I’m sat in a white-walled room on the top floor of a small industrial building in the heart of East London. Despite the clinical interior, there are noticeable hints of creativity—a clothes rail rests in one corner showcasing bold-patterned silk shirts, black flared trousers with white contract seams and a selection of understated stripes. Dominating the space is a large hand-painted artwork on square canvas. The abstract piece features lengthy strokes in a variety of blue hues. I’ve seen this piece before, as the backdrop for British menswear designer Daniel w. Fletcher’s Fall 18 presentation. He painted the artwork himself, using it as a key source of inspiration for his designs.
Fletcher launched the brand back in 2016 with a bold debut that included marching an army of models to London Fashion Week, with the word ‘STAY’ emblazoned on their attire, in protest of Brexit. His off-schedule performance on the streets outside 180 Strand (aka the home of British Fashion) gained international coverage, and cemented his place as one of London’s most promising new designers.
These days, the brand is a fully fledged business. Fletcher had his first full-scale runway show at the start of the year, his designs have been worn by the likes of Troye Sivan and Tom Daley and he’s currently a semi-finalist for the Woolmark Prize. It’s easy to see why he’s come so far in such a short amount of time, his creations are aesthetically driven while still being wearable, and they often contain an important political message—sometimes subtle, sometimes bold. His craftsmanship, attention to detail, and ability to create something affordably luxe sets him aside from other young designers emerging on the London fashion scene.
When Fletcher appears from his studio kitchen with a freshly made mint tea, he greets me like an old friend from his native Northern England. There’s something about Fletcher’s presence that is instantly humble—his brand may be on the up, but his ego certainly isn’t. When we start talking, he’s hyper-aware of the fact that he’s worked hard to get where he is, but he’s intent on pushing the brand into uncharted realms.
Tell us, when did you first become interested in fashion?
A very long time ago! I was about four years old and I was matching my socks to my t-shirt. It wasn’t until much later on that I decided to go into it as a profession. I did art at school and then I went to study Art Foundation at Kingston University, which was quite broad. You do Fine Arts, Graphics, Illustration — a number of different disciplines and then you choose one to specialize in and I chose fashion. After that I applied to Central Saint Martins to study menswear.
How does the work that you did when you were studying compare to your work now? Did you find your design aesthetic when you were at university?
It came later, for sure. The first two years, everything I did was an absolute load of shit! I remember one of the first projects I did was the white project, where you’re only allowed to use white fabric. I did this coat and trousers that were inspired by things that had been pickled in jars—it was so bad! I would just pick a theme out of nowhere that would have no relation to me. It was when I was on placement year that I understood what it was to put a collection together. When I went back into my final year, that was when I’d really figured out what I wanted to say with my work and so the collection that I produced became my first collection. I sold it to Opening Ceremony in the US, and that became my first season. Everything I have done since then has been a development of that.
What inspires your collections?
You’ve got a base layer which is like the core Daniel W. Fletcher wardrobe and then you have the more fashion pieces and the slightly sporty elements, and I start to build it like that. The inspiration for what the collection is about tends to come from how I’m feeling at the time. If you look at the most recent collection that I did, it was very off-the-rails businessman. That came from a place of feeling like I was going crazy in this business world trying to run a label and it was a way for me to express all of those feelings. As a result I looked at old images from the 80s of men in their suits but then tried to take it to a new place. I turned it on its head and put in these gender-fluid elements like the corset and the halter-neck tops and ripped the lining out of the suits. I created this story about a man that had been in the office for 70 hours that week and had got to Friday and he just went out and ended up not going home because he’d gone completely mad. If I didn’t do that in the collection then maybe I would have in real life!
What is the design process of taking a concept through to production?
I work really closely with my stylist Ben [Schofield]. I will spend some time with my team putting together moodboards and research and buying vintage and pulling out things from old seasons and looking at things that we should push a bit more. Then we all get together and have a day with a model and we will try loads of clothes on and lay out all the research. I’ll tell Ben what I’m feeling and he gives me some feedback and we figure it out and go from there. Then he will come back a few weeks later and we will have made some things and that happens a few times throughout the season. We’ll be working with a model, we’ll be working with sketches, mood-boards and research from all different areas—it could be something that I found in a charity shop that could be like a weird piece of fake sportswear that has been made on a backstreet somewhere or it could be a vintage couture jacket. It could even be something completely unrelated to fashion, like a painting or an interesting surface that I’ve found. And then it doesn’t really all come together until like a week before the show!
You seem to have moved away from overtly political expressions.
Designing collections is my way of expressing myself. I think I’m still very political, personally, and there are elements of that in the collection, but it’s just in a less obvious way. The collections which were so obviously political and that came from a place of being really frustrated with the situation that we were in at the time, around Brexit and the referendum and the Donald Trump vote and things like that. They were so in our face so I felt like I had to talk about them.
Do you think you were at risk of being put into a box, and there was an expectation that you’d do something political every time?
Definitely. I made a conscious decision not to be too political with the collections because I didn’t want to be put in that box. The reason I was making those statements was not to gain attention, it was actually just because I thought we needed to talk about them and I didn’t want it to be a thing where people said ‘he’s just making a collection that is political because that’s what he does.’ The brand is about self-expression and getting people to talk about things, but that’s not all we’re about so it’s less obvious now.
You did your first runway show in January! How did it compare to doing presentations?
I liked doing it because it felt like you could tell the story more completely. You can build it and really create some drama with it and I felt like we were able to do that with the format of a show. I was a bit reluctant going into it. I wanted to do it because I wanted to show some progression as a brand, and show some diversity in what I was able to do but then I was like ‘is it completely necessary?’ Because that idea of a fashion show sometimes feels a bit out-dated. I enjoyed it, and for that particular collection and with the music, the lights and the set, we were able to really create a narrative but that doesn’t mean that I’m always going to do a show from now on.
As a young British designer, do you feel supported by the industry and the British Fashion Council?
I never received Newgen or Fashion East or anything so in terms of that I found it difficult because the designers who received those sponsorships are pushed in a lot of ways and have a huge platform to work with. I did receive the Boden Future British Award which actually goes to designers who are doing things slightly differently, I think that was because I was trying to build a brand. I’ve got a retail platform, I do a lot of product-focused things in my brand, rather than it being all about fashion.
You’re a finalist in the Woolmark Prize, tell us how that came about.
You have to be in business for three years before you can enter and this is my third year in business so I was eligible to apply. I already use a lot of wool in my collections, but I had to design a collection for them that is made out of 100 percent Merino wool and I had to do six looks and find all the fabrics. They were amazing. They have a wool lab where you go and they introduce you to suppliers and manufactures. I went into the semi-final a couple of months ago and basically just met all these judges and then I was chosen as one of the winners in the semi-final. There are four from Europe, four from the US and four from Asia and we will all be in the final in February.