Steven Stokey-Daley on winning the LVMH Prize, theatrical fashion and working in Aintree
Few young designers have been catapulted into global fame much rapidly than Steven Stokey-Daley, who on Thursday was awarded the LVMH Prize 2022 for Young Designers.
Two years ago, he was designing and sewing together his debut collection for his brand S.S. Daley from within the living room of his working class parents’ home in Aintree, a suburb of Liverpool, more famous for its Grand National horse race than for haute couture.
This Thursday, he was one of eight finalists presenting collections and concepts to seven LVMH designers, who collectively represent brands that boast annual revenues in excess of 20 billion euros.
Though of modest origins, that hasn’t presented Daley from focusing on the British elite in his collections. One was themed around Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh’s novel on a doomed aristocratic family; another on Another Country, a dark tale of repressed homosexuality in an English boarding school. His fashion is a blend of posh public-school codes, sensitivity and elegant illustrations, like the khaki cotton trench-coat stenciled with sketches of geese and gander in which he accepted the award.
The most recent S.S. Daley show even featured a troop of actors from the National Youth Theatre. But by then, Daley was causing so much buzz, Anna Wintour’s office called to ask if she could come to the rehearsal. Prior to studying menswear at Westminster University and graduating in 2020, Stokey-Daley was a member of the National Youth Theatre at the innocent age of 16. His fashion school overlooked the playing fields of uber expensive Harrow School, and that elitist aesthetic has influenced much of his fashion so far.
Already within a couple of years, S.S. Daley has built a loyal online commercial business, powered by singer and style-setter Harry Styles. When stylist Harry Lambert discovered Stokey-Daley and called in some clothes for Styles, the singer decided to wear them – from wide trousers made of floral linen curtains to a white voile shirt - in his Golden video. That ignited a small avalanche of orders.
So, fresh from accepting the techy golden LVMH award, we sat down with the 25-year-old Daley inside the Louis Vuitton Foundation to listen to his thoughts on fashion, inspiration and what he planned to do with the winning check of €300,000.
FashionNetwork: How you feel about winning the LVMH Prize, from the biggest luxury corporation in the world?
Steven Stokey-Daley: To be honest at first, I only just started to realize it right now. I wasn’t expected to win, so it's a big shock!
FNW: What do you plan to do with the money?
SSD: We have a healthy direct-to-consumer model. And so, I would love to invest some into that and to keep that as a primary focus. Then we will focus on building a wholesale model.
FNW: What was the experience of going before a jury of highly experienced, super-talented designers?
SSD: Who have inspired me personally throughout my life and education and career. It was intimidating, scary, exciting. They were really lovely, and I loved being able to introduce my world to them. It was a very big honor to do that sort of thing.
FNW: What sort of things did they ask you?
SSD: That’s a good question! They asked me about my production model, how we source fabrics, reference points, where do I see myself in the future? How do I think about the idea of growth?
FNW: Which of these designers have personally inspired you?
SSD: I’m London-educated and I think that Jonathan Anderson is a massive inspiration to me also. I think Jonathan really did push menswear in a different path. It's probably because of that that I'm able to do this today. He really sort of paved the way for that.
FNW: In a recent interview, you mentioned the metaphor of being thrown into the ocean and learning how to swim at the same time. Like the move from Liverpool and being thrown into the London Fashion Week calendar with its different pace. How did you handle the pressure?
SSD: I just kind of really keep myself to myself. I find that if I just focus inwards it doesn't feel too much pressure and it's exciting. You know, we approach showcasing with maybe a different energy than other designers, and have moments inspired by theater. Often, it's more of experience of a catwalk. I'm personally of the belief that if some people are traveling from all over the world to see a show, they should see a show, show, show. It's also a great opportunity to collaborate with other creative industries.
FNW: Are you settled in London?
SSD: I'm between Liverpool and London. We do a lot of our production in Liverpool and I do most of the design in London.
FNW: Is your grandmother still helping you with the production?
SSD: Yes, she worked in a garment factory when she was 15 and that’s very local to me in Liverpool. Until it closed up shop. She's always been the creative person in the family. It's the old story, isn't it? Everyone is influenced by their grandmother.
FNW: Where are you from in Liverpool?
SSD: I'm from the outskirts of Liverpool. A place called Aintree. I even worked on the racecourse as a food server for the races, but I was 16.
