Fashion designer Nicholas Daley celebrates his Scottish-Jamaican roots at London Fashion Week

Reggae and tartan, jazz and jute are all in tune in Nicholas Daley’s menswear collections

Nicholas Daley's Spring Summer 21 Stepping Razor collection, named for the Peter Tosh recording, celebrates martial arts, which the designer has been exploring in lockdown.

“That’s something we’re all missing right now, getting our dancing feet working,” says Nicholas Daley, the Scottish-Jamaican London based fashion designer whose latest collection, Stepping Razor, stars British Karate Champion Jordan Thomas at this year’s online London Fashion Week.

Raised in Leicester to Jamaican/Scottish parents, Jeffrey and Maureen Daley, the designer’s love of music goes hand in hand with showing his collections and no-one is missing his legendary afterparties more than than him. Last year’s Fashion Week Abstract Truth show, in collaboration with Adidas, saw more than 400 at the aftershow party dancing to Mungo’s Hi-Fi from Glasgow, Mala and Nabihah Iqbal and his exhibition ‘Studio Nicholas Daley’ which ran until February at V&A Dundee, his mother’s hometown, ended in a night of music from Edinburgh’s Bongo Club regulars Messenger Sound System playing British reggae legends Dennis Bovell of Aswad and Brinsley Forde.

“It was an incredible night. It felt like pretty much all of Dundee had come down and it was an amazing thing to do.”

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For His Abstract Truth show in January last year, which was in collaboration with Adidas, Daley had Mungo's Hi-Fi down from Glasgow with the whole rig, Mala and Nabihah Iqbal and about 400 people at the aftershow party.

“It was such a fun night,” says the London-based Daley. “My shows are fashion shows but I add a musical element. Sometimes fashion shows can be a bit stiff and the demographic isn’t how I’d like to see it but my shows are more of an experience.

“So we’ve had Shabaka Hutchings and Sons of Kemet on Astro Black last year and collaborations with Yussef Dayes and Mansur Brown, supporting this new, rich UK jazz music which is exploding globally.”

A love of music - from jazz to reggae to punk - is what you’d expect from someone whose parents met in the Barracuda nightclub in Dundee and went on to run some of Scotland’s first reggae club nights in Dundee, Glasgow and Edinburgh, and his latest collection is named Walking Razor for Peter Tosh, one of the original Wailers.

However, like London Fashion Week itself, this year Daley will be online and as ever, alongside the rising star’s cutting edge designs, the music mixes from previous shows fill his website and are taking his brand and menswear beyond the front row to a broader audience with only a vague acquaintance with the pages of Vogue.

Daley’s parents moved from Edinburgh to Leicester where they raised him and his sister and his roots are expressed from top to bottom in his clothes, in the jute and wool rasta hats, tartan mohair suits and waterproofed outerwear, finished off with handcrafted shoes from the Midlands for this grandson of a Jamaican shoemaker.

Ever since his graduate collection, 31-year old Daley has worked with Scottish heritage brands including weavers Lochcarron of Scotland, Halley Stevenson (the waxed cottons supplier) in Dundee, Nutscene Twines in Forfar, knitwear specialists Scott & Charters and William Lockie in the Borders as he re-works tweeds, jute and tartan in a celebration of his heritage, with music always in the mix.

“I’ve been going to Scotland all my life. My mother is from Dundee and jute is really important because all the women in my family worked there. Without their sacrifices I wouldn’t have been able to be here. I intertwine Dundee in my work, through my products for example the Rasta Tam hats are all knitted from jute from Forfar, that’s the perfect product, Forfar meets Rasta Reggae.”

Nicholas Daley with friends, musicians, models and collaborators wearing clothes from the Spring Summer 2020 Astro Black Collection.

YOU’RE ABOUT TO SHOW AT THE SECOND ONLINE LONDON FASHION WEEK [19-23 FEBRUARY], WITH YOUR SHOW STEPPING RAZOR, ON FRIDAY [19 FEB]. ARE THERE POSITIVES IN IT BEING ONLINE?

For me, having the shows and the afterparties and music bringing the community together is a big part of my brand because I think that’s where you get this really interesting exchange of ideas and creativity and not being able to do it is a real shame, but we’re in a global pandemic and we have to ride through this turbulent time, and hopefully when we can do bigger shows and have people together they will appreciate it even more.

But the virtual fashion week has some really cool stuff, interesting films, finding different ways to connect to people and we’re launching a film for this fashion week around Stepping Razor. Last season we pulled in more visual assets and digital stuff too.

