The Man And The Sea. S.S. Daley AW23

Sir Ian McKellen emerged from the shadows to begin the S.S. Daley autumn-winter 2023 show in a silk sailor’s cap and a navy peacoat decorated with a nude male form. Reciting one of Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s Arthurian poems, his rich Shakespearean lilt spoke of mighty waves and roaring voices, delivered with the kind of presence that comes from a lifetime treading the boards. So far, so Steven Stokey-Daley: the designer has woven the energy of live performance into all three of his previous shows. But it turns out that Stokey-Daley was initially planning to do away with the theatrics completely this season, until McKellen unexpectedly reached out to the designer and the idea of him opening the show sprung up. “You don’t say no to Sir Ian McKellen,” said Stokey-Daley at a preview before the show. “To be honest, I couldn’t really believe it.” Given Stokey-Daley’s meteoric rise over the past two-and-a-half years, he shouldn’t be so surprised. The S.S. Daley whirlwind began in 2020 when he sent a portfolio of his graduate collection to stylist Harry Lambert, who then dressed his client Harry Styles in a full look for his “Golden” music video. From there, attention exploded, culminating in Stokey-Daley taking home the LVMH Prize and the emerging designer gong at the British Fashion Awards last year in quick succession. It was only after his show this past September, Stokey-Daley explains, that he was able to pause and fully take stock of his rapid ascent – and he found himself feeling strangely deflated. “Everything was great on paper, but I felt like, post-LVMH Prize, I had a lot to prove,” Stokey-Daley said. He felt he should reintroduce the brand with a bang last season and scaled up his runway experience, with an ambitious set inspired by Sissinghurst Castle Gardens. His initial urge to do without the theatrical bells and whistles this time was partly in response to that, channeling this emotional turbulence into artfully disheveled, navy-inspired clothes that trailed with loose strings of thread and lengths of knitted bunting, as if the models been dragged from a shipwreck. “This collection is more of a reflection of my state of mind than anything I’ve done before,” he said.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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