From Florence Welch to Benedict Cumberbatch to Tinie Tempah, the world is won over by the quintessentially London fashion house, Casely-Hayford. 5' ELEVEN'' explores the ascendance of a fashion descendant, the value of art, and the journey beyond with designer Charlie Casely-Hayford.
Words by Charlie Newman.
Fashion houses are passed down like precious keys; only once they land in the hands of their rightful owner is the path unlocked to a brand’s bright future. When a change of designer is announced, it is usually an enormous and expensive gamble, but this was not true for Casely-Hayford. Charlie joined his world-renowned father, Joe Casely-Hayford, in 2009 and it was the start of a new journey for them both as a design-duo. Father and son undoubtedly shared a very special decade working together before Joe’s death on 3 January 2019 after a three-year battle with cancer. Thus, the keys landed in Charlie’s lap, and he was ready to continue down an already well-established path...
Fashion runs through Charlie’s blood, “because we’re a family business, I started going to fashion shows before I could walk! My earliest memories are probably in my parents’ studio in Whitechapel, just hanging out on the cutting table and annoying their team generally!” But it was never writ in stone that this would be his future, instead for Charlie, “fine art was really my world and my currency. That was my obsession and still is.” It wasn’t until his foundation year at Central Saint Martins that his own appreciation for fashion was awakened, “I think it was maybe because it was the first time I’d removed myself from my parents and the bubble they’d built around me... When I got to St Martins, there was this incredibly vibrant energy of everyone dressing up every day, myself included, and I just became fascinated with the idea of identity and the power of clothing and its role within it.”
Fresh out of the confinements of a school uniform, Charlie reveled in the creative possibilities of finding your own identity, just as his parents had, aged nineteen, when they first met at St Martins. After his foundation year, Charlie then studied History of Art at The Courtauld Institute, situated on the corner of Somerset House, the base for London Fashion Week – as always, fashion was never far away. But that’s not to say his experience at The Courtauld was pointless, far from it; Charlie’s passion for art runs through his designs, they share a symbiotic relationship. And just as with a piece of art, the Casely-Hayford aesthetic tells a story, “I’m always looking for what the Japanese call the ‘Wabi-sabi’ which is beauty in the imperfection, we try and communicate that through the clothing. . . In the same way that an artwork tells a story that only really comes to life when the narrative is exchanged between the viewer and the artwork itself.”
The fashion house’s dominant narrative was set by his father back in the ’80s, when he quietly challenged fashion norms the world over and subverted tradition by mixing street culture with sartorial style. Fashion journalist Luke Leitch recalls a conversation with Joe (read the full piece at Vogue online) where Joe recounts, “As a black kid in Britain, I was on the outside looking in, initially. So, I remember being chased down the King’s Road by rockers, and then a few years later, I was being chased up it again, but by skinheads. But I’ve always been fascinated by English society.” A fascination that was reciprocal as after setting up his label ‘Kit’ in 1984, a brand that played with military surplus, he attracted the attention of U2 and designed their stage wardrobe from 1991–3, whilst also dressing other musicians such as The Clash, Lou Reed and Liam Gallagher.
Joe’s designs weren’t solely reserved for starlets though and he was the first designer to collaborate on a special collection for Topshop in 1993. He had the full range of fans as along with the masses came Diana, then Princess of Wales, who attended his show in 1995. For a man who was heralded as anti-establishment, Joe was warmly welcomed by the establishment and received the Savile Row seal of approval in 2005 when he became the Creative Director of Gieves & Hawkes for three years and received an OBE in the 2007 Queen’s Birthday Honours.
“The suit has become almost a signifier within youth culture. I think people have utilized its traditional, elitist and authoritarian status and flipped that on its head.
Over a decade later, the big names still can’t get enough of the signature Casely-Hayford silhouette, whether that be Drake, Sam Smith, John Legend, Lewis Hamilton or David Beckham, they all favour the house’s slick-yet-playful designs. The suited demographic is no longer confined to its stereotype but has finally caught up with the twenty-first century. Charlie notices how, “The suit has become almost a signifier within youth culture. I think people have utilized its traditional, elitist and authoritarian status and flipped that on its head. That’s why it’s been adopted by so many people as this statement of intent... much in the same way in the ’60s when skinheads adopted military wear – they’re taking something from the establishment and subverting it. I feel like that’s what’s happened to the suit in the last few years, it’s taken on its own form of identity.”
Of course there are hundreds of tailoring brands out there, but the magic of Casely-Hayford is in the juxtaposition. “We’ve found ourselves in this really interesting place where we understand both worlds, and so we’re getting approached by people from both sides, it feels quite exciting. It’s been an interesting journey seeing this garment that’s a staple of our brand taking on new meanings, something it has done in every decade. When I would speak with my old man, tailoring was a big part of his world but in a completely different way to how it is now.”
The contemporary for Casely-Hayford, amongst various other new avenues, means genderless collections. “I’m trying my best to break down the barriers within our own world so that it’s not a case where you’re buying men’s or womenswear, but that you’re buying into the collection the way that you want, and you buy it in any size you want. To do that, we’ve almost had to create our own sizing range... It’s definitely a work-in-progress but that’s my end goal and I feel very strongly about it.” After all, Charlie is surrounded by an extremely talented roster of women and it would be criminal not dress them too. As with many families, the matriarch runs the ship, and Charlie’s mother, Maria, is “still very much the boss behind the scenes, but she prefers to be behind the camera.”
They work together every day, with Charlie looking to his mum as “the backbone of the business.” Meanwhile, his younger sister Alice, the Content Director of Net-a-Porter, is “the one I turn to for advice”, and Charlie’s wife Sophie, of Studio Ashby, is his “rock, she runs a very successful interior design business so it’s really helpful for me because as we’re both independent business owners, we’re both able to chat. The fashion industry can be quite bitchy at times so it’s quite rare to find allies. It’s wonderful to have someone who I can really confide in and who really understands it on my level. She’ll pluck me out of my little bubble, and then I’ll realize how I can get slightly blinded by it, which is really helpful!”
Pre-pandemic, Charlie used to look to travel, particularly in Japan, or to an exhibition for inspiration, but now he thinks that “equally, there have been seasons where it’s just been about feeling, and that is enough to conjure up a design aesthetic for the new collection. I think being trapped in the same place over the last year has made me feel more connected to a kind of less polished glamour.” This year has sharpened our eyes to the minutiae of real life and focused them in on what’s right in front of us, “I guess everyone, in their own way, is searching for something more authentic on the other side of this lockdown, whether that’s seeking transparency or sustainability. I think all those words, they all hark back to notions of authenticity, integrity.”
This is a piece's extract. Find out the full version in the Spring Summer 2021 Issue 6.