HOW DOES MUSIC INFLUENCE YOUR FASHION AND VICE VERSA?

Daley, here at the V&A Dundee, resurrected his parents' Reggae Klub T-shirt for his brand, to celebrate their part in running reggae club nights across Scotland in the 1970s and 1980s.

For me it’s an extension of what my parents did when they first met and decided to run one of the earliest reggae clubs in Scotland, supporting British Roots Reggae from 1978 to 1982. They didn’t do it for money, they did it because they wanted to support the community, the music, because that’s what they were really passionate about. My dad was DJing, my mum was doing the door or sorting out the food, and my aunty was doing the cloakroom (which she always whinges about). That’s very inspirational and I’m carrying on that tradition and flame through my fashion shows.

Music is very much in the blood, it’s the family business, even down to the Reggae Klub T shirt which my dad made whilst they were living in their flat in Edinburgh and I’ve re-issued it. When I first pulled it out my mum and dad said ‘what are you going to do with our old Reggae Klub T-shirt, it’s squashed’, but now it’s turned like an iconic of the brand.

With Fred Perry, we did the Fred Perry x Nicholas Daley Music Grant which supports an unsigned musician to record and work and Aden [London based cosmic soul singer] who won it will be going into studios when it’s safe.

The music thing, it’s the shows, the collaborations, the mixes, the grant, the family tradition. They are all interlinked. My parents instilled that love of music. Whether it’s Joni Mitchell right through to Toots and the Maytals, I’ve had quite a diverse soundscape from them.

YOU’RE SHOWING YOUR SPRING SUMMER 21 COLLECTION, STEPPING RAZOR, TELL US ABOUT IT.

It’s basically my appreciation of fashion, music and martial arts. During the pandemic I found martial arts is my way of escapism. I had done judo but not for a long time and my girlfriend is a second dan black belt in karate and said ‘you’ve got to come, you’ve got to come’ so I did and kind of got hooked. I got my red belt just before the second lockdown so now I have an official belt which is my only non-fashion achievement.

Nicholas Daley with his dad Jeffrey and mum Maureen at his V&A Dundee exhibition, Studio Nicholas Daley, which recreated his London fashion studio in his mother's home town last year.

STEPPING RAZOR REFERS TO PETER TOSH, ONE OF THE ORIGINAL WAILERS WITH BOB MARLEY AND BUNNY WAILER, HOW HAS HE INSPIRED YOU?

Peter Tosh was also massively into martial arts and even Bob Marley, people know him as a football player, but he was also really into it. I think the Bruce Lee factor, the Seventies, it was all part of that, but I found so much on Peter Tosh when I was researching, that he was also a black belt in karate or jiu jitsu and the cover of his Stepping Razor record is a kung fu guy fighting.

WHAT’S THE CONNECTION WITH DON LETTS, FILM DIRECTOR, DJ AND MUSICIAN - IS HE A MENTOR, MUSE, MATE?

Probably all three. I just reached out to him for my graduate show. I managed to get his number and phoned and said ‘Hi I’m Nicholas, I’m a student, I’m doing a show can I come over?’ and he said ‘OK cool just come over then’ and that was it really. It’s pretty straightforward with Don and he’s walked in my fashion shows, done mixes for them, and was a judge with the Fred Perry Grant. With our collaborators, it’s not just a one-season thing, it’s very much about working together when the timing works.

IS THERE ENOUGH BLACK REPRESENTATION IN FASHION, ON THE CATWALK AND IN THE MEDIA?

I think more should be done, could be done, but I look at my generation where you’ve got Martine Rose or Grace Wales Bonner, Bianca Saunders, Priya Ahluwalia - all female as well which is great, that’s another thing to also throw in there - as well as Samuel Ross from A-Cold-Wall, the list goes on. We’ve had Joe Casely-Hayford, one of the most pioneering of black British designers, obviously passed away, but I’m friends with his son Charlie. I think things are going in the right direction, but it’s all about the representation at the CEO level, the real gatekeepers of all industries, that where we need to also see a difference.

As designers we are growing and British Fashion Week have obviously been trying to improve and push that voice, but more needs to be done. I think Black Lives Matter opened a lot of people’s eyes and attention to the situation and the lack of representation which is why I got involved with British Fashion Week.

When I did my Saint Martin’s Collection I didn’t really have that many role models apart from Oswald Boateng and Joe Casely-Hayford. Even Kanye West you could throw in there, not a designer but he was somebody who was producing clothes and going to Paris Fashion Week and showing his line which a few years ago was quite an anomaly.