FNW: You have quite a sensitive aesthetic when you design. Define the DNA of assessment?
SSD: I see it as taking these antiquated, stuffy old ideas of British heritage that often feel exclusive to one section of British people. I offer a new life, a new breath on it -- sort of put it into a modern context for my own working-class perspective, I suppose.
FNW: How big is your team at this point?
SSD: There's just two of us. It's just me and my boyfriend who helps me. So, I would love to hire someone. I think the team is expanding definitely !
FNW: What do you really need to expand?
SSD: You know, I need to relent more. I think I am very fussy and I like to do everything myself. So, I'd like to do all my patterns myself to make sure that they are to my level. I do all the accounts to make sure I'm not missing anything. I need to hand over some responsibilities to others. I think where we need help is the ecommerce because it's such a massive job. Customer management, inventory management, all that stuff. It's a massive job actually, so I'd love to bring someone in to help with that.
FNW: How do you handle the extension of the brand into womenswear?
SSD: So that's actually related to the direct customer, we have that link with customers, and we can analyze that data. And so, we notice that there is actually a growing female customer. And so, womenswear is alongside menswear: for me the womenswear isn't really anything different, it's just tailored to a woman. So, we offer work suits, trousers, shirts, knitwear, it's all in the same world.
FNW: How many points of sale do you have worldwide?
SSD: A dozen.
FNW: How did you manage to connect Harry Style and his Golden video?
SSD: That was kind of a big moment for me. It really gave me the opportunity to actually do this, to think as a brand. A platform to go on and make a full collection and then do a show. Once Harry Styles wore a shirt and trousers in that video we had both ready to preorder on our e-commerce. Which gave us the financial (impetus) to start a collection. He is still wearing our clothes and he buys a lot. Yeah, he's great. Super supportive. Harry is also super genuinely lovely as a person.
FNW: Several judges explained they were really impressed with your entrepreneurial spirit. That you had the gumption to launch a brand during a global pandemic. That you went ahead and had that courage.
SSD: That’s very nice. We continue to do those things as well, to work locally and have a lot of British materials. It was really interesting actually because during lockdown we couldn’t get materials from outside the U.K. So, I just took it upon myself to research the heritage aspect of craft in the UK. We visited a family circle weaver that’s been going since the 1700s. Obviously their machinery has changed a lot since then, but they still have a whole archive since right at the beginning. And we worked really closely too with Scottish wool weavers and Irish linen makers.
FNW: When’s the next time we’ll see your next ideas?
SSD: September, currently, I think. In London, during the next women’s wear season.
FNW: Will you do a presentation or try a show?
SSD: I would love to do a show again. We did a show in February and September. Actually, in September we did a show with the National Youth Theater that took the form of a play, so I think that was a brave moment. Especially when the night before we had a call saying Anna Wintour wanted to sit through the rehearsal. I was, like ‘Oh my god, I bet she doesn’t realize it’s not a fashion show, it’s a play!’. But it paid off in the end. I like to explore that relationship with fashion showcasing and how we can explore that in different ways.
FNW: You’ve been very vocal about mentioning the fact of elitism in the industry and class struggle and from where you’re coming from and now how you’re arriving in such a symbolic place - like household names. So, how do you intend on tackling these kinds of issues in your upcoming projects and collections while staying true to yourself?
SSD: It’s interesting because I would have never said that I’m aggressively against any one or any group of people. From the very beginning, at Harrow School, which is the second most expensive public school in the UK. I stood at my studio window just watching the different world that it was. It’s always been at an observer’s point of view, not a massive confrontation. It just really made me realize the true extent of the class wealth that I was never privy to. So, I think it’s more just an observation and social commentary that I can use through fashion and literature.
FNW: It’s not class struggle, right?
SSD: No, it’s not and I don’t claim to try and change the world. Do you know what I mean? It’s more of a social observation. It’s also so evident within the reference points I started with - all based in these public schools. It’s just interesting to watch the things that are super celebrated in this elite culture in Britain that are also not celebrated in a working class setting. I always loved theater and it was the thing that I was pulled down for in school in Liverpool. Obviously, theater is celebrated so differently in a public-school setting. So, I just always find that contrast to be super interesting to explore and investigate.
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