The process is the most important but also most hidden part of fashion. While it’s great to have enigmatic personalities who seemingly create clothes out of thin air, it’s important to remember that a collection usually takes a lot of hard work and dedication. London Fashion Week Men’s was the first fashion week of the season and took place right at the start of the year, setting the tone for the rest of the fashion weeks (with the last major men’s week recently finishing in Paris).
In order to lift up the curtain we decided to follow a single London-based designer from first sketch to the show itself and this season we decided to work with Daniel W. Fletcher. We chose the 26-year-old designer because, despite only having three seasons under his belt, he’s managed to showcase a combination of desirable clothes combined with a strong political message. If you could boil down Daniel W. Fletcher the brand into a couple of words, it’d be ‘casual luxury.’ There’s heavy use of traditionally luxurious fabrics such as shearling, silk and mohair but the silhouettes take inspiration from sportswear, which create an interesting juxtaposition of a brand even without the political messaging.
His SS17 collection was entitled ‘Stay’ and was about keeping Britain in the EU, with the designer staging a presentation/protest just outside the main building where most of the shows take place. It was a clever move because press were already at the building, are pre-disposed to take notice of any group of models in any setting, caught the eye of all the key press and ended up being more memorable than holding a show in the same location as 50 other brands.
Fletcher followed up this presentation with a pop-up shop, something he describes as important because – having sold wholesale and via his online store – it was the first time he’d seen his clothes on people buying it. “I never get that much interaction with people who actually buy and wear my products, so it was nice to see people come in, try it on, say that they really liked it and buy it,” says Daniel. “It gave people the opportunity to experience the brand. If you’ve never seen the product in the flesh before you’d be reluctant to go online and buy a shirt for over £200. So it was good for them to be able to go in, see it and pick something up first hand.”
The Sketch Stage
When we first met Fletcher, it was at a relatively quiet time for the designer. It was two weeks removed from Christmas and when we arrived he pointed out that it was one of the few times he didn’t have any interns in the office. Instead he was there with Abigail Fletcher, his sister and another brand who he shares studio space with. His studio space consisted of furnishings he’d used in his pop-up shop as well as a small photography studio for lookbook shoots and online product imagery. We decided to ask him what he thought the starting point of his collection was.
“Because we had 2016, which was a bit of a mess, I wanted to start 2017 with a really powerful and poignant message,” says Fletcher. “I’m a 26-year-old and I want to represent my generation.” For Fletcher this collection was also smarter than his previous ranges due to increased amount of suiting in it. “It’s almost like playing the suits at their own game,” he says. In terms of influences, classic sportswear was an important one for a couple of reasons. “I looked a lot at sports teams, uniforms and kits as a way of showing united people,” he says.
But even then, while most designers would use the usual sports references – football (be it American or soccer), basketball or baseball – Fletcher has gone slightly left field. “We have these netball-like vests with the letters on but done in shearling, so [the reference is] turned on its head but it’s still got that feeling of being a sports kit. I also found this amazing image from the 1920s of an ice skater with medals pinned all over him – I liked the idea of showing your achievements and celebrating them.” The time period he goes back to usually remains the same for the designer. “It’s late ’60s, early ’70s. There’s always some pictures of Mick Jagger on my moodboard – that’s a lifelong influence.”
Aside from the mainstay influences, Fletcher was also influenced by the 1969 Ken Loach film Kes, “especially the short shorts and vintage sportswear you see in that film, it’s like like the P.E. [Physical Education] kits you saw in school.” While Kes is a recurring reference in menswear, the way Fletcher used it is different from most other designers, who usually take the outerwear featured in the film as inspiration.
Another constant inspiration for the brand is politics and, more specifically, the desire to blend politics into the collection. How does Fletcher go about doing that? “When I start designing a collection it usually stems from something more visual. However it has worked out that over the past few seasons there have been quite politically significant moments that have naturally made their way into my work.” He’s keen to stress that he is a clothes-first designer. “I don’t start out thinking ‘what political issue can I talk about this season,’ but if there is something happening around me that I feel strongly about then it tends to influence my creative output. I always try to do this in a positive way though – it can be as subtle as the addition of more tailoring this season as a way to be taken seriously as a young person who’s voice is often overlooked politically.”
