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“It’s very much like dragons den. You get like 10 minutes and there’s a timer,” says Steven Stokey-Daley, the Liverpool born, East London based designer. He is describing the final hurdle in the annual and hotly anticipated LVMH Prize, which he won last Thursday.
In front of an A-List jury counting fashion designers Nicolas Ghesquière of Louis Vuitton, Maria Grazia Chiuri of Dior, and Silvia Venturini Fendi of Fendi, he began to pitch his two year old brand, S.S. Daley.
Over the last three seasons, his whimsical garments which play off romantic, Victoriana-era menswear, have been a highlight of the London Fashion Week schedule. He hit headlines dressing Harry Styles in wide legged, floral trousers crafted from curtains and a pop yellow hat in the 2020 ‘Golden’ music video and now - after five months working towards the sought after LVMH award – he is set on an upwards trajectory.
“It was really nice to meet the British designers on the panel, like Kim [Jones], Stella [McCartney] and Jonathan [Anderson],” he says. “Obviously, in fashion education in London, we talk a lot about the ones who have started in London like us.” Daley graduated from University of Westminster in 2020, during the pandemic, but wasted no time bridging the gap between student and business owner.
“We were on the last zoom call at uni, and I was told my job prospects had gone from bad to awful,” he says. “But I’m quite impatient. I can’t sit still. So I started selling things on Instagram, and we had a global market with a few of our products almost instantly. Then Harry Lambert pulled stuff, and it sort of sparked a flame.”
Lambert is Harry Styles’ stylist, and the engineer behind Daley’s ‘Golden’ moment. The former One Direction star has since has been pictured in charming mallard duck knitted jumpers, dried flower hats and striped silk pyjama sets by the 25-year-old designer.
“The phenomenon of Harry Styles is global – it’s everywhere. It’s constant and it’s all the time,” Daley says. “We felt the full force of that as soon as it happened. It put our brand in a different lane.”
That may well be the case, but Daley has always dared to be different. For his fashion week debut, in September 2021, he teamed up with National Youth Theatre to present the SS22 collection – all sleek satin paisley suiting, knitted vests and checked shorts – as a play, bringing to life the public school, British heritage tropes he set out to explore. “It was the first time we were able to present the brand on a physical level, and another change in the wind for me,” he says.
“I have this curiosity that remains – exploring the class divide in education,” Daley continues. The theme is pivotal to his brand, and was further developed in his AW22 show this February, where leather waistcoats were worn with loafers, socks and garters, and wellies plus vintage style boxer shorts had the echo of Eton boys during a night-time fire drill.
“People think of heritage and British fashion as being really outdated, stuffy, frothy and horrible - and exclusive to the old section of our society,” he says. “I feel like what we are doing is breathing new life, new energy and new meaning into that. The root is what British heritage is, that’s what we do.”
The twist? Adding layers from his own experience to bring the look up to modern day. “I fuse it with things I’ve been surrounded by,” he says. “A lot of vintage gay culture. Deep diving into where I am from in Liverpool and those surroundings, and looking into my Irish family history. It’s a few different worlds together.”
The result is all the charm of the Bright Young Things school-boy chic with sexy undertones, as silk dressing gowns slip down off shirtless models, jumpers come with cut outs over clavicles, and traditional rowing outfits are snug fit and knitted.
Keen not to stick with one trick, though, Daley confirms he is ready to expand his inspirations moving forwards. “I’m allowing myself to be a bit freer, and go on tangents. I think our minds take us where we want to go,” he says.
Last night he celebrated in London, having returned from Paris with the LVMH prize handed to him by Cate Blanchett. He beat finalists counting Charlotte Knowles of London-based label KNWLS and Eli Russell Linnetz, who founded Venice Beach brand ERL, to win the €300,000 check (“which is obviously great,” he quips) and years’ worth of industry mentorship. Now his attention must get back to the next collection.
“A lot of people recently have said you need to try showing Paris,” he says. Thankfully, he remains unconvinvced. “I love London – and Paris can feel a bit crowded.”