The Studio Visit… Nicholas Daley
No one captures the unique synergy of contemporary British culture quite like designer Nicholas Daley. Editors flock to his shows not only for the excellent clothes, but also to experience the wider creative universe that Daley brings together. With some of London’s finest young musicians both walking and playing at his shows and fabrics sourced from Scottish mills and traditional Japanese artisans, Daley’s work lives and breathes the spirit of diversity and creativity. We visited the Central Saint Martins alumnus in his London studio to find out more about one of Britain’s most exciting young menswear minds.
Where did you grow up and how has your background influenced you and your work?
I grew up in Leicestershire. I did a foundation course at De Montfort university and I worked in a streetwear store in Leicester. That’s where my understanding of retail and products and brands started - in the stock room, putting trainers away.
As for my family heritage, my mum was always knitting and being quite creative, and then on my dad’s side there was the West Indian culture. All my uncles and my Dad were always very tailored; suited and booted in polished Clarks shoes, trilbys and cravates. Sunday best - very slick and dapper. So I guess it’s an amalgamation of all those things.
What would you say are the elements that make up the Nicholas Daley universe?
I’d say community, especially with how I present my collections. That’s why I try to have this sort of immersive experience at my shows, because fashion is a vehicle for my creative output, and I want to bring in as many people and influences as possible. With the shows I try to break down some of the fashion - I wouldn't say “barriers” - but the formalities. So that’s why it was nice to do the afterparty after the last show and bring everyone down; musicians that have played in previous shows, people who haven’t been to a fashion show. I’m always trying to mix demographics together.
Craftsmanship is also really important. Developing something which lasts a lifetime. For example, this season’s tie dye was all done in Kyoto, and it’s all naturally dyed - they hang it up and count the days! For the Spring 2020 collection, all the linens were bespoke made in Ireland by a mill out there. The amount of time and energy I put into product and fabric is the same as when I work with another creative. All the fabrics I work with have as much of my input as, say, working with Shabaka [Hutchings, saxophone player and Daley’ regular collaborator].
So it’s all like a process of collaboration really?
Exactly. Shabaka, he’s like a craftsman of the saxophone, this guy in Kyoto, he’s a craftsman of natural dyeing. So that’s what I’m also trying to highlight on multiple levels.
What do you think is the most important quality for a designer to have today?
Hm… I’ve kind of got two. Determination and sacrifice. That says it all.
What things do you always have in your studio?
Music. Incense to chill me out. I actually did a collab with a Japanese incense maker last year.
So what does Nicholas Daley smell like?
Well it’s not my specific scent! I don’t know if people would want to roll with that! But this is Frankincense, lots of wood; cedarwood and sandalwood, because they’re my favourite scents.
Which snack do you always have on hand when you work?
Banana and dried mango from Japan.
Where do you go when you need a break from work?
A break? (laughs). I try to see live music once a week because I think you get so much inspiration and energy from seeing another friend, another collaborator. It’s really nice to cross pollinate across different genres. I’ve also recently started to get back into karate. I think that’s good because you don’t think about anything else when you’re in the Dojo. I’ve got a National Trust pass as well! I don’t know whether that’s a sign of my age - turning 30 and getting a National Trust card (laughs).
Who do you most admire? Creatively or personally.
I guess personally, it sounds like a cliche, but Mum and Dad. They had a reggae club in Scotland in the 70s. You know when you’re with your parents and you don’t think they’re very cool? You’re sixteen and you just want them to go away, but then you get older and you start to ask more questions.
They were some of the first people to support British reggae roots music, specifically in Scotland. They didn’t make any money; it was all about bringing people together and supporting a sound that wasn’t being represented at the time. That’s what I try to do with my shows, especially the S/S 20 ‘20 Astroblack collection. Celebrate British music, celebrate British craft and collaborators, have a vibe, and that’s kind of an extension of what my parents were trying to do.
My professional inspiration would be Yohji Yamamoto. Yohji’s just a G. I guess for me, professionally, people that have a strong identity and strong DNA and have an approach where it’s not too superficial, that’s what I think is really important. Because we’re all different, so we’re all gonna like different stuff. I call my label me because this is me. This is what I do, this is what I believe in.
What’s your greatest ambition?
To continue to create and collaborate and celebrate!
Photography by Jonathan Middleton
Interview by Georgia Graham