RUNWAY: What happens when Harry Styles wears your designs in his new music video? Well, first, foremost—and quite appropriately—you are shocked. “I was completely stunned by it,” begins the young British designer Steven Stokey-Daley, whose fall 2020 collection is worn by Harry Styles in his new music video for “Golden” alongside pieces from Gucci and Bode. “My mouth was literally ajar the whole time.”
The designer had sent his portfolio to Harry Lambert, Styles’s stylist, earlier this year. They connected about some of Stokey-Daley’s upcycled pieces, which he created for his graduate collection at the University of Westminster. But there was no guarantee that Styles would wear the items—let alone end up wearing Stokey-Daley’s white top for the majority of a music video that has already been viewed 25 million times. (Styles also wears pleated wide-leg trousers with a blue floral print in some of the shots.) “It sounds so cliché,” the designer demurs, “but it really is like a dream come true.”
Stockey-Daley hails from Liverpool and found fashion in a roundabout way. Originally interested in theater and literature, he applied to the University of Westminster’s fashion program on a whim. “I had a last minute change of heart,” he says, “and studying fashion has been a means to explore theater and literature through clothes, garments, and presentations.”
His graduate collection merged historical and literary references. “My work, thematically, is about this high society, education, patriarchy, and male-dominated public school elite,” he explains. “I think me being of a working class nature, this is the stuff that I’m so far removed from, this fancifulness and frivolity of something like a boat racing hat adorned fully in flowers, the tailcoats in day-to-day school life, the wicker hats. There’s something so theatrical about that to me and something so inherently feminine that I think I was enraptured with that because it felt so of literary reference.”
His moodboard is a mash-up of trad references like a young Prince Harry in a rugby shirt, stills from Brideshead Revisited, and Cecil Beaton photographs. The clash of decades and styles comes through in his work. Take a silk striped robe coat: Inspired by trying to merge sportiness with staid estate-wear, the piece was made entirely from silk scraps donated by Alexander McQueen’s atelier, which provides leftover materials to fashion designers in England. “Over the last few months I haven’t been able to get access to new fabrics or new materials and it’s forced me to really work in a more sustainable way,” Stokey-Daley says. “I think it’s forced designers, and people in general, to be more resourceful. It’s uncovered this beauty of what you can make from what you already have.”
The floral trousers Styles wears in the “Golden” video are, in fact, made from vintage curtains. (“They must have been giant curtains, from a manor,” Stokey-Daley says, referring to the large amount of fabric he was able to procure.) He was able to contact the manufacturer of the original material and buy up some deadstock to make additional pairs of the trousers. Those new pairs “sold out in minutes” after the “Golden” video was released.
“It’s incredible already to have this opportunity that Harry Lambert provided to me. But then to think that I’ve just graduated in the summer, and to have just graduated amidst a global pandemic whilst creative industries are really suffering, it feels so crazy and beyond belief that I have been afforded the opportunity to carry on in a creative direction,” Stokey-Daley says. “It’s overwhelming and I feel completely so lucky to have that opportunity and therefore so thankful to Harry Lambert for giving me that opportunity.”
Asked what’s next for him following this first shock of success, Stokey-Daley says he is planning to take things slowly. “I’m going to see how it goes; I’m not sure if I want to slot into the conventional fashion system,” he says. “The pace of fashion really does destroy fashion, I think, honestly. So I’m just going to work on my own time and I’m definitely going to work on some new projects.”
On the brink of releasing his sophomore album ‘Fine Line,’ the superstar muses on breaking boundaries, his experiences with celebrity, and his close creative relationship with Gucci’s Alessandro Michele. Styles’ tight relationship with Michele was hardly manufactured by a marketing team. The duo’s fanciful, creative lines of flight meet, quite naturally. “Alessandro is a free thinker and his way of working is very inspiring,” Styles enthuses. “If he wants to do something, he just does it, and I find it impressive. When you have the opportunity to witness the work of someone who is considered a master, it is quite incredible. There is no question of class, age, who did what. What he does is for everyone, concerns everyone, and I think that every art should be like that.”
Childhood and the potent memories of scent return to Styles’ thoughts, via the new Gucci fragrance. “I really like Gucci Mémoire d’une Odeur for its freshness, but also the fact that it adapts and changes according to the person who wears it, which I find amusing,” he says. “It probably reminds me of summer as a child. Being by the lake with my friends, where I grew up, and the smell of wildflowers.” One thinks of Henri Michaux’s famous verse: “Night is not like day; it has a lot of flexibility.”
“Many borders are falling—in fashion, but also in music, films, and art,” Styles declares with excitement. “I don’t think people are still looking for this gender differentiation. Even if the masculine and feminine exist, their limits are the subject of a game. We no longer need to be this or that. I think now, people are just trying to be good. In fashion and other fields, these parameters are no longer as strict as before, and it gives rise to great freedom. It’s stimulating.”
Styles and Michele have formed an organic bond. “If Alessandro doesn’t necessarily ask my opinion, we show each other things,” he explains. “It’s cool to have the opinion of someone who isn’t necessarily in your field, but whose work and taste you respect.”
Styles’ new album heralds a dynamic driven by serious writing discipline and the decision to take total charge of his career. “Songwriting is like surfing,” he says. “You can train as much as you want to get on the board, but sometimes the wave comes and sometimes it doesn’t. And yet, we still need to train to become better. You can’t just sit down and decide to write a song and think you’ve written the best song of your life. It takes a lot of work.”
How does this thoughtful young man, who ten years ago worked in a bakery in a small English town and is now a musical sensation who finds himself the subject of countless fans’ fantasies and smack in the stormy eye of media attention, find serenity? “Celebrity is something I am still learning, experimenting,” he says. “I learn to sort out what I like, what I don’t like, what I’m willing to give in my songs, and what I’m not inclined to share. We have to find a balance. We wonder what people will think of such and such words. And it’s accepting to be vulnerable, but at the same time it’s what makes this whole adventure exciting.”
This palpable excitement runs through the new album. Styles hopes that it expresses “a feeling of freedom.” This same vibe of unapologetic freedom is part of the work of his many role models—Elvis Presley, Mick Jagger, Stevie Nicks, Janis Joplin, and Prince. “When I look at them, I don’t know what it is, but it’s this, this something special,” he says of how these fellow icons inspire him. “They go beyond the limits. In terms of writing, Paul McCartney has always been a huge influence. I had the chance to meet some of them; they don’t stop being great to me.”
Arriving in a car suited for a massive star (private driver, ice cupboard, tinted windows), Styles departs on foot, with a small team, to drink a beer at the local pub.
The scene brings to mind Styles as a scrappy teenager, in a cardigan too big for his lanky frame, eager to invent himself. As the millennial superstar slowly strolls away, the sweet smell of success lingers: a soft-smelling fragrant mist—the romantic mixture of wildflowers, chamomile, and the dreamy mood of Sunday lunch in the English countryside.