Nicholas Daley: celebrating the blended fabric of British culture
At a time when no one is quite sure what “Britishness” is anymore – the concept a rich tangle of different cultures and kitsches – it might be odd to label someone a decidedly British designer.
Yet, while ‘British values’ may be a continued point of contention in our current political landscape, Nicholas Daley is proudly embracing the unique and energetic history of this bizarre isle.
For Daley, counterculture groups and subcultures are at the core of his work. With Afro-Caribbean and Scottish heritage, this combination has played an important part in shaping the Central Saint Martins graduate’s attitude; his menswear designs a direct response to something missing in the industry. “In terms of what I was looking at – my heritage, my perspective – it wasn’t necessarily shown or presented within the context of current men’s fashion, or fashion in general,” he argues. “I think designers do dip into it, but they might do a rude boy thing for one season, but the next they’re doing something else.”
The UK’s multicultural heritage is a continued source of inspiration, from the dandy styles of West-Indian immigrants arriving in post-war Britain to the 70s skinheads dancing to Don Letts’ eclectic DJ sets at the Roxy. Daley was particularly inspired by Letts’ ability to merge cultures, reaching out to the subcultural icon with the hope to further his research. “Straight away it just clicked,” Daley recalls. “We both like reggae, we have the same blood.”
Letts ended up modeling both Daley’s SS15 and AW15 collection, his fusion of aesthetics a tangible outlet for Daley’s ideas. “I picked up on Don to begin with, as an icon, as a character, someone who was going against the grain,” he explains. “Those first people who tried to cross over within the punk and reggae scene, there he was playing hard dub and rock before punk was even invented. So Don was playing all this heavy dub, all the King Tubby stuff, so that anti-established idea brought everyone together. Don was saying that Bob Marley used to ask him, ‘Why are you hanging out with these guys with piercings? It’s not right’, and Don was like, ‘these people are feeling the same way we are. They’re pissed off, they want to do something about it.’ And then a year or so later, Bob released Punky Reggae Party, so obviously even Bob had accepted this punk mentality.”
The fashion/music/culture crossover fuels the evolution of Daley’s menswear, and multiculturalism is more evident today than it ever has been. “You only have to walk down West Green Road just five minutes from the studio and you’ve got South American, Turkish, Polish, Brazilian, African, Caribbean… all within a single street. Seeing this variety of people, their religions and beliefs and their clothing, I’m picking up on it all.”
How does all this translate into a menswear wardrobe? Hanging on the rails of his studio are granddad collar shirts and high- waisted double pleat trousers with tapered legs and turn-ups. There’s a Panama hat made in collaboration with Christy’s from his graduate collection, for which the spec was ‘a Panama big enough for a man with dreads.’ With no existing block to create such a hat, the heritage hat makers took at policeman’s helmet and sat a fedora block on top to create the shape.
“Seeing a variety of people, with their religions and beliefs and their clothing – I’m picking up on it all”
Though not anti-fashion, Daley is wary of growing too quickly, of letting his ideas become diluted in the global machine. “I find fashion difficult at times. It’s so fast now, and I’ll put my hands up and say that I’m part of that instagramming culture. But the story, what you’re trying to say, has to be even stronger than before. There are so many designers who want to put out collections season after season but sometimes it feels like there’s just nothing new; nothing that really says anything.” This is really the embodiment of Nicholas Daley’s work and what makes his label essentially British: a combination of the prestige of heritage and the spirit of counterculture. “The music thing, one can’t work without the other. Every season I’ll do a mix to go with the collections, which I’m going to keep doing. And again, that’s something that creates more of a full world; all these different mediums I can get involved with only help reinforce what I’m trying to say. It all brings it together.”
Nicholas Daley’s AW15 collection is out now