We visit Nicholas Daley, one of Britain's most exciting, original young designers today, in his Tottenham studio to find out how he's connecting the dots between contemporary culture and traditional craftsmanship...
First of all, thanks for inviting us to visit. Could you tell us a bit about your background? How did you end up starting your own label?
I’m from the Midlands and I used to work at a clothing store called Wellgosh when I was 16, on the shop floor, with brands such as Stussy, Carhartt, and Silas… when streetwear was at its purest I guess, but that’s a whole other conversation! [laughs] That’s when I started to learn about clothing, retail, fabric, prints and garments, things like that. From there I did my foundation year, went to Central Saint Martins, had a really great time, learnt and expanded my mindset on what fashion is, and tried to find where I felt comfortable.
I was also working at Dover Street Market and I designed my graduate collection which was bought by BEAMS Japan. That was quite an incredible moment because I wasn’t expecting such a big organization or fashion company to get behind it, and they really did! They pushed the product and were really caring and understanding of my position as a designer, so I feel lucky, in that respect, that I started in Japan with a really good stockist. Since then, it’s just flourished.
How did you end up working with BEAMS? Were they at your graduate show?
Yeah, Tatsuo Hino, their UK director, and Yuji Yamazaki, their head buyer, were there and then Isabella Burley, the editor at Dazed, did a feature on the whole collection. And then Champ Magazine also did a little feature, so it was a combination of those. There was a nice bubble, I guess, or momentum around the collection.
Fold-up chairs with Slygo logo detailing - a reference to Nicholas' dad's DJ name.
Original t-shirt from The Reggae Klub, the club Nicholas' parents used to run in the 1970s.
What was your graduate collection?
It was called ‘Culture Clash’ and I was looking at, in particular, Don Letts. I respect him heavily and he was someone I was referencing, looking at Acme Attractions [the clothing store Letts ran on the King’s Road in the 1970s] and the whole fusion of punk and reggae. Then, also, I just wanted to do shapes and cuts that I’d want to wear myself. It sounds a bit narcissistic, but I was making a collection that I’d wear afterwards because I thought that I’m putting all this money into this collection, I don’t want it to just be made for some presentation setup. I actually want to wear the gear afterwards! A lot of the plans like my base trouser block, some of the jackets, and some of the suppliers I used then, I’m still using now. So, the first collection set some foundations and everything’s built up from there. Music is an integral part of my brand, and part of my life with my parents running one of the first reggae clubs in Scotland, in the 1970s – my dad’s DJ name was SLYGO and it was called The Reggae Klub. That’s actually the theme and title – SLYGO – of the SS19 collection next season.
What did you base your current collection, Red Clay, on?
I’m a big jazz fan, so that’s where it started. I noticed that Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Chet Baker, they were all wearing these amazing tweed jackets – Brooks Brothers soft shoulder – and I just wondered what this connection was with tweed and jazz, that sartorial aesthetic. So that’s what I explored, really. I didn’t want to feel too nostalgic, so I collaborated with some of the best contemporary UK jazz artists – at the presentation I had Yussef Dayes on drums, Mansur Brown on guitar, Alfa Mist on keys, Shabaka Hutchings on sax, James Massiah doing some spoken word, plus Nabihah Iqbal and Judah Afriyie playing jazz vinyl. So, it was like trying to, I guess, harmonise both the past and present; finding a continuity between a Miles Davis photo from the 1970s and the sound of jazz today in 2018.
NICHOLAS' RECORD PICKS
Jacob Miller – Tenement Yard
This was my dad’s record, and it was played a lot at my parents' club: The Reggae Klub. The inner sleeve of the vinyl is bright pink! It has turned into a family heirlooom.
Santana – Caravanserai
He’s just incredible, isn’t he? Just one of the best guitar players. When you watch the Woodstock film, you see that when they played it was incredible, and in an interview, you see Santana thought his guitar was a snake trying to bite him…. This is one of my mum’s records.
Juju – African Rhythms
I picked this up in Japan, it’s a really good LP. It is a first pressing. It’s kinda like psychedelic afrobeat/highlife.
How did you develop it from initially seeing a photo of Miles Davis into your own distinct collection?
I saw a picture of a Shetland wool farmer in Scotland in this massive oversized baker boy hat, and a picture of Miles Davis also wearing a massive oversized baker boy. I just thought that these men are from two different areas and two completely different times, but this fabric is still appearing. So, I guess that’s what I was trying to say with tweed, how it has so much history or reappropriation with different cultures and how people wear or style it.
The first thing I did was make my own tweed, specially developed with Lovat Mill in Hawick, on the River Tweed. Obviously, you’ve got Harris Tweed in the Outer Hebrides, but Lovat Mill is on the Borders. We made the herringbone oversized, and I picked colours from the Blue Note albums, so there’s all these really intense reds, blues, and yellows in the knitwear. Very autumnal, but quite strong, and then some through the Basquiat paintings too because he was heavily influenced by a lot of jazz musicians. Then the title, Red Clay, was from Freddie Hubbard – he’s one of my favourite jazz players. Even before I designed anything I knew I had to create my own tweed! I try and use a lot of British manufacturing or British fabrics but in a more interesting way. We went through the big heritage boom a few years ago and, obviously, it’s still very strong, but I just wanted to try and do things in a new way and develop new fabrics with old mills.
