An ode to British women and botanical gardens, the Liverpudlian designer’s latest offering is one which is quintessentially British.
t’s safe to say that Britain, in its current climate, is undergoing a huge transformation. Yet at this dicey moment in history, S.S. Daley, the latest recipient of the LVMH prize, is the London-based brand who is redefining a shining new era of what it means to be British.
Showcasing his Spring Summer 2023 collection at the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel in North London, creative director Steven Stokey-Daley brought his world of “Vita” to life. Looking at the letters exchanged between Vita Sackville-West and Violet Trefusis, the Liverpudlian designer – throughout his wealth of both menswear and womenswear looks – explores how these two queer women navigated the patriarchal confines belonging to their aristocratic English society.
“In their letters, there’s a sketch of Vita and Violet arm-in-arm, walking around the south of France,” says Daley. “They’re all in black, Vita in a tuxedo, and it’s this moment of connection when the tone of their letters is increasingly sad, when they cannot be with one another. The emotion of that moment fills this whole collection.”
Such tropes of forbidden love and impending doom are enforced from the very beginning of the show – before the looks are introduced, a group of models walk in a single-file, candlelit procession, as church-bells pierce the hushed silence of the crowd. A funereal march, in lament to the late monarch too, perhaps?
The show begins, and the music is light-hearted and mischevious – reminiscent of music taken from a cartoon. The models walk across an immaculately-mown lawn – inspired by the splendid gardens belonging to Vita’s Sissinghurst Castle, donning an array of cotton twill utility sets. In a nod to the botanical gardens, they are clad with florals and tie fastenings derived from old school caps, whilst a merino wool sweater is embroidered with the image of a shed in her garden. Calico shirts are printed with 1920s seed packet illustrations.
Daley’s distinctive sheer voile pintuck shirts continue to permeate his collection, joined by new iterations, including floor-sweeping, dramatically-ballooned sleeve shirts and Irish linen wide-cut summer shirts – woven specially for the designer. There are also patchwork shirts, made from commemorative tea-towels – a quintessentially British tribute.
A personal element belonging to Daley’s life echoes throughout his looks: silken short- sleeve shirts are printed with photographs tacked from his bedroom wall, where a tapestry hangs over striped wallpaper, whilst several t-shirts are duct-taped with real roses under the words, “LES FLEURS.”
Daley’s statement floral headpieces are united with bunny ears and silky scarves, accompanied by the debut of S.S. Daley eyewear – made in collaboration with Dan Levy’s DL Eyewear. Rendered in two key frames – one rounded, and one square, the set of glasses, according to Daley, are a nod to twentieth century English eyewear figures, across the class divide.
Bunnies and hares play muse to SS Daley’s collection – two animals which Vita and Violet often referred back to in their letters: whilst the words “BUNNY BOY” are embroidered on various long-sleeved jerseys, two hares dance upon a cotton laced polo shirt, as a 1700s etching of a hare sits poised on a trench coat.
Black suits punctuate the otherwise whimsical dreamscape envisioned by Daley: linen trouser suit lapels are hand-finished with white stitching, and worn over mist blue silk shirts. Two black mourning coats symbolise Vita and Violet – one with ballet ribbon details on the sleeves, the other a strapless gown comprising a blown-up pair of oversized trousers.
The show closes with a performance of the models reading Vita and Violet’s letters to one another. There are dual elements of Shakesperean tragedy and comedy all merged into one; the fated notion of two lovers who cannot be together, yet the landscape in which they live out their fantasies connotes a fairytale which is too good to be true. “It’s a moment of real and surreal,” says Daley. “About collapsing time, gender and notions of privilege – to just let humans just be themselves.”
Words by Grace Sowerby