There’s something so completely, fantastically London about the father and son team of Joe and Charlie Casely-Hayford. It’s not just the menswear they produce – perhaps the very definition of “classic with a twist” – it’s their personal style, history and how they tell a tale that spans four decades of men’s fashion in the British capital. Today, with the London menswear scene the focus of the fashion world’s attention, they are justifiably one of its star attractions. The global buy from their Casely-Hayford label doubled after their first runway show in 2014, and sales of ready-to-wear have grown around 20 per cent year on year since 2013. They also opened a dedicated made-to-measure space in Harvey Nichols earlier this month.
The brand has its roots in the 1980s style revolution. Joe Casely-Hayford began selling his work to London stores while he was still at St Martins, moving on to a collection crafted from second world war tents found in a warehouse on Clink Street, before launching his first eponymous label in 1986. “He took traditional notions and turned them on their heads while still making wonderful clothes,” says long-standing friend and celebrated Dublin-based designer John Rocha. “The way he subverted things was very exciting. I love that some of the old subversion is still there in the label today, executed beautifully.” Selfridges menswear buyer Jack Cassidy says he finds their designs 30 years on “consistent and inspiring – they are a mainstay of the London menswear scene, and continue to show collections that are relevant and true to their brand’s DNA.”
Casely-Hayford senior was one of the biggest design stars of the 1980s, riding a wave of counterculture cool that saw white-hot labels like Bodymap and Richmond-Cornejo surf to global acclaim before uniformly capsizing. Joe was, and is, different. There have been no wilderness years; he decided to rest the original Joe Casely-Hayford label in 2006 when he took over as creative director at Gieves & Hawkes, then launched Casely-Hayford (dropping the “Joe” prefix) with his son Charlie three years later. During his career he has undertaken roles as diverse as tailor to Gordon Brown when he was prime minister and stagewear designer for U2 and The Clash. He’s also worked on collaborations with John Lewis and Terence Conran. “Our label today is about an appreciation and expression of all things British that fall between these disparate worlds,” says Joe. “It’s about English sartorialism and British anarchy,” Charlie adds. “There are so many traditional elements to our work in terms of construction and craftsmanship, but we like the juxtaposition of street and sportswear influences.” Given how profoundly British the label is, there’s irony in the fact that 50 per cent of their technically advanced clothing is made in meticulous and costly Japanese factories. “They are just about the only London-based menswear brand to do it,” says Selfridges’ Cassidy. “It means the quality is always strong.”
Many people remember the 1980s as a time defined by the avant-garde, but it was a decade that changed the way men dress across the board – from the dancefloor to the boardroom. The current Casely-Hayford label echoes its formative years. At a time when John Galliano was pushing boundaries by creating trousers with three legs, Joe Casely-Hayford took a different tack. “I called my form of expression ‘new conservative dressing’,” he says. “It deconstructed formal tailoring and reappropriated establishment ideas for a questioning new audience that was willing to experiment and to dress for reasons other than to look rich and sexy. Brands like ours were pushing the boundaries – we had the formal knowledge of tailoring and knew how to challenge the status quo and move things forward.”
The 2016 Casely-Hayford label mixes a British streetwear sensibility with Savile Row. Put another way, it takes menswear staples and adds a fresh, 21st-century spin – for example, by turning the classic two-piece suit into something relaxed but still sophisticated. “The clothes have a studious respect for both street style and the tailor’s chalk,” says Turner Prize-winning artist Chris Ofili, who collaborated with Joe Casely-Hayford on T-shirt designs back in 2002 and is a loyal customer. “They are timeless – both ‘back in the day’ and ahead of their time.” They also manage to pull off the miraculous trick of being both innovative and wearable. “I wore a piece from over 10 years ago recently,” says Ofili, “and my nine-year-old daughter told me how much she liked it. ‘Is that a shirt or a top?’ she asked. ‘Because it looks like both.’” Dover Street Market, always several steps ahead of most retailers, was one of the new Casely-Hayford label’s first stockists: “We like the sartorial-meets-street and tailoring feel of the brand,” says vice president Dickon Bowden.
The duo’s tailoring is as comfortable as sportswear – their double-breasted black and white blurred-check jacket (£635) and matching trousers (£365), for example, make for the perfect ultra-light summer suit, with complex fused pleats that stretch on wearing to give an otherwise unstructured outfit plenty of fit and shape. As with the innovative fabric technology, the concept behind their tailoring is anything but simple; there are specific Casely-Hayford codes within their made-to-measure service (£1,295), demand for which has grown about 40 per cent every year for the past three years. “We incorporate a prominent chest, with special internal darting,” explains Joe. “There is also a prominent sleeve-head roll, a shaped sleeve with a high underarm point, and, of course, a natural sloping shoulder – all combined with the lightest construction, fabrics and interlining for a unique 21st-century English sartorial look and feel.”
Few designers manage to experiment with such a steady hand and light touch. It’s a case of knowing the rules inside and out before breaking them. “It was very important for us to start from a traditional standpoint,” says Charlie. “We make suits for CEOs in the banking industry, but we still tailor from our unique point of view.” A case in point from the spring collection: the unlined Aston jacket (£580), with a middle front panel in navy and a rich but sombre plaid on either side, looks like it is made of two different jackets sewn together along vertical seams. It has natty, discreet lapel detailing. Forty years after punk tumbled out of Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren’s World’s End boutique onto the King’s Road and around the world, this is fashion iconoclasm, but of an extremely sophisticated kind.
