It’s been a decade since Nicholas Daley graduated from Central Saint Martins, and he feels “blessed” to have plenty of notches on his hand-crocheted belt already. “If someone told me back then that during the next ten years I’d be an LVMH Prize finalist, recipient of the BFC Designer Fashion Fund, and continuously working with some of the best stores in the world, I think I’d be pretty happy,” says the 33-year-old designer, in the upbeat yet unassuming manner that turns out to be his neutral gear. “I’m very fortunate to have experienced these sorts of successes.”
Over iced tea at his studio—a vibrant space in a converted warehouse in Tottenham, north London—I meet Daley to talk about his newest notch: a one-night takeover of London’s Southbank Centre on September 15. The Leicestershire-born designer, his hair in dreadlocks, wears an earthy ensemble of his own creation, right down to the vest—a collaboration with esteemed Suffolk jacket brand Lavenham—as he goes over the lineup for Woven Rhythms, comprising live music, talks, a club night, fashion, art and—“hopefully”—food. “We’re looking into that,” he promises.
He intends the night to be a celebration of his story so far, but also to act as his contribution to London Fashion Week—starting that same day—in lieu of a traditional show. “It’s not economical for us independent brands to do runway, repeatedly, over several seasons,” he says.
It was the Southbank Centre that reached out to Daley, who has put on shows in working-men’s clubs, gig venues, and churches. “I’m an advocate for multiculturalism, and the Southbank is a place where people from different ethnicities, generations, and cultural backgrounds meet and congregate. We’re very lucky to have an institution like that here in London that celebrates British culture and identity, so I want to make sure the night is a great success, not just for my journey, but for the centre’s legacy.”
When we meet in May, Daley is designing bespoke looks for the talent enlisted, many of whom are musicians of his parents’ generation. These include Barbados-born, London-based reggae icon Dennis Bovell; Pauline Black, founding member of Coventry two-tone pioneers The Selecter; and newer artists Delilah Holliday and Wu-Lu. His interest in music-industry veterans is nothing new: Don Letts—the influential London DJ who introduced reggae to punk, and vice versa—walked in Daley’s graduate show back in 2013. “He was the muse of my BA collection; I have an affinity for the way he blurred the lines between two different music scenes.”
Hosting a night also connects to his personal history: in the late 1970s and early 1980s, his Scottish mother Maureen and Jamaican father Jeffrey ran the Reggae Klub, a series of club nights held across Scotland and the Midlands that championed Black British music. Daley’s dad DJ’d as I-man Slygo, playing eclectic genres, but specializing in UK roots reggae. “It’s so cool to me that this is what he was doing at the age that I am now, 40-plus years ago.”
The designer pays homage to his heritage in every collection of his namesake label, which he established eight years ago, whether it’s by dint of a bespoke tartan (“there’s always a check or plaid to nod to my Scottish identity”), knitted and crocheted pieces (“knitting and crocheting is a big part of Jamaican culture”) or the Reggae Klub logo (“that’s pretty much our family crest”).
His A/W ’23 line, Roots to Rebel, is no exception. “Did you see the lookbook?” he asks, sliding his iPhone across the table. Patterned co-ord sets are paired with knitted headwear and punky sunglasses; a mohair kilt is layered over straight-leg trousers, styled with a Reggae Klub tee and GH Bass x Nicholas Daley loafers.
The collection honors the soundscapes of the Midlands: his birthplace, and the cradle of two-tone, that distinctive fusion of Jamaican ska, punk, and new wave that aimed to unite Black, white, and Asian youth in early 1980s Britain. “It pays homage to the people who laid the foundation for my generation—those who used culture to push messages about what’s important.”
With Woven Rhythms, Nicholas Daley would like to lay some foundations of his own. “I hope this marks the start of more diverse, curatorial moments where I can combine mediums and artists who I think are doing amazing work and pushing boundaries,” he explains. “There’s definitely still more work to be done, and I still have a lot more to say.”
Woven Rhythms is on 15 September at Southbank Centre, London SE1; southbankcentre.co.uk
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