This article is taken from the Autumn/Winter 2022 issue of AnOther Magazine:
Steven Stokey-Daley’s label SS Daley revels in the fripperies of the British upper classes, drawing on notions of class and queerness, and the homosocial tensions present in elite schools – on their rugby pitches, in their changing rooms – and exploring the camp glamour of the interwar-era English aristocracy. His handwriting is also rooted in his own past and the dressed-up dress sense of the working-class “glam girls” he grew up with in Liverpool. Between the ages of 16 and 19 Stokey-Daley had a job at McDonald’s in Aintree, where he would see them “work 15-hour days, seven days a week, just to afford a new outfit to wear on a Saturday night in Liverpool”, he recalls. “It was everything to them.” For Stokey-Daley, reclaiming the luxurious and elaborate look of old money feels like a tribute to those girls – a duty, almost, given that they couldn’t access or afford these clothes, but spun gold with what they found on the high street at Topshop nonetheless.
Since its 2020 debut, his eponymous SS Daley brand has become marked for its romantic collections of billowing poet shirts, striped boating blazers, pussy-bow collared blouses and pleated twill shorts. All of which caught the attention of Harry Styles’s stylist Harry Lambert who, after Stokey-Daley contacted him weeks after graduating (he gained his BA in Fashion Design from the University of Westminster), pulled various items from the selection he had been cannily selling on Instagram. “That was crazy, it was a massive boost,” Stokey-Daley remembers. At that moment, in the summer of 2020, the UK was at the tail end of the first Covid-19 lockdown: the designer was working alone from his childhood bedroom back in Liverpool, cobbling together the garments himself.
But the 25-year-old could never have imagined that, in just two years, he would win the coveted LVMH prize. “That moment was like, ‘What the fuck? How did we come to this point?’” he says. He has a studio in east London now, but there’s still something of a back-bedroom mentality to his production, if not the final results: “We do everything, we do all of our sales, production, patterns, we make everything ourselves, sketch everything ourselves.” Thus he has barely been able to step outside, breathe and take in the remarkable nature – and lightning speed – of his achievements.
How his Liverpool upbringing inspired StokeyDaley’s interest in aristocratic and establishment dressing isn’t obvious – even to the designer himself. He describes where he grew up as “nondescript, with nothing going on there”, the architecture of his hometown “red-brick, 70s council house, all on a concrete little square”. But among these unremarkable constructions there was a canal, “the only source of nature we had”, where the designer would go and gaze at the green-headed mallard ducks. He has knitted a visual of a mallard into a sweater, arguably the most recognisable piece of his Spring/Summer 2022 collection. Styles has worn it, of course. For Stokey-Daley, it’s a marriage of his home and that obsession with elite institutions. “My investigation into Cambridge University revealed a Secret Mallard Society,” he says, slightly incredulously. “There’s a mallard song they used to sing at rowing competitions. It’s a very British bird, it’s also gorgeous.”
“Imagine if Boris Johnson saw me, a working-class gay person, taking his world of elites that’s so dear to him and twisting it into this queer fantasy on a fashion scale. He’d be so annoyed” – Steven Stokey-Daley
For Autumn/Winter 2022, the public-school-educated, heavy-drinking society boy of Spring/Summer 2022 is all grown-up, with Stokey-Daley looking to establishment decadence for inspiration. “I think it feels like one person travelling through these different stages,” he says of his collections as a whole. “This season it’s him in his mad twenties, a moment of fantasy and true expression.” Autumn/Winter 2022 references the stately homes of the late-Victorian and Edwardian eras and the fashions of both the aristocrats and staff who moved through them. The runway show blended era-evoking designs with homoerotic tensions in an echo of same-sex crushes, Brideshead Revisited-style. Cue: a leather argyle waistcoat styled only with SS Daley-branded black underwear, high socks and knee braces. Alongside were checked wool suits, matching lambswool cardigans, silk robe-like shirts, skimpy thermal vests and shorts styled with wellington boots. For Stokey-Daley, capturing the excesses of this era was a wry nose-thumbing at how establishment figures – the grown-up public schoolboys who have long populated the UK government cabinet – partied and drank while the nation was suffering under the harshest lockdown restrictions. And there’s a subversive power in queering establishment dress. “Imagine if Boris Johnson saw me, a working-class gay person, taking his world of elites that’s so dear to him and twisting it into this queer fantasy on a fashion scale. He’d be so annoyed,” he says.
His approach to resourcefulness and sustainability is skewed through a British lens, too, his materials primarily sourced from deadstock or recycled from existing pieces. Stokey-Daley’s interest in vintage materials sourced from estate sales was inspired by the mother of his partner, Leo Meredith, who also works as production coordinator for the brand, and who Stokey-Daley describes as “a muse, in some respects”. Stokey-Daley points to a collection of tea towels that are scattered over a green cutting mat, some of which are destined for the Spring/Summer 2023 collection. “We source these from markets and estate sales. People die and have no next of kin, so their entire life goes up for sale, and people rummage through these boxes of linen and tablecloths.” Tea towels upcycled into shirts speak to the core British identity of the brand: “Some of the tea towels are from abroad, like Mallorca tea towels,” says Stokey-Daley. “But that’s the most British thing ever, isn’t it?”
This story features in the Autumn/Winter 2022 issue of AnOther Magazine, which is on sale internationally now. Buy a copy here.