I have felt my brand or point of view wasn’t fully been expressed in the industry and I’m really glad people have really drawn to it and the business is growing in a positive way and I’ve been in international fashion competitions, reached really high levels and can speak to influential buyers and press and publications. So things are going in the right direction.I’m still doing some guest tutoring back at Central Saint Martins and Leeds University and trying to do more of that because it’s nice to try and inspire the next generation, the people behind me; it’s nice to encourage that diversity.

HOW HAS THE FASHION INDUSTRY REACTED TO COVID IN TERMS OF YOUR BUSINESS?

The British Fashion Council has been really supportive with the Covid Crisis Fund and I got some financial support to keep the business pumping. Also I got down to the final eight in the LVMH Prize for Young Fashion Designers and it was decided to split the winnings among us to support our businesses. As an industry we all realise we just need to get through this and try to do what we can and still create really, because I’m a creator and that’s what I want to keep doing. Even if it is just through a digital capacity, to try and make it as interesting as possible and offer something unique for other people to watch.

WHO ARE YOUR FUTURE COLLABORATIONS WITH?

I can’t say but some really exciting stuff. Fred Perry we’ve been collaborating with for four seasons, and we’re still working together, and Lavenham which is part of the Fred Perry company we did some quilting styles for last season and this spring and fall. It’s positive to have some things in the pipeline.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE ITEM OF CLOTHING FROM CHILDHOOD?

You know what, my Henrik Larsson Celtic top. I don’t know where it is and I keep saying to my mum, ‘where did you put it?’ I used to wear that to death, and get bullied a bit because no-one else was wearing Celtic in the Midlands. I’d go home a bit sad faced and my mum would say ‘you wear that shirt, your grandfather wore a Celtic shirt don’t worry about them’, so that’s something I wish I still had.

WOULD YOU CLASS YOUR CLOTHES AS MENSWEAR OR IS THAT AN OUTDATED CONCEPT AND CAN ANYBODY WEAR IT?

For me, I’m a menswear brand: I studied menswear at Central Saint Martins, my bachelor’s degree is fashion design menswear and that’s the easiest way to translate my product. But I’ve been surprised, especially when I got to Japan where I’ve been four times and I see both male and female customers wearing things and how they style things is really interesting. And quite a lot of the accessories that we make in jute, the beanies and bucket hats, bags and belts can crossover really easily.

And definitely in the last few years as the brand’s got bigger and bigger, I’m making more custom, one off things for women - for example Nubya Garcia who’s a really amazing saxophone player, and different female artists, so there are special projects, but there isn't womenswear line.

A lot of my clothes are relaxed, not heavily structured and the lines between men’s and women's and gender neutral are definitely blurring more and more and more, so it’s something I am curious and eager to explore further, to introduce something more womenswear specific, but even if it was a full line it would be an extension of the men’s.

There are some collaboration projects coming out this year and next year which hopefully will widen up the demographic of who’s buying the Nicholas Daley brand, whether it’s specifically main line or Fred Perry collaboration or shoes or whatever it may be, I’m trying to open it up to a wider audience, whether it’s listening to a music mix or buying a Fred Perry polo shirt, Tricker’s shoes, a tartan shirt or coat, or even the exhibition, trying to have diversity in how people can connect with my brand whether you’re male, female, black white. It’s all about just trying to create that personal connection with every show, collection, exhibition and product, with everything I do really.”

Nicholas Daley’s latest collection is available at the webstore on his website https://nicholasdaley.net/ and stocked by DOVER STREET MARKET LONDON, +44 (0)20 7518 0680, GOODHOOD, +44 (0)207 729 3600, MR PORTER, +44 (0) 800 044 5705, BROWNS, +44 (0) 20 7729 2666.

To watch Nicholas Daley’s Stepping Razor show on Friday 19 February at 4pm at London Fashion Week (19-23 February 2021) register online through the British Fashion Council website https://londonfashionweek.co.uk/

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Nicholas Daley's Spring Summer 21 collection, Stepping Razor, is inspired by the passion for music and martial arts of original Wailer Peter Tosh.
Nicholas Daley celebrates his Jamaican heritage while championing heritage British suppliers in his work.
Nicholas Daley worked with Lochcarron of Scotland, using their archives to source plaid for the 2020 Autumn Winter collection.
Jazz pioneer Shabaka Hutchings wears Nicholas Daley at one of the designers shows.
Nicholas Daley's rasta hats use jute made in Forfar, in celebration of his Dundee and Jamaican roots.