With the launch of a new modern tailoring capsule created in collaboration with Casely-Hayford, Sunspel caught up with designer and co-founder Charlie to talk art, anti-establishment, and the seismic shift in conventional tailoring.
You started your fashion brand at 22 with your father [the late Joe Casely-Hayford OBE]. Did you always want to work in the industry?
I very much grew up in a fashion family and was going to runway shows before I could walk, but, actually, my path was more led in the direction of the art world. I studied history of art at university and all my internships were art based. I went to The Courtauld Institute in London, and studied classical art history. In my final year, my dad was doing a show in Paris and I got talking with him backstage and one thing led to another and we decided to go into a business together. My mum took on the business side and my dad and I were designing together. My old man was always emphatic that, for me to do anything creative and to think about its space in the future, I had to understand the past. I think that’s probably why, subconsciously, I studied the history of art. I wanted to understand what beauty meant to artists through the ages, because I was very conscious, having grown up in the industry, of how obsessed fashion was with this ideals of beauty. So I think, in the back of my mind, part of studying history of art was because I knew there was a direct link with how it would train my eye for the world that I was about to enter.
Single Breasted Blazer in Navy, Lambswool Crew Neck Jumper in Ecru, Double Breasted Blazer in Navy, Lambswool Roll Neck Jumper in Ecru, Linen Shirt in Navy/White Stripe.
What was your vision for Casely-Hayford, the brand?
When we first started, it was very much steeped in these two ideas of English sartorialism and British anarchy. We both had always been interested in this idea of double consciousness which I think a lot of people, particularly in London, can relate to. It’s this idea of being from two places, and your identity not being defined by a singular space or surroundings, and how that shapes you. And so with the brand, we were kind of trying to communicate a similar message, where it wasn’t about a singular idea, it was about the juxtaposition of maybe two worlds that don’t sit harmoniously together – which we called “harmonious discord”. It’s a very British thing because we have such a wonderful heritage and we also have these amazing subcultures that have developed in an anti-establishment way. That always interested us and was the language that we used to develop the brand’s DNA.
Single Breasted Blazer in Navy, Elasticated Back Trouser in Navy, Classic T-shirt in White.
Yeah. When my dad passed away [in early 2019] we stopped doing runway shows and I think that had quite a big impact on the output of the brand and how we wanted to move forward. The modern tailoring aspect had really come to the fore just as he was getting ill and we’ve developed that in a much more intense way. We’re still interested in that duality aspect, but how we can apply that to a modern tailoring language.
This brings us to your recent Sunspel collaboration. Were you familiar with the brand?
Sunspel is a brand that I’m very familiar with and have a lot of respect for. We have a little store on Chiltern Street, which just happens to be a few doors down from Sunspel; I see the whole team every day. So it was a very organic process. I think my respect for the brand is in its purity and how that translates across every touchpoint that it puts out. Our brand is developing in a similar way, so it felt like a very harmonious coming together of like-minded brands.
Double Breasted Blazer in Navy, Pleated Trouser in Navy, Classic T-shirt in White, Cashmere Crew Neck Jumper in Grey Melange.
What about the actual products in the Sunspel and Casely-Hayford collection?
Rather than it being a collection, I think it was more that we wanted to solve problems. It’s actually only four garments that operate as two suits, and you can switch between the tops and the bottoms. We wanted to create a garment that enabled its wearer to feel relaxed in it at home and then go out to a meeting, and not have to change, and then go out in the evening, somewhere maybe where you need to dress up, and still be able to wear the same outfit. To transition between those three spaces can be quite a challenge. So we brought our strengths together and by making the suiting in jersey [fabric], but keeping it elevated. It feels like a tracksuit and it’s so comfortable but you can wear it in any environment. It took us a while to develop what that would look like visually. When you see the suits they appear very simple, but so much thought has gone into how they drape and how they hang and the cut. It’s very understated, which I think is a word that probably resonates with both brands.
