Nicholas Daley: 7 Minutes

Our Studio Nicholas Daley exhibition closes on 2 February, but the designer’s AW20 show just took place in London. Curator Mhairi Maxwell introduces his new collection and finds out how the 7-minute show comes together with help from his collaborators.

Stepping into the world of Nicholas Daley feels like you’ve got your hand on the hottest ticket in town. A ticket to the coolest happening since Miles Davis or Dizzy Gillespie played 52nd Street in New York. The energy is palpable.

We worked with Nicholas to re-create his studio in our Michelin Design Gallery. A rising star in the international world of fashion, we wanted to capture his design process. The exhibition illuminates the rigorous research behind each collection and his collaborations with Scottish manufacturers.

The colours, textures and patterns reveal new or lesser-told narratives of Scotland’s sartorial heritage. Uniquely personal, Nicholas’s work is authentic and relevant. The characters and collaborators forming part of the wider Studio Nicholas Daley include musicians, DJs, artists and designers, many of whom play an important part in Nicholas’s London Fashion Week presentations.

His latest fashion show took place earlier this month. In The Abstract Truth Autumn/Winter 2020 collection, Nicholas Daley digs deep into Afrofuturism, psychedelic rock and experimental jazz. Inspiration comes in the form of the 1970’s Black Abstraction art movement and is specifically inspired by celebrated Guyanese painter Frank Bowling.

Bowling’s iconic ‘poured paintings’ play a pivotal role as source material for The Abstract Truth. Their riotous colour blends, experimental textures and spontaneous forms set the tone for this multi-layered collection. Cementing his ongoing commitment to craft, Nicholas rekindles a series of UK partnerships. For example, renowned Scottish tartan maker Loch Carron explored their archives, uncovering two subtle checks in tactile mohair.

As always, music sits at the core of Nicholas’ work and, this season, Jimi Hendrix and Art Ensemble of Chicago were key influences.

We asked those who worked with Nicholas on his latest LFW show to give us a glimpse into how an amazing show like that comes together.

How do you collaborate with Nicholas to realise the collection's vision?

Shaun Somerville (Senior Designer at Studio Nicholas Daley):

“The key to getting everyone to realise Nick’s vision is to be fully immersed in his world yourself. Once you live and breathe it, it becomes easier to communicate this with the many partners we work with; in some ways it ends up becoming a part of you.”

Stephen Mann (Stylist):

“I attend meetings at the studio throughout the design process and listen to Nicholas’s vision for the season. We then look across the collection and the creative output for the season (shows/events/etc.) and identify the best ways to amplify the story of the collection. This can be focused to particular product designs through to the direction of the runway show.”

The show lasts about 7 minutes. What other numbers reflect the complexity of the show?

Shaun Somerville:

“Nearly 6 months of development from first inception; over 200 samples manufactured in the UK and Japan; nearly 3 months of show planning; 4 weeks of hair and make-up research and trials; over 50 backstage members, including models; 25 different looks; 2 changes.”

How do you find the right location for the show?

Antony Waller (Freelance Fashion Producer):

“The first conversation is with the designer about the collection, influences and what they want their show to project. This brief can be verbal and also visual. I then head out to find a venue that will enhance what the designer wants to communicate but can also work logistically. This means considering distance from other shows on the schedule and down to very boring details such as power or access! I could find the most beautiful space to fit the brief but if it doesn’t work for production it’s useless.”

It's the day of the show, what does the schedule look like?

Shaun Somerville:

· 06.00 Train into London

· 07.15 Meet at the studio to load the van

· 08.45 Arrive at the venue (EartH)

· 09.00 Set-up backstage

· 09.30 Backstage crew start to arrive

· 10.00 Model casting and styling begin to run concurrently

· 11.30 Breakfast

· 12.00 Photoshoot for lookbook; hair and make-up begin

· 12.30 Garments into pressing and cleaning

· 14.00 Head out to collect final samples

· 15.00 After-party space set-up

· 16.00 Musicians and confirmed models arrive

· 16.30 Musicians sound check

· 17.00 Team pre-show briefing

· 18.00 Break/refuel

· 19.00 Runway rehearsal

· 19.45 Models changed and into hair and make-up

· 20.00 Show begins

· 20.15 Change models and start to pack backstage down

· 21.30 Van arrives to reload

· 22.30 Back to studio

· 23.00 Lock-up studio

· 23.30 Arrive back at EartH for a beer with family and friends

What’s unique about a fashion show with Nicholas?

Edwin Louis (Model):

“Nicholas's shows have become synonymous with music and culture as opposed to just ‘another fashion show’. It's like counting down to your favourite band at Glastonbury with your friends. A lot of the models are regulars so there's a real family atmosphere throughout the day leading up to the show.”

It's 30 minutes to catwalk, what’s happening backstage?

Shaun Somerville:

“We’re doing rehearsals: models walk, timings, changeovers, music, lighting. We are getting closer to the crescendo, there's pressure on every aspect and every member of the team feels it. The atmosphere is electric.”

Nicholas Daley’s The Abstract Truth fashion show took place on 4 January 2020 at EartH multi-arts space in Stoke Newington, London.

Mhairi Maxwell is an Assistant Curator at V&A Dundee.