Entering into the Tottenham studio of Nicholas Daley is like stepping into a cacophony of sound. Artworks, prints and posters cover its high walls, hooks groan with the weight of pattern cuttings and boxes of Trickers, Creepers and folders line shelves and fill floors - and that’s excluding the racks of clothing. Look closely and you’ll catch a glimpse of a jacket featuring Daley’s new tartan print (which he designed and had certified formally) or a beautiful mohair coat, all snippets of his newest collection.
Daley himself reflects the space, he’s dressed in a riot of colour and print. A tartan baker boy hat, zip-sweatshirt, yellow t-shirt and utilitarian japanese-style drawstring trousers.
For those not already aware of the globally renowned designer, and winner of Appear Here’s 2017 Space for Ideas competition, Daley has become synonymous for his utilitarian designs, print and relaxed tailoring which much like the fabric he sews together, nods to his heritage and especially his love for music, which features within each and every collection, campaign and project he puts his hand to; whether that be a cultural events night at London’s iconic South Bank centre (Daley explains the one night event on the 15th September will feature gigs, talks and a club night, exploring his inspirations and intersections with electronic, reggae and jazz music) or an exhibition at Dundee’s V&A.
Perhaps his affinity for music was predestined. Daley’s mother Maureen, from Dundee and father Jeffrey, from Jamaica, first met in Dundee nightclub The Barracuda. The duo went on to create Reggae Klub in 1978, a historic night, something no one had previously seen before, a safe space for people of colour that welcomed everybody with respect for the craft - and the community - all at a time where far-right vitriol was rife. The couple continued their night, travelling throughout Scotland until 1982.
When asked of his first ever memory of music, it’s of no surprise that it includes his parents. Daley reveals a massive grin and says; “There’s a track called Two Sevens Clash by Culture, it’s my parents' favourite song and they used to dance a lot together to it in the kitchen. Me and my sister would be like, we don't wanna see our parents canoodling and kissing, you know what it’s like at that age - they'd be whineing and stuff and I'd be like, oh man! It’s quite an ingrained image. When I was young I found it overwhelming, but now when I think of it, it shows you how much they loved each other.”
It seems fitting that 40 years on from the now iconic Reggae Klub that Daley would pay homage at his London Fashion Week show in 2018, turning Swiss Church in Soho into a replica, patterned rugs, incense and all. Daley enlisted some of Britain’s most exciting voices in music, art and performance to become his models, such as Cosmo Pyke, artist DJ Don Letts and musician and spoken word artist Obongjayar. Daley, rather than stay backstage like many designers, was seen with friends bobbing his head along to the music. To editors, used to models storming down the runway to heavy techno and seeing a designer pop out for a quick wave and bow, the show was something of a revelation.
As we chat having coffee the conversation drifts to Notting Hill Carnival, now, only a week away. For Daley, Carnival is as important a part of his family calendar as Christmas. “You have Christmas, but then Carnival too,” Daley says with a laugh, “it’s the coming together of not just the community, but music and culture and food and family.”
Many Londoners make the pilgrimage to Notting Hill carnival each year to sample the music, sound systems and Caribbean food. And if there was such a thing as a carnival aficionado it would be Daley who has been attending the event since he was a young boy. “We would come down to London and stay with my auntie and my family,” he explains, “we’d always be there working on the drink stores or my godfather would be making food; rice and peas, jerk chicken…So it’s all these little small things really. And I guess for me it's like you just have to be there. You just have to soak in that collective energy and the sound systems and the food and just the whole reflection.”
This year, Daley is collaborating with Mangrove (established in 1980, it’s one of the oldest steelpan bands on the rosta and has over 100 members) creating a custom t-shirt design for the performers to wear. “We looked back at a lot of the Mangrove archive,” says Daley, “there have been a lot of different t-shirt prints and designs but ours is in the Trinidadian colorway of the red, white and the black. It's just something which I wanted to do, you know, I felt it was important.”
Steelpan has played a part in both Daley’s personal and professional life, as a kid he would wrap his own pan sticks in red, green and gold and he celebrated the steelpan in his highly acclaimed SS23 collection ‘Calypso’. As part of the campaign, Daley created a short film with the legendary Trinidndan pan player Fimber Bravo, “he talked about the significance of the steel pan and its importance. He's seen the evolution of the pan from carnival through to orchestra…”
Daley believes carnival this year is more significant than ever, “I think it's amazing that now it can kind of come back stronger than ever,” he says but because it’s an opportunity to reflect and pass on cultural history. “I feel it's at a time where we are getting a bit of a cross generational crossroads. The generation who came here from Jamaica and across the Caribbean, we're getting to a point where we are losing some real elders within the community like Jah Shaka. He passed away this year. His sound system, what he did for music, the Caribbean community was massive, it’s such a legacy he’s left behind. So we're getting to a point now where I do feel like it is sort of handing over the torches…”
If you’re thinking of attending this year, you’ll most likely find Daley by Channel One Sound System. “I always see it like sonic therapy,” he explains as I lamely tell him my eardrums wouldn't be able to take it if I stood at the front, “you just find a spot and then feel the vibrations going through your body and it then becomes this sort of transient feeling. There's a lot of science around the frequencies and how it affects the body.”
But when it comes down to it, there's just one simple rule for Daley when it comes to carnival; “Just show up, be there, whatever your cultural background is. I think that's always the most important thing.” And with that, it’s time for us to leave and for Daley to plan his next cultural project.