The industry woke to sad news just a few days ahead of the London Fashion Week Men’s. On January 3, 2019, Joe Casely-Hayford, largely considered to be one of the UK’s greatest and among menswear’s most notable designers, passed away after battling cancer for three years.
A Savile Row-trained and Central Saint Martins-educated designer, Casely-Hayford had his start in the late 1970s with the brand KIT, where he has gained recognition for his innovative work, making garments out of World War II tents. In 1984, he launched Casely-Hayford and slowly became the center of modern menswear, as he observed the long tradition of British tailoring but also acknowledged the fast-changing landscape of fashion. He had a penchant for drawing influences from both high-end tailoring and street style, which enabled him to blend form and function. His creations gained him opportunities to dress politicians, prime ministers even, and rock stars, a list that includes Bono and Lou Reed. When Bono appeared on the cover of British Vogue, which was a first for the magazine, the musician was wearing Casely-Hayford. He also had royal admirers: Princess Diana was once a front row attendee in the 1990s.
Casely-Hayford’s brand took a hiatus when he became the creative director for Gieves & Hawkes, a position he had from 2005 until 2009. It is during his stint with the bespoke tailoring company that he was awarded an OBE for his services to the fashion industry. With his son Charlie, Casely-Hayford relaunched his eponymous label in 2009, and introduced some changes while maintaining his brand for sharp but ingenious tailoring. Their shows during the London’s Fashion Week Men’s were always highly anticipated, though they sometimes opted out of the usual schedule. Late last year, the father-son duo opened the brand’s first standalone store on London’s Chiltern Street, with the boutique designed by Charlie’s wife, Sophie Ashby.
Even though he came from a prominent Black family—his grandfather J. E. Casely Hayford, was the writer of Ethiopia Unbound, his brother Gus is the director of Smithsonian Institution National Museum of African Art, and his sister Margaret was formerly the ActionAid UK chair—and was educated at one of the world’s most prestigious institutions, the designer felt that he was always singled out as a black designer, especially since high-end tailoring was often home to traditional white tailors. His ascent became especially inspirational among aspiring black designers in an industry where people of color are sadly still a minority. Even before his passing, he became distinguished as among the industry’s greatest, beyond his ethnicity and generation. His legacy will surely live on, and the gentleman will be sorely missed by the fashion world he has inspired.
Casely-Hayford is survived by his son Charlie, who he has partnered with on their eponymous brand, daughter Alice, an editor for the British Vogue, and wife Maria Stevens, who he met at Central Saint Martins when they were still students and was with Casely-Hayford when he founded his brand.
Image credits: Casely-Hayford, GQ, Getty Images, Ben Weller, Richard Saker, The Observer, Katinka Herbert, Gieves & Hawkes