Casely-Hayford might very well be the most sophisticated menswear label in London. And we're talking more than aesthetics: father-and-son duo Joe and Charlie create impeccable clothes that are charged with nuances, referencing British subculture and the melting pot of east London, where they live and work. Having recently launched our 'A Secret History of East London' project, Dazed Digital sat down with the designers to discuss their history and perception of the area, in a café on Kingsland Road. Naturally.
Dazed Digital: Were you brought up in east London?
Joe Casely-Hayford: No, I moved to east London over 25 years ago for studio space. Within that I feel that the east London culture reflects the things which interest me in terms of developing ideas for our collections. So first we moved to Whitechapel and had a studio there, before coming to Shoreditch – 25 years ago is a very long time.
DD: How was Shoreditch at the time?
Joe Casely-Hayford: Well, it was a different world of course, impossible to buy a cappuccino, you had to venture into the city to get coffee and there were no real designers here as such. At that time, Shoreditch was more for fine artists, like Gilbert and George.
Charlie Casely-Hayford: The first designer I remember in the area was McQueen, but that was quite late.
DD: It was really an artist's area first...
Charlie Casely-Hayford: My parents have worked together since they met at Saint Martins, so my sister and I grew up in the studio, most of my youth was spent around this area. Back then you could have a studio that was the size of a football pitch and the rent was hardly anything.
Joe Casely-Hayford: We were opposite Shoreditch church and had an amazing studio with a 30ft ceiling, it was massive. We moved there around 1992 and we were there for about ten years.
Charlie Casely-Hayford: When you’re a kid and love messing around that’s an amazing space to grow up in. But I don’t remember much about what Shoreditch was like outside of that.
Joe Casely-Hayford: It was kind of desolate, there was very little around. 333 used to be a really hardcore gay club with guys with amazing moustaches and that was quite interesting. Most of the artists who were working the area, they were what I call career artists: pure artists, and now I think it’s more part-time artists who go back to Wiltshire for bank holidays. I think it’s had the edge which is what really attracted me to the area.
Charlie Casely-Hayford: What about House of Beauty and Culture?
Joe Casely-Hayford: That was going back into the 80s/early 90s. The House of Beauty and Culture was about Judy Blame, Christopher Nemeth, John Moore, John Flet was there, it was just really fantastic. Last month we did a collaboration with Judy Blame again for Vogue magazine.
Charlie Casely-Hayford: And the year before we collaborated with John Moore on our footwear.
Joe Casely-Hayford: Those, for us, are the core kind our ethos is based around.
DD: Now it’s hard to imagine that corner of Kingsland Road and Old Street without the coffee shop...
Joe Casely-Hayford: That’s interesting – they were one of the first people that opened, brother and sister...
Charlie Casely-Hayford: And the gallery as well.
Joe Casely-Hayford: I remember it before, going back to the early days when it was a shoe warehouse and I used to buy vintage shoes from the 50s there. It wasn't actually even a form of shop because this area was made up of furniture makers and they did French polishing in the literal sense of the word and there were lots of strange women's shoes.
Charlie Casely-Hayford: And Jimmy Choo started down here right? On Hackney Road. Tamara Mellon used to come with her girlfriends and they would buy the shoes from him – that was how they got talking and that was how the business really started. And that’s why Jaguar Shoes is called Jaguar Shoes.
DD: Would you say that there was much of a community? Or did people keep themselves to themselves?
Joe Casely-Hayford: I think there was – a community of like-minded creatives and I think there was a lot of cross-disciplinary work going on. We moved ten years later, to Kingsland Road and that was interesting – there were filmmakers, painters and you had people like Katie England, Alister Mackie, all sorts of people working together.
Charlie Casely-Hayford: Richard Nicoll, Nicola Formichetti...
DD: How do you think the Olympics has effected the area?
