"Not many designers are too happy to design both for the Clash and Gieves & Hawkes, but I've always started from a traditional stand- point and then subverted it in that English way. It's all about going from Benjamin Britten to Little Britain." It's all about Joe Casely-Hayford, father of fusion tailoring - his signature blend of street style and the sartorial. And now head of a family business. Having worked with his wife Maria, "who [he] met at fashion college about 100 years ago," he has now been joined by his 23-year-old son and art historian Charlie, and has sheared the brand of its "Joe" prefix in recognition. "Well," says Casely- Hayford, "Charlie pretty much grew up in the studio so I guess it was inevitable he'd be drawn to fashion. Being a proper family business now means we never really stop working, but it's fantastic."Casely-Hayford is now in the family way in another sense too, as he has a new collabo- ration with John Lewis, for whom he has worked with a spread of Britain's finest names in clothing - including Cheaney, Barbour and Liberty - to create a line of special garments. "The aim is to provide the opportu- nity for people to buy clothes on a par with the quality of, well, all the white goods they seem to like buying there..."
That may not be the stuff of high glamour, but attitudes to designers dipping toes into high- street waters have changed since Casely-Hayford became the first designer to create a line for Topshop 20 years ago. Indeed, despite his relatively low media profile, Casely- Hayford is a designer involved with more pies than he has fingers for. Collaborations are currently afoot with Barney's, Isetan and Comme des Garçons in Japan - where, as with so many more British design outsiders, Casely-Hayford is feted - and a history that has taken him from shaping the look of bands (U2 and Oasis followed Strummer & co.), exhibition design for the Barbican, uniform design for Conran restaurants and creative director- ship of Gieves & Hawkes. "Fashion design is not as airy-fairy as it is sometimes perceived as being," he says. "We tend to think of ourselves as more product designers than fashion designers now. The fact that we've always worked with a kind of fusion style has made us hard to pigeonhole, but that's given the business longevity. We make the kind of clothes that could be worn by a 60-year-old or an 18-year-old. I'm wearing something I designed 10 years ago. Now my son is trying to steal it from me."Casely-Hayford almost escaped fashion altogether. On graduating he worked as a buyer, but disillusionment set in when all he found himself being asked to do was to buy up other designers' collections so they could be taken apart and copied. So he opened an antiques shop. But when a client discovered a warehouse full of WWII tent fabric and suggested Casely- Hayford make something with it, and the resulting jackets, shirts and skirts sold out, the Joe Casely-Hayford line was born. He set up a studio in London's Shoreditch area - back when it was more ditch than hotspot - and has stayed. But much has changed.
"There's been a significant change in the way men look at clothes, for example, especially in recent years," says Casely-Hayford. "There's more colour, texture and experiment with proportion now, thank god, and ideas are commu- nicated much faster on the internet. But that's also killed the more regional trends that were a strong part of youth culture in my young days - when men in London and Manchester actually dressed differ- ently. There's that 'homogenous youth' look now. I'm not so keen on that, not in a country that has always had such a distinctive mix of tradi- tion and anarchy."