The London identity is core to Casely-Hayford. It was there last season in a collection that blended Sgt Pepper and skinheads. “Bold prints and colour gave it an energy and sense of fun,” says Daniel Todd, buyer at key web stockist Mr Porter. “They mixed crushed velvet and eveningwear with streetwear staples such as grey jersey track pants and sweats.” The city appears again in the current super-elongated version of the MA1 military bomber jacket with a T-shirt hem (£530), in black, navy and a navy and white floral print; it’s a garment that has for decades been a symbol of London youth culture, from the club kids of yesteryear who pinned Polaroids, buttons and badges on them, to today’s Rick Owens-clad fashion students. The identity is also in evidence at the Casely-Hayford studio: they moved recently from Shoreditch to a space at the end of an industrial lane in off-the-radar Tottenham. “We are seeing more interesting people here in Seven Sisters,” says Charlie. “The spring collection has taken a lot from the style of the biker boys who ride around the streets here in full gear.” Jackets (£525) aside, the bikers inspired a new range of accessories – most notably black mesh and graphic bright blue, white and black oversized tote bags (£235). Biker style, however, is just one element in this wide-ranging collection, as the more stately Wentworth coat (£735) shows.
A few seasons ago, the pair created a collection based on the people of Kingsland Road – a stretch of east London that links Dalston to Shoreditch. It was a marvellous example of how the designers blend different cultural elements: some of the prints had an African look to them, hinting at the bolts of cloth you might see around Hackney’s Ridley Road Market, but which mixed, on closer inspection, Ottoman and Wedgwood-inspired graphics. Casely-Hayford is quite the barometer of street fashion in the British capital, playing hopscotch with different eras; in a 2011 collection, they incorporated references to the late shoemaker John Moore’s work, with its distinctive chunky welted sole and elegant patches and tabs of leather on the toes. Moore was among the most fêted footwear designers of his generation, and both he and The House of Beauty and Culture – the east London concept store he co-founded in the 1980s with Judy Blame and Chris Nemeth – remain perennial reference points for designers and retailers; the autumn/winter 2015 Louis Vuitton menswear collection was an homage to the era. “John Moore is the perfect example of the fusion between tradition and anarchy,” says Charlie. “The designs have so many different elements – they are work boots, but with so much detail and craftsmanship.”
Casely-Hayford’s new studio space is phenomenal – a vast, meticulous white warehouse, slicker than any of the 1980s generation would have imagined possible, that brings to mind the original Saatchi Gallery on Boundary Road. “The minimalism here allows our minds to wander,” says Charlie. “It’s a palate cleanser.” Along one wall runs their moodboard, covered in images of punks, portraits of David Bowie and David Lynch, royal guardsmen and Alexander Calder sculptures. While the studio is their hub, business reality means that the actual designing takes place on the road as much as it does surrounded by their library. “We get a lot of work done on the 12-hour flight between Tokyo and London,” says Joe. “We’ve designed whole collections on the plane. It’s perfect – there are no distractions and we can really talk.”
Selling London to the world has long been something that Britain’s designers have found success with. The Casely-Hayfords excel at it. The family name has been big in Japan since it was first sewn into clothing. “Our longest collaboration has been the sartorial collection we develop with Barneys New York in Japan,” says Joe. “Each season we work closely with buying director Yasuhito Noguchi on formal tailoring, outerwear and shirts. We were honoured to be invited to create a Best of British sartorial wardrobe for the upcoming launch of the prestigious new store in Roppongi, Tokyo. Similarly, we have an ongoing relationship with the TomorrowLand and Edition chains in Japan.” There is also a new tailoring collection in conjunction with New York accessories brand Want Les Essentiels later this year, and a collaboration with US heritage footwear brand Sperry, creating a new kind of deck shoe. “We are infusing it with the spirit of London street style,” says Joe. “The ‘deck creeper’ will be a superlight hybrid boat shoe-meets-brothel creeper.”
Since its early appearances at Dover Street Market and Hostem – homes to the “insider” label – Casely-Hayford has become, if not mainstream, a high-end department store staple. Certainly its striped T-shirts (£195) and sweats (Astra sweatshirt, £185) count as core product. These are clothes men of all ages want to buy. Maybe because they saw hip-hop artist Drake wear a certain sweatshirt on Instagram, or because they want a crease-free suit with a drawstring trouser (from £1,295) to fly long-haul. Perhaps they just love the layered look Casely-Hayford specialises in; the Wrex jacket (£235) – in red with tartan contrast; blue stripe with white herringbone; and black with herringbone – comes with a length of shirt fabric behind and below the hem. It’s a modern, appealing flourish.
Casely-Hayford is a brand founded by men with fashion in their blood. In their studio is a pair of tiny leather boots. “I used to wear these,” says Charlie. “I grew up in a studio much like this one. My father dressed me in one of his deconstructed suits before I could walk. It’s funny – I’ve been looking at a lot of his archive from the 1980s, because that’s where we are going right now.” Just as Joe has helped define London menswear since the days of new romanticism, you couldn’t find a more dazzlingly modern-looking young Londoner than Charlie. He lives in suits with truncated trouser lengths to reveal 12-eyelet army-surplus boots; the ensemble is crowned with Basquiat-like dreads. If the Casely-Hayfords were searching for models to put on billboards to advertise their brand, all they’d need to do is look in the mirror. Right now, the work sells itself. These are two men taking giant steps in the British menswear industry.