Charlie Casely-Hayford: It’s quite hard to tell – look at the development of the Dalston Square and all these things, you don’t know whether they’re directly related. Basically I grew up where Dalston Square used to be and it’s been knocked down now and replaced with those ugly massive flats. The whole area is becoming really commercial and of course the rents have gone up. People here have had to move further out.
DD: Are you still enamoured with east London?
Charlie Casely-Hayford: I’ve lived here all my life so it’s part of who I am. I think I’m always going to have that kind of affinity with it. Even when I was growing up I remember where the Oxfam is now on Kingsland Road, next door they used to sell giant snails outside on little stools, literally the size of your hand. It was just really colourful and as the years have passed I guess you’ve got a Subway now. I know I sound like an old man.
Joe Casely-Hayford: I remember about seven years ago, Charlie said ‘my mate, Blaise Belville is moving over to this part of town’. I couldn’t believe it.
Charlie Casely-Hayford: My friend who lived in west London was the first who was really debating it. Now it just seems so weird, right? As a young person here, the idea that you can step outside your studio and there are all these people that you can work with on your doorstep is quite exciting. But also I think that in east London there’s this element of, almost this pressure that everyone has to achieve, or be seen to be doing something. I think in New York you can get away with perception, whereas here people see straight through it, so in London you have to really back up what you’re doing. There’s sincerity, people are quite dismissive if you aren’t seen to be purist in that sense. That’s inspiring.
DD: How does east London feed into your work?
Joe Casely-Hayford: About four years ago we were approached to work by the Albion/Boundary restaurant to work on a project. The idea behind that was a cross-disciplinary thing where they wanted local artists and designers to create the uniforms. That was very interesting – the manufacturer was a local guy in Spitalfields who made the product and we continue to work with him today. So that’s a very good example of the way that a lot of these things sort of interact and integrate into something new.
Charlie Casely-Hayford: I come across a lot of people, and I don’t know whether this is just an east London thing, but they work in a number of different disciplines at the same time – ‘slashies’. It’s difficult because I think people automatically assume that it’s because you’re not very good at one, you decide to do a number of different things. But I think it’s quite interesting and it seems to be in east London that you can actually, if you are creative, dip into a number of different things. There’s that availability to do that and if you have a vision, it’s maybe something you can transfer across different mediums. Even though I do come across a lot of slashies, I don’t write them off straight away, because I think that it’s a product of our generation’s post-modernism.
Joe Casely-Hayford: I like the idea, it’s like a renaissance man really, a really healthy thing. Rather than being focused on one thing, they’re all influenced by a multitude of things.
Charlie Casely-Hayford: But I think a lot of that is to do with the fact that there aren’t necessarily distinct barriers, we live in a community where everyone socialises together.
DD: And wanting to share things.
Charlie Casely-Hayford: Wanting to share, definitely. That’s a plus point from the way that east London has grown in the past few years.
Joe Casely-Hayford: I’d love to see some sort of cross-generational idea, you see people like Kevin Rowland walking around and there are lots of people who have been in the area for more than 20 years who are still creating interesting work. It would be interesting to see more of a fusion between generations to make something new.
Charlie Casely-Hayford: Yeah, but if you look at Eddie who does Present [on Shoreditch High Street] it appears to older guys and guys my age.
DD: Gilbert and George are still here and you still see them going about their business...
Charlie Casely-Hayford: It’s kind of amazing that you’ll be walking down Kingsland Road and you’ll see Gilbert and George just bowling down, quite a regular occurrence, a part of everyday life. I really do like that.
Joe Casely-Hayford: Also, the multicultural aspect of the area is really interesting for us.
Charlie Casely-Hayford: You can walk down Kingsland Road, in a straight line, and experience 20 different cultures in the space of 15 minutes.
Joe Casely-Hayford: When we produced the 'Kings of the King's Land' collection, it was like a culmination for us, bringing together all those different elements to make our statement.
Charlie Casely-Hayford: London is quite unique in that you have different elements of society next to each other and all these different cultures mixing together.