But, more important than seasonal inspiration for young brands, is establishing the brand as a whole. Often when a brand starts out critics move the goalposts between what’s acceptable season after season. Too much change and you’re a flake, too little and it’s just the same as last season. So how does Fletcher approach the growth of his brand?
“Because the brand is so young and I’m still really establishing my DNA, there’s a lot of pieces that evolve from the previous collection,” he says. “In my first ever collection, I had these silk pyjama shirts – that’s something that people really responded to and worked for me as a designer, so they’ve been repeated in various forms like in the following collection.” But elsewhere there’s design signatures that W. Fletcher is also establishing. “I don’t want anything to be too perfect and there’s always this idea of turning something inside out and doing something unexpected with it,” he says. “So the tailoring for example, all the binding is on the outside, I feel like clothes should be as beautiful on the inside as they are on the outside and I wanted to show the craft.”
The Manufacture Stage
Manufacturing for a fashion show is difficult at the best of times but it’s made substantially more difficult when you’re designing for a show that takes place four days after everyone has returned to work. What are some of the issues for Fletcher here? “It’s the timing. With the show being on the 7th of January that means that, really, you need to be finished before Christmas, because the factory or the seamstresses are not going to work over Christmas and New Year and if you want, you’ve gotta get it done before Christmas. That said, I am not done before Christmas!”
But Christmas issues aside, there is something going right for him when it comes to manufacturing. “I’m really lucky in that I do everything in the UK at the moment, I have a really good relationship with the factory, so they will take a few days off over Christmas, then a few days off over the New Year. I’m also really lucky because the factory I work with are going to move downstairs in this building. So I have a short commute to my factory now, It’s down the lift.”
The other issue when it comes to manufacturing for British designers is the immediate effects of Brexit. Fletcher says “the apparent thing immediately was that the value of the pound dropped so dramatically. I work with suppliers in Italy for buttons and finishings so that’s not been good for me. I have some suppliers in America as well and because the pound is so low right now everything is costing me more.” And while the huge drop in the value of the pound was an early Brexit gift, the long term issues when Britain leaves the EU are currently unknown. “I don’t know how it will work – this year I was working in Paris as well – and how I’m going to continue doing things like that. I’m scared of what the future holds, but already I can feel the economic disadvantages that it’s caused.”
Two Days Before the Show
We visited the designer two days before the show to capture the general melee of adding finishing touches to the clothes, model fittings, packing up the collection, and any other last minute things that needed to be taken care of. Considering he was so busy, we decided to let him get on with things and only capture it via photography, which you can see in the gallery above.
The Day of the Show
The next time we caught up with Daniel was just after the presentation and he was in Paris taking part in a showroom to sell his clothing. What was the designer’s first feeling after the presentation? “Exhaustion was pretty high on the list,” he says. “It was a pretty intense time getting it done in time, especially over the Christmas and New Year period.” He was also happy with the presentation itself. “It felt more personal than any of my previous collections and it achieved my goal of sending out a strong yet positive message and showing that, as a young person finding my way in the world, I want to have my voice heard and refuse to be overlooked in this politically turbulent time.”
While designers do sometimes work political leanings into their shows and during the SS17 season, several designers in London came out in ‘Remain’ T-shirts about the upcoming referendum. But few designers, especially ones at the start of their career, explicitly work politics into their collection. And, in a world where fashion can be rather apolitical, does he think that fashion can be quite right wing? “I think that can be the case when it comes to big brands and huge titles like Vogue who seem much more driven by money. However when it comes to younger labels and, particularly in British fashion, people are very open about their feelings and don’t submit to that pressure so much.”
Pressure for a young brand can also come in various forms, the most pressing of which is the sheer cost of running a brand. Would Fletcher compromise his political overtures if an investor wanted to put money into the brand? “It’s financially really difficult to start a brand and the difficulty I face now is that the more it grows, the more outgoings I have, so investment is something I definitely need to consider if I want the brand to grow,” he says. “It is really about finding the right partner and I think it will become clear when I am ready for that.”
But one thing is for sure, he won’t compromise. “It would have to be coming from the right source though and I wouldn’t be prepared to compromise the ethos of the brand or change my creative vision.”