the sartorial multiculturalism of nicholas daley
Nicholas Daley is the charismatic menswear designer exploring the multiplicity of British identity through his creations.
This article originally appeared in i-D's The Superstar Issue, no. 354, Winter 2018
From his Don Letts-inspired Central Saint Martins graduate collection, Culture Clash, through to his reggae club-infused spring/summer 19 collection, SLYGO, Nicholas Daley uses fashion to explore his dual-ethnic heritage; questioning the very notion of multiculturalism within British identity. There are times in his research-fuelled collections that Nicholas becomes as much ethnographer or academic as fashion designer. “Fashion has always been a communicative tool and has acted as an indicator for social and cultural changes throughout history,” he explains in his north London studio. “For me, every designer has a responsibility to explore and challenge what’s going on in society. I’m constantly exploring ideas of multiculturalism in my work and hopefully encouraging the industry to think about engaging in a diversity of cultures too.”
Growing up in Leicester, surrounded by different faces, languages, and experiences, it was only natural for the half-Jamaican, half-Scottish designer to use fashion to blend complementary and contrasting cultures. “Even from my first collection on the CSM BA menswear course, I knew that I wanted to do something personal,” he explains. “Christopher New, the head of BA menswear, was always telling us to be ourselves and encouraging us to tell our own stories.” And what a story: Daley’s narrative is a captivating case study of what it means to be British today, a patchwork of evolving identities.
“It’s a cliché but this is in my blood,” he begins with a laugh. “Both my mum and dad are hugely proud of where they come from,” he explains. “Within the family, there are stories of various people pursuing a creative, hands-on existence. I grew up surrounded by this mentality of do it yourself, an entrepreneurial spirit. On my dad’s side, my grandfather was a cobbler in Jamaica, my great grandfather was a coffin maker. On my mum’s side, being from Dundee there’s the whole Jute industry.” Although supportive, his parents required some persuasion. “My mum was the first person in her Dundee-based family to go to university and my dad was the first in his family to leave Jamaica,” he explains. “They went through a lot, and like most families, they wanted their second-generation children to be the doctor, the lawyer... when you say fashion design, that’s a harder sell but they’ve always been so supportive.”
For some, there’s an unshakeable sense that much of fashion is frivolous. However, Nicholas Daley is anything but. “My mum has spent her whole life helping people through social care and she was concerned about the social implications of this industry. She was worried that I’d lose my soul, my identity.” If anything, fashion has enhanced his identity. Whether stitching together the history of two generations of his family working in the jute mills of Dundee as he did for spring/summer 17 or recreating his parents’ Edinburgh-based reggae club for spring/summer 19, Nicholas shares that bit more about himself.
Up until the moment he applied for NEWGEN in 2017, Nicholas Daley had existed, thrived even, on the periphery of the talent conveyor belt of London Fashion Week Men’s. When his contemporaries were part of Fashion East and MAN, he was busy building stockists in Japan before he stepped into London’s spotlight. After his acclaimed graduate collection in 2013, he had no immediate plans to launch an eponymous line but an eagle-eyed buyer from Tokyo-based department store Beams bought the collection and helped nurture the label’s development. “There are two phases to my existence,” Nicholas explains. “Phase one was working predominantly with the Japanese market and that’s continuing to grow today. The second phase, as part of NEWGEN, has been about growing awareness at home and internationally.”
“When I went out to Carnival this summer, a girl came up to me and said she loved my stuff and a guy came up to me in Camden recently and said he loved my work. That’s happening more and more and it’s great that people are reacting, they’re listening and they’re inspired by it. If I can be there and tell my story then maybe other people from other backgrounds, other cultures with different voices can do it too.”
Eschewing the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it blur of the catwalk show, Nicholas Daley has utilised the persuasive power of the presentation format to create worlds for his audiences to lose themselves in. Whether its a Yussef Dayes drum solo, Alfa Mist playing keys or the scent of Kuumba incense, his presentations are a transportative shake-up of the senses that linger long in the memory. “The presentations have given me another outlet to express what my brand is about,” he explains. “I’m able to collaborate with the musicians and artists that inspire me to create an event that adds layers to my work and offers something different, or at least, something not fully represented to the schedule. I want people to leave with something, to learn something, to shift a narrative, to discover somethign new.” It’s a format that has enabled Nicholas to organise live music performances.
For his autumn/winter 18 presentation, Red Clay, Nicholas worked with the UK’s finest contemporary jazz musicians Yussef Dayes, Mansur Brown, Alfa Mist and Shabaka Hutchings who played a rare live session together. “The underlying thought was about craftsmanship. I’m looking at craftsmanship from a fabric and garment perspective, but if you look at Shabaka, he’s a craftsman of the saxophone, Yussef is a craftsman of the drumkit. What I’m trying to do is intertwine, from both a cultural perspective and fashion perspective, just what craftsmanship is.”
Alongside a new wave of second-generation, dual-heritage designers, Nicholas Daley is challenging the old world order by dismantling exclusionary structures, replacing old gatekeepers, stimulating deep thought about the socio-political world we inhabit, and questioning what creativity looks like in 2018 and beyond. The industry is only more beautiful, exciting and powerful as a result. “I’ve always known that I’ve had to work harder,” he explains. “My parents always instilled this mentality in us. That’s the same for minority musicians, artists, sportspeople – if you work hard and smash it by picking up accounts, awards, competitions then there’s no argument against you being there. That’s one of the reasons why I took my time applying to NEWGEN, the Woolmark Prize… I wanted to build my brand and create something solid. I want to be in this business for the long haul. I’m just pushing my brand season by season, building something.” As he continues down on his own path, at his own pace, Nicholas’ narrative-filled world will only challenge, educate and captivate more and more of us.
Photography Bolade Banjo
Grooming Hiroshi Matsushita using Oribe. Photography assistance Ben Allan. Models Yussef Days. Cosmo Pyke. James Massiah. Obanjayar. Michael Fapohunda. Production Camera Club. Special thanks to the Crypt Jazz Club and Rat Records
All models wear clothing Nicholas Daley. Jewellery models’ own.