatre when I was 14, and had my first trip to London with them, and was finally surrounded by people who were as into the things I was into. I think for performers in general, it's been such a difficult year because not only has their industry collapsed, but their bodies have changed so much since they performed and it's a different mentality when you’re not active. Now more than ever, we need to, as creative industries, collaborate with one another in order to sustain our industries.
As a new brand, it seems like you’re approaching the fashion industry in a fresher way that’s outside of the traditional system, whether that’s not doing a traditional fashion show, embracing pop culture from the get go, sell mostly via direct-to-consumer, you’re on TikTok from the start. Why? Exactly. Usually there’s a one track way to do things and you have to tick the boxes here, and avoid things there. I think people are so tired of that, and can see through that pre-packaged bullshit way of doing things. It’s just not real and feels ingenuine. People are bored of being sold things. A platform like TikTok would never have existed five years ago because it reveals things in such a real and unpolished way. I think people resonate with that more now. We’re in the age of transparency. I think people appreciate rawness today. And I know it’s difficult for people to break from that as they’ve been in the industry for so long, but it’s what the consumer wants. It’s what we all want.
With that in mind, what’s next? The mindset I’m in right now, and have been in for a few months, is that I’m conscious of there being a three to four year stint with London brands. And I think we want to create something that has longevity instead. Something that feels appropriate and relevant in the next 25 years. As we now return to shows, what better way to sort of shift that very outdated way of doing shows. There has to be a different reason. I think that the way forward is to support different creative industries and present the brand as a creative upholder, instead of a show being a hard sell to buyers. You’ve got to build a community and [create] a universe instead. But also something that is real and relevant to many people. At the end of the day, if it's just clothes there’s no value. But if the clothes are a part of a brand that integrates and supports a community, it’s more of a mindset.