The man who makes Harry Styles look golden
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When Harry Styles released the video for “Golden” in October last year, he sent millions of fans across the world into a great collective swoon. He also transformed the career of Steven Stokey-Daley, who’d just graduated from the University of Westminster with a BA in fashion design. The 24-year-old was working from his childhood bedroom in Liverpool, hand-making shirts and trousers from upcycled vintage textiles under SS Daley, the name of his fledgling menswear brand.
Styles and his longtime stylist Harry Lambert (who also dresses The Crown actors Josh O’Connor and Emma Corrin) selected three of Stokey-Daley’s designs for the video. Overnight, the designer’s wide-leg flared trousers, oversized pleated cotton shirt and feathered, folksy-looking hat became the statement pieces of 2020. Styles’ YouTube video received 500,000 views in five minutes, and Stokey-Daley’s website took several months worth of pre-orders in mere hours.
The “Golden” video was the first time that Lambert had styled a client in SS Daley, but he quickly became one of Stokey-Daley’s biggest fans. “I was very lucky that one of Steven’s friends saw my Instagram call-out for new young menswear designers, which is something I do regularly when I’m prepping for photoshoots,” says Lambert. “At the time I was calling in for a different editorial, but prepping for the ‘Golden’ shoot too. The lookbook just felt perfect. There was a bit of whimsy and camp, but also something very chic and modern going on.”
A sense of whimsy is Stokey-Daley’s USP. His collections explore the “theatricality of British elitism”, though he’s keen to emphasise that this is from a place of curiosity rather than social criticism. As a state-school-educated boy from Lydiate in Merseyside, his time at university offered him an unexpected glimpse into a very different kind of upbringing to his own. “The Westminster fashion studios are on the university’s Harrow campus, and overlook the rugby fields of Harrow School,” he explains. “I’d see the boys filing in wearing their straw boaters and it just seemed very alien to me. I’d never experienced the kind of tradition that surrounds schools like Harrow or Eton. I wanted to expose and contrast that with my own education and life.”
Stokey-Daley’s collections foreground the garments most associated with British upper-class living – college blazers, cricket jumpers and tennis whites – and use these to play with different notions of male sexuality. “I suppose the whole idea is to explore what masculinity means,” he continues. “Its place on a surface level seems so heavily ingrained into our governing body and particularly our Cabinet, but there’s also something quite feminine about that very masculine world of British public schooling.” To this end, voluminous silhouettes, richly textured floral textiles and quirky, almost androgynous tailoring all contribute to Stokey-Daley’s take on what he calls the “flowery traditionalism” of British aristocratic style.
Daley’s nuanced vision is being championed by MatchesFashion, which is exclusively stocking his debut ready-to-wear collection for AW21, entitled The Robe Room Is Becoming the Garden. “His forward-thinking design feels extremely relevant for now,” says Matches’ head of menswear Damien Paul. “His collections are sexy, but not in a flamboyant way, and I love the way he plays with traditions of uniform. Whether delving into the intimacy and power dynamics of British public schools or sports, especially cricket, he turns the concept of uniform on its head.”
Stokey-Daley’s passion for responsible fashion runs throughout his AW21 collection. “Everything is made in the UK, and we even have localised production in Liverpool,” Stokey-Daley explains. “My grandmother used to work for a clothing factory that no longer exists in the city. She contacted some of the girls she used to work with and we pulled a production scheme together, which has been really exciting. We only use natural fibres and source fabrics from within the UK to limit air miles, and I like to repurpose old interiors fabrics too.”
The brand was also spotlighted during the 2021 Baftas in June, when Josh O’Connor, who was nominated for his role as Prince Charles in The Crown, wore a bespoke SS Daley double-breasted suit in navy cashmere moleskin with porcelain ceramic buttons. Stokey-Daley designed the suit in close collaboration with O’Connor and Lambert, and worked on the buttons with ceramicist Ronaldo Wiltshire and artist Aimee Stroud. The resulting red-carpet look is a testament to the intuitive nature of Stokey-Daley’s approach to design.
“I am a huge admirer of Steven’s work, and Harry [Lambert] and I had this idea to use ceramic buttons on the suit,” O’Connor explains. “My grandmother was a ceramicist and passed away very recently, and one of my favourite ceramicists is Dame Lucie Rie, who famously made ceramic buttons. Steven ran with that and created these patterned ceramic buttons with beautiful flowers running through them, which I really loved.”
With coups like these, Stokey-Daley has captured the moment. By his own admission, the past 12 months of success – particularly against the backdrop of multiple lockdowns – have been a rollercoaster ride, but he’s also aware that building a fashion brand is a long-term game. “I’m really enjoying how things are going right now,” he says, “but I’m also mindful of longevity. I think the industry has had a habit of celebrating young designers for a short burst of time. It’s important to me to be thinking about the longevity of what I do, and how to turn my brand towards the future.”
Certainly, premiering SS Daley ready-to-wear on MatchesFashion will help. So too will the brand’s SS22 collection presentation, which is being produced in conjunction with the National Youth Theatre. Incidentally, the NYT’s patron, Sir Ian McKellen, is another fan. Creating long-term success in the fashion industry isn’t easy, but with industry luminaries, leading retailers and an all-star cast of supporters on his side, Steven Stokey-Daley is on his way to doing just that.
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