Where do you feel the appeal lies in using these heritage mills?
Well, the knitwear in the collection was done by William Lockie, who is also in Hawick. So, these mills are in the same town in Scotland, and it just felt great to be able to work with two very old and established mills that are literally within walking distance of one another. My mum’s from Scotland, so that’s obviously another big reason why I like to do stuff here in the UK. I do my research, and I try and use mills which are open to, or are maybe excited to work with, a smaller designer.
Lovat Mill was great and William Lockie was really cool to work with. Sometimes you have to push them a bit, but it’s great - Lovat was saying they’d never made a tweed in an intense yellow before as found in the Red Clay tweeds. And then it also goes back to when I had time with Nigel Cabourn working at the studio, and I learnt a lot from him about British manufacturing, the mills we have, how to approach them, how to work with them and so on.
Do you think these traditional manufacturers are a bit of a ‘hidden gem’? In that, we forget we have them to an extent, but if you can get them to do something akin to what you’ve done then the results are pretty special…
Yeah, I guess there is a tendency to go, say, ‘you need to go to the Premier Vision textiles fair in Paris’ or ‘you need to do this, check out that’, but sometimes there are things right in front of us. We’ve had such an incredible history of craftsmanship, and of manufacturing, for so long. That’s why certain fashion houses own British knitwear factories – they’ve completely outright bought them – so obviously people know that there is some serious craftsmanship and history. But that’s the reason I would rather develop something with Lovat Mill, and do something really special and unique that ties together both the contemporary and the traditional, rather than just buying fabric from a mill. It just doesn’t quite have the same feeling.
Poster for the SS19 Slyco collection presentation show by Gaurab Thakali.
Nicholas with a selection of pieces from the Red Clay collection.
NICHOLAS' BOOK PICKS
Jazzlife by William Claxton
This one’s the mother. This is heavy duty – if you’re a jazz fan then this is the one. It starts right from New Orleans and Congo Square where they think jazz was first played. Congo Square was where slaves would congregate on their day off and start playing all their traditional African Rhythms. That’s where the Louis Armstrong statue is...
Mise en Scène by Stan Douglas
He is a contemporary videographer and photographer and did some really amazing photos exploring American culture, and a lot of portraiture too. There was one thing we referenced a lot for Red Clay from the 1970’s, Luanda Kinshasa, that was shown at The Infinite Mix at 180 The Strand recently. It was a recreation of a continuous jazz funk studio session in the 1970s. The aesthetics were perfect.
How do you feel that ties into collaborating with the best of the UK’s contemporary jazz scene, then?
Well, the underlining thought was about craftsmanship. I’m looking at craftsmanship from a fabric and garment perspective, but if you look at Shabaka Hutchings, he’s a craftsman of the saxophone, and Yussef Dayes is a craftsman of the drumkit, and so on. So what I’m trying to do is intertwine, from a musical perspective and fashion perspective, what craftsmanship is. I think there’s quite a big resurgence in that scene because everything’s so digital now, so to see Mansur just shredding on his guitar, you just get goosebumps on the back of your neck! People are wanting more authenticity, and I guess that’s what I’m trying to do with my stuff, tell an authentic story with authentic fabrics, and with authentic people. That’s the underlining factor.
It was a bit risky, especially with Red Clay, because to put out only 7 outfits for a fashion show, everybody was probably thinking ‘what are you doing?’ But I felt that the experience of Red Clay, that’ll live on in people’s heads rather than just being another presentation. If people can come to my presentations and just be happy and enjoy themselves, and understand what I’ve been slaving away at for however many months, then I can’t really ask for much more.
What can we expect from you next?
I’m one of the finalists for the Woolmark prize, so that’s one project I’ll be working on form now through to early next year. The next collection, as always, is still music-related. It’s a continuation from the last two collections, but I’m looking more at dub and post-punk. I feel like Red Clay and Slygo, next summer’s collection, were like side A and side B of an album and now I need to do the second album! Because I don’t just listen to jazz and reggae all the time, I also listen to bands like The Fall and Thurston Moore, and more sort of industrial stuff too. I don’t want to just be this certain aesthetic or sound, so I try and use different reference points and tastes.
And then the V&A is opening in Dundee in September and they’ve acquired two or three pieces, a bomber and some handknitted berets, from my SS17 Juteopolis collection which looked at jute in Scotland. All the Scottish family are on board so it’ll be like a takeover! For me, they’re the special moments, to be able to exhibit at the V&A and have a part of my work as a reference to Dundee as a city, and have it tie in with my own heritage with all the women on my mum’s side working in the jute mills. It’ll continue to be a busy year, but it’s this momentum which ensures constant progression. I’ll be in Japan in October as we have some special events planned with our stockists, so keep an eye on that!