Cover Designer Steven Stokey-Daley (Photo: Matchesfashion)

The emerging designer behind British label SS Daley follows in the footsteps of the Jacquemus creator winning one of fashion’s biggest prizes

Winning the prestigious LVMH Prize for Young Fashion Designers came with a bonus thrill for former aspiring actor Steven Stokey-Daley: Oscar-winner Cate Blanchett presented it to him. The 25-year-old designer behind the label SS Daley was also in the presence of design royalty, as the ceremony was attended by seven artistic directors of houses in the luxury group: Jonathan Anderson, Maria Grazia Chiuri, Nicolas Ghesquière, Kim Jones, Stella McCartney, Nigo and Silvia Venturini Fendi. As for the prize itself? €300,000 in cash and a year’s worth of mentoring from designers in the luxury conglomerate. “The sky’s the limit,” Stokey-Daley says.

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It didn’t take long for the industry to sit up and take notice when Stokey-Daley launched his label back in 2020. Occupying the studio next to musician Harry Styles’s long-time stylist, Harry Lambert, might have helped: Lambert, who is responsible for curating Styles’s glam rock and “soft boy” looks, looked at Stokey-Daley’s 2020 graduation collection.

Although there was no promise that Styles would wear them, several pieces were featured in the music video for his hit Golden alongside items from Gucci and Bode. Styles is seen running on a coastal road in an SS Daley white shirt and standing topless on a rock in the brand’s pleated wide-leg floral trousers—and in the promotional photo for the video, sports the designer’s fabulous hat adorned with dried flowers.

The relationship didn’t end there: Lambert went on to style SS Daley’s second post-graduation collection, which was also its debut runway show at spring-summer 2020 London Fashion Week. “Harry Lambert is a really good friend; he works with me on everything I do and is super close to the brand and completely involved in its DNA,” says Stokey-Daley. “When I take an idea to Harry, he’ll add a layer of richness on top; we sort of pass it back and forth like a baton. So that’s lovely!”

The LFW show was presented in the format of a three- act drama exploring the tensions of class, masculinity, race, sexuality and institutionalised violence in British elite schools. Ten actors from the National Youth Theatre channelled Eton and Harrow schoolboys in wide-legged shorts, rugby shirts and jacquard silk bath robes—all references to the attire of the privileged classes, and all rendered in a dusty pastel colour palette, something that has become his signature aesthetic.

 

It was clear SS Daley was ready for a bigger stage; the menswear line’s reflection of British heritage and its designer’s upbringing and emotional narratives appealed to the LVMH judges. “The world that I tend to explore is the world that was absent from my life growing up as a child,” explains the Liverpool- born designer. “The elements like to incorporate are mixing and combining codes of the different class structures in the UK.” With pieces such as beaten-up tracksuits, rose-bedecked boater hats, a paisley- patterned bomber jacket with bows on the pockets and hand-crocheted knitwear featured ducks, this mixing is proving popular.

Behind the artistic concepts is an intense focus on craft, localism and sustainability. “From the start, my design processes have been to look back in order to move forward, so we reference vintage quite a lot—not just vintage garments, but vintage practices or lost, forgotten crafts that were of an age or time,” says Stokey-Daley, who has been using deadstock fabrics donated from London houses for his creations. “We also [are making] a really steady investigation into upcycling and how we can regenerate old items like English tea towels into wearable shirts with tonnes of character,” he adds. The one-off shirts made from embroidered tablecloths, for example, are bestsellers.

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As a 14-year-old obsessed with drama and literature, who spent a summer at the National Youth Theatre, Stokey-Daley never imagined himself working in fashion. He applied for the fashion design degree programme at the University of Westminster on a whim, sharpening his skills at Tom Ford and Alexander McQueen. Now he undertakes the process of designing clothes as in the same way as someone writing plays. “The way we used to approach theatre was workshopping real-life ideas into something you can repeat again and again and have different influences of different theatrical practitioners,” he says. “We [at SS Daley] do the same thing—we approach design from a narrative perspective and then incorporate the ideas of different practised crafts in a similar way.”

His latest collection, for autumn- winter 2022, was inspired by English stately homes and the class divide of “upstairs” and “downstairs” lives. Each look takes its cue from a different period of English history. There are trench coats cut with exaggerated balloon sleeves and printed 18th-century etchings of birds; leather waistcoats paired with briefs, hinting at a half-dressed houseguest; and striped shirts printed with 17th-century drawings of poppies.

SS Daley also introduced womenswear this season, but bringing queer possibilities to the British wardrobe has been the core of the brand since the beginning—another contradiction found in the house ideology. “My whole thing is freedom of expression and freedom to actually wear whatever you want to wear,” says Stokey-Daley. “I don’t feel as though we are trend-driven at all.”

As Stokey-Daley continues bucking trends, his upcoming show and collection will celebrate his love of performance—he was also a keen dancer as a child—as well as folkloric references and “a historically documented lesbian love affair”.

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