Classic T-shirt in White, Cashmere Crew Neck Jumper in Grey Melange, Pleated Trouser in Navy, Grained Leather Belt in Black, Classic T-shirt in White, Single Breasted Blazer in Navy, Elasticated Back Trouser in Navy.
Is the idea that someone could buy the full suit or just one piece?
Yes, we tried to make it versatile. I’ve never been an advocate of telling someone how to dress or that you have to wear our brand head-to-toe. Our customer and our clients on the bespoke side have always been people who are confident enough in themselves that they don’t need a brand to enhance their identity or wear it as a badge of honour. And that’s not something that we’ve ever strived for and I imagine it’s not something that Sunspel strives for either. It’s beyond that, and it’s about how we integrate into your everyday life, but create a type of elevation that is about oneself rather than a projection to others.
Was the collaboration born from what we’ve been through over the past couple of years?
Yes. There’s been a seismic shift in the tailoring world because your conventional tailoring market, which is maybe guys who work in the City who would wear a suit every day, don’t have to any more. I was talking earlier about subcultures and anti-establishment and people using establishment symbolism to make a statement; I feel like that’s what’s happened with the suit now because it’s been adopted by the generation coming up and in a very anti-establishment way. So it’s given a new life and it’s a very exciting moment in the tailoring world because the traditional suit is struggling. I think it will always exist, but there’s new life being breathed into it through the generation coming up and they’re really having fun with it. I think the suit had all this symbolism that was so loaded; a lot of people were scared of it or just had no interest whatsoever. Whereas now that all the barriers have been broken down, you’re getting this seismic shift which has completely changed the game.
Double Breasted Blazer in Navy, Elasticated Back Trouser in Navy, Lambswool Roll Neck Jumper in Ecru, Linen Shirt in Navy/White Stripe, Single Breasted Blazer in Navy, Lambswool Crew Neck Jumper in Ecru, Pleated Trouser in Navy.
What are your favourite ways to style these “unstructured” pieces?
Well, I very rarely wear a shirt unless I’m forced to at weddings or events. So it works perfectly because the pieces have been designed to be worn with a T-shirt. They can be elevated and dressed up with a shirt and tie, but I think they are most comfortable with a T-shirt or a light crew-neck knit underneath. It gives them that relaxed nonchalance. Ultimately, we wanted to make sure that it could be worn with ease in that one extreme of the T-shirt and trainers and then easily transitioned to a more formal shirt and shoes.
What is your favourite piece?
It’s probably the wide-legged trouser. It’s got a really nice taper to it. It’s not too scary, but it still makes a statement and it’s really comfortable as well, so you get the best of both worlds. For most people it will feel like you’re wearing a tracksuit but, visually, when people are looking at you, it will look incredibly elegant and I think to have both of those happening at the same time is ideal for most people.
Double Breasted Blazer in Navy, Lambswool Roll Neck Jumper in Ecru, Linen Shirt in Navy/White Stripe, Single Breasted Blazer in Navy, Lambswool Crew Neck Jumper in Ecru.
How can men add a touch of personality or character to their tailored wardrobe?
There are quite a few interesting jewellery brands at the moment that are doing accessories that work quite well with suiting, and not just around your neck. They can be added to the lapel or buttonholes or into the chest pocket, and it just takes the suit to a whole new level. It has happened over the past few years a lot on the runway and it continues to happen. While it’s quite a forward look, it’s not a huge leap. The layering of knits, as well, is very commonplace on the runway and easily transferable to an everyday look.
What’s the most important thing you have learned in your career?
I can still hear my old man saying not to deviate from our path. It’s very easy; there’s so much noise around, particularly with social media over the past five to 10 years. You see brands shoot up and then shoot back down again every season. As a designer, particularly when you’re in your studio working away, it’s very easy to be distracted by all of that noise and shift the brand’s intentions. We’ve just tried to stay as pure as possible and think about the long game rather than the short term. Because, ultimately, we’re a family business and there’s a legacy involved and I feel like the baton has been passed on and I hope to pass it onto the next generation. So I just try my hardest to block out the noise and think about how we continue down our path to continue our legacy.