SS Daley, the Designer Redefining the Uniforms of Britain’s Elite

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SS Daley
Photography Daniel ArcherCourtesy of S.S. Daley

Following his breakout London Fashion Week show, AnOther meets the menswear designer creating wonderfully modern and androgynous costumes, inspired by the “overtly camp world” of Britain’s upper class

  1. Who is it? SS Daley is the eponymous label of Steven Stokey-Daley, a Liverpool-born menswear designer now based in London
  2. Why do I want it? Responsibly made menswear inspired by the “overtly camp world” of Britain’s upper class
  3. Where can I find it? SS Daley is available exclusively at Matches Fashion

Who is it? Steven Stokey-Daley, of his eponymous label SS Daley, graduated from the University of Westminster’s BA in Fashion Design on the brink of a global pandemic – yet just in time to show, and stoke a fevered interest in, his graduate collection The Inalienable Right. 

Although theatre and English literature were the designer’s first passions (he was a member of the National Youth Theatre, with whom he collaborated for his latest Spring/Summer 2022 show, presented as part of London Fashion Week this weekend), a gut instinct, perhaps tugged at by an unfinished family narrative, steered his course towards fashion. Stokey-Daley remembers that his grandmother, who had worked at a local factory, had turned down an opportunity as a young woman to leave small-town Liverpool and take up a position as a tailor’s apprentice in London. “She said that she’s so envious but also so happy for me because back then everyone was encouraged to sort of settle down, live the smaller, simpler life,” he gently muses. “I wonder if that has something to do with the fact that I’m here doing this.”

The University of Westminster’s Harrow campus in London was a far cry from the suburbs of Liverpool where Stokey-Daley spent his childhood: at university, he would watch the boys from the neighbouring public school Harrow, fabled for its fostering of Britain’s elite class, “march around in twos, with straw boat hats and flowers hanging out of their pockets.” It was this flowering – and flowered – spectacle of youth that would pique Stokey-Daley’s interest in this “overtly camp world that feeds into a hypermasculine governing body.”

Padding out his research into the uniforms of the upper classes – as worn at rowing regattas, on the cricket pitch – with references to Brideshead Revisited and Maurice, Stokey-Daley directed a parade of leisurely attired men down the runway for his graduate collection: in flowery billowed trousers, creamy rowing suits, and over-blossomed straw hats. Between the leisure spaces and artistic education that Daley observed was afforded to these men, he elaborated a queer and fantastical sartorial realm that was open to all class cultures.

Class is a sticky topic to broach, especially in Britain, yet the theatricality of Stokey-Daley’s clothing seems to override socio-political division: “people from this world, it touched them really closely. They love the fact that they can see their childhood and this world in which they lived pushed into a different space in fashion.” And for those with “the same small-town mind set” as his own, they have been “absolutely astounded that this culture exists in the same land as we do.” He is quick to emphasise that he doesn’t intent to fetishise Tory ideals; his collections are rather an observation of the curious juxtaposition of the “straight white” town where he is from and the “disparate universe” of Britain’s elite.

Why do I want it? From the dramatic silhouettes of his tailoring to the fine details, such as the hand-smocking and embroidery, with which he completes his garments, Stokey-Daley has transformed the rigid traditionalism of upper-class masculine uniforms into wonderfully modern, and androgynous, costumes. The designer credits his access to the University of Westminster’s unique archive of historical menswear and his time working alongside London’s most skilled tailors for his ability to interpret, and deftly manipulate, the often cumbersome, upcycled vintage fabrics with which he works (heavy French linens, upholstery textiles, antique tablecloths) into his whimsical, class-crossing elegant creations.

Working alone out of his childhood home in Liverpool during the first nationwide lockdown, Stokey-Daley was in no way prepared for the ‘Golden’ effect: after stylist Harry Lambert outfitted Harry Styles in the designer’s ‘Hall Tennant’ shirt and ‘Sebastian’ trousers for the singer’s 2020 music video Golden, Stokey-Daley was deluged with demand for his garments (the YouTube video had 500,000 views within five minutes of release and today has upwards of 150 million). So he sought the help of his grandmother who “revisited the ladies that she used to work with in the area. She found two people who had a small unit really close to us in which they did alterations. We rallied them and a couple of other ladies to come together and crack out all these shirts and trousers before Christmas.”

This return to local industry and craft is perhaps the stake of Stokey-Daley’s community-centred modus operandi, especially as he ventures beyond one-off creations produced from deadstock materials into the realm of wholesale – in a post-Brexit Britain. As he scales production, the focus will be on working with natural fibres, locally sourced within the UK, so that he is “not making anything that’s chemically harmful, that has been preloaded with thousands of air miles before it gets to us.”

With such an honest and responsible vision of longevity at heart, and such a stellar first show under his belt, SS Daley is set to make a lasting mark on the sartorial canons of British menswear. 

Where can I find it? SS Daley is available exclusively at Matches Fashion.