Behind the Scenes

... with Shabaka Hutchings & Lianne La Havas

To celebrate the launch of his limited-edition collaboration with Mulberry, London-based fashion designer Nicholas Daley talks to writer, BBC broadcaster and NTS Radio DJ and musician - as well as his fiancee - Nabihah Iqbal about how music and his Jamaican-Scottish heritage inspire his work.

Community. Craftsmanship. Culture. Those are the three pillars central to the ethos of designer Nicholas Daley. Through his work, Daley is constantly exploring and unpicking different strands of his heritage and identity in a way that feels wholly honest and authentic.

Born in the Midlands to a Scottish mother and Jamaican father, and now based in London, Daley’s attention to detail and commitment to always producing work that feels true to himself has allowed him to carve out a niche in the world of fashion. The sincerity of his creations speaks to a new generation whose identities straddle different cultures and histories and whose commonality lies call Britain home.

The collaboration between Mulberry and Nicholas Daley is the coming-together of a luxury leather brand that prides itself on the inimitable heritage of British craftsmanship, and a designer whose creations are anchored in the roots of our histories but which tell a new story of British culture, a story which is always evolving.

Reworking one of Mulberry’s classic bags, Daley has adapted the ‘Antony’ to reflect the aesthetic of reggae, jazz and rock’n’roll musicians from the 60s and 70s, while staying true to his own identity by adding details which reflect his own heritage. In addition to the bags, the collection consists of beautifully-crafted leather hats, plectrum pouches, and instrument-straps.

To see the whole collection come together, modelled by multi award-winning musicians Shabaka Hutchings and Lianne La Havas, is to be transported into the visionary world of Nicholas Daley, underpinned by the iconic artisanship of Mulberry.

During the design process, Daley was always conscious of creating a collection inspired by musicians, interpreting the task at hand ‘like problem-solving’. He recalls asking himself: ‘How can I create this garment or this accessory which complements and elevates [the musician] but also has the freedom and the movement for these guys to do what they do best?’

Looks aside, both La Havas and Hutchings remarked on how the outfits made them feel. Adorned in a leather patchwork hat from the collection, and a fitted leather jacket complete with fringing, La Havas said, ‘I feel really good… It’s incredibly strong and I like feeling strong, especially when I’m performing. I like to have something on my shoulders - some kind of long sleeves which make me feel quite protected yet able to fully express myself.’

Hutchings, making use of a saxophone strap from the collection, said: ‘There’s this thing of opposites that I’m really interested in, in terms of how you get the dynamic pull and the push between strength and subtlety, or strongness and softness. So it’s important to have something that’s really well constructed and you can tell that it’s not going to break; that’s strong and sturdy, but feels soft enough to actually facilitate your movement. As musicians, we’re not stiff, we have to be flowing. But we also need something that’s sturdy enough to move.’

Music has played a pivotal role in all of Daley’s work so far, not only in terms of inspiration but also as a medium through which to present his collections. The collaboration with Mulberry therefore felt like the ideal fit. ‘For me, music brings people together. It’s a unifying creative power and combining that with what I do in fashion and collaborating with some amazing talented artists - it’s just an incredible experience.’

The musical references help to set the scene, to create a feeling around the collection, whether it’s the flamboyant fringing reminiscent of Jimi Hendrix’s stage outfits, or the vibrant leather patchwork that nods to Miles Davis, and these details are propelled into this moment by Lianne La Havas and Shabaka Hutchings – our generation of musicians – who add their own personality to the collection.

The way in which Daley presents his designs and collections upends the fashion industry’s definition of a ‘model’. His creations are not made for mannequins; the garments and accessories are made to be worn by people who can appreciate each detail, both from an aesthetic as well as a functional point of view. They are not meant to be viewed in a static, two-dimensional way. He wants people to get a sense of how the collection feels, how it moves, how it sculpts the bodies and personas of those who wear it.

These ideas are perfectly illustrated in the Mulberry collaboration. By focusing on leather, a material that has been integral to craftsmanship since the very beginning of humanity, Daley is able to explore texture, colour, shape and tactility in a way that connects the dots between history, heritage, culture, style and identity.

Focusing on music in particular, leather has featured in some of the most iconic looks for artists throughout different eras. According to Hutchings ‘Fashion is an aspect of expressing yourself. You express yourself with sound, you express yourself with your image and how you feel. When you look in the mirror, that image reflected back at you gives you a vibe. It kind of sets out your presence and actually your image is the first thing that’s seen by your audience and that’s the first reference point they have of what to expect. When that visual idea is considered in a way that’s really cool and has a link to the past, in a way that our music does, then it just means that the circle is complete.’

The Mulberry x Nicholas Daley collection pays homage to past musical legends while retaining a contemporary relevance. Daley may have designed the collection with musicians in mind, but at the essence of it is an acknowledgment of a wider community that we are all a part of. Each item tells a story and is a story waiting to be told. The beauty of leather lies in its longevity, in the fact that it moulds and changes over time. Leather doesn’t grow old – it is timeless. For a designer such as Nicholas Daley, whose work forges links between the past and present, and celebrates culture and community whilst looking to the future, collaborating with a quintessential leather brand like Mulberry feels only natural.