Joe Casely-Hayford, pioneering fashion designer
LONDON — Joseph Casely-Hayford, one of the first black British fashion designers to win international acclaim, whose clothes were worn by Michael Jackson, Bono, and Drake and admired by Diana, princess of Wales, died on Thursday. He was 62.
His family said in a statement that the cause was cancer.
Regularly acclaimed as one of the most talented British designers of his generation, with a distinctive approach that fused sharp Savile Row-honed tailoring with a quirky East End streetwear sensibility, Mr. Casely-Hayford alternately embraced and rejected the norms of the fashion establishment over the course of a four-decade career.
Working as a black designer in a largely white industry “definitely dictates my approach to design,” Mr. Casely-Hayford told The New York Times in a 2014 interview. “I designed from an outsider’s point of view. When I first started, there were no role models for me. I was very interested in creating a cult for the individual, for outsiders who wanted to make their own expression without shame.”
His early collections presented sportswear, made from surplus World War II tents, for his label Kit, and he later had a three-year tenure as creative director of Gieves & Hawkes, the 200-year-old Savile Row label. In 2009, he asked his son, Charlie, to join him at Casely-Hayford, inspired by life in contemporary London but produced by cutting-edge factories in Japan.
Each stage of his career was marked by a charming yet steely determination to shape and project a new kind of British culture, one that would be particularly pertinent in an era when diversity was largely absent from the fashion power structure.
“We come from the same time,” said Edward Enninful, the British Vogue editor-in-chief, after reports of Mr. Casely-Hayford’s death. “Joe was a talented pioneer, filled with integrity, and the first of his kind: a black designer who represented London on the world stage.”
Joseph Ephraim Casely-Hayford was born in Kent, England, on May 24, 1956, one of four siblings. He was a grandson of J.E. Casely-Hayford, an eminent Ghanaian author, editor, lawyer, and politician who supported Pan-African nationalism.
Joseph Casely-Hayford studied at the traditional Tailor and Cutter Academy and later at St. Martin’s School of Art, from which he graduated in 1979. His subdued yet quirky tailoring, exemplified by a shirt that opened both at the front and the back, brought him global recognition and made him a favorite of 1980s rock stars. In 1984, alongside his wife, Maria, whom he had met at St. Martin’s and married in 1980, he established a fashion house for both men and women.
From a studio in East London (long before the hipsters took over the neighborhood), Mr. Casely-Hayford developed a style, which he identified as “new conservative dressing,” that was shown on the runways of London, Paris, and Tokyo and that pushed the accepted boundaries of formal suiting.
“The construction of a Casely-Hayford suit is a feat of engineering — from the prominent chest with special internal darting to the shaped sleeve with high underarm point and natural sloping shoulders,” said journalist and friend of the family Mark C. O’Flaherty. “Joe’s lighter fabrics and ingenuity of cut let the wearer move in ways tailoring hadn’t allowed before, whether that was on the street or on the stage.”
Mr. Casely-Hayford was nominated for a string of prestigious awards, and became the designer of choice for high-profile bands such as The Clash and U2. When Bono became the first man to appear on the cover of British Vogue, in 1992, he did so wearing a Casely-Hayford design.
In 1993, Mr. Casely-Hayford became the first designer to collaborate with the mass-market retail giant Topshop; in 1995, the princess of Wales sat in the front row at one of his runway shows.
As his star rose, Mr. Casely-Hayford became a role model for other young black men on the British fashion and arts scene, including Enninful, now of British Vogue; fashion designer Ozwald Boateng; artist Chris Ofili; and architect David Adjaye, the lead designer of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.
“Joe was one of the most extraordinary fashion designers, entrepreneurs, and inspirational characters in London during the 1980s and 1990s, and was a source of deep admiration and impact on myself as a young man looking to find his place and understanding of self in the world,” Adjaye said. He called his late friend “a generous and gentle soul.”
“He had an incredible talent, and as a global African man with roots in Ghana, he helped me to understand how to negotiate the different terrains that I would need to deal with,” Adjaye added.
One of few black fashion designers to gain international notoriety, Mr. Casely-Hayford solidified his position in the industry in 2005, when he put his namesake line on hold to become creative director of Gieves & Hawkes, the tailor famous for its handful of royal warrants and with a reputation for dressing the white establishment. He held that position for three years, bringing the two-century-old stalwart into the 21st century. During that time, he was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for services to the fashion industry.
In 2009, having left Gieves & Hawkes, Mr. Casely-Hayford started working with his son on a luxury line, Casely-Hayford. It was the first time a father and son in modern fashion had actively collaborated at a creative helm, and the pair (who shared the same birthday) reestablished the brand’s avant-garde aesthetic as “a comfortable sit between English sartorial style and British anarchy.”
To address a growing demand for custom suits, for celebrities as well as little-known clients, Casely-Hayford offered a made-to-measure service. Last fall, the label opened its first stand-alone store on Chiltern Street, in the Marylebone neighborhood of London.
Although the father-and-son duo had stepped outside of the traditional fashion schedules and cycles, which Mr. Casely-Hayford saw as a redundant mode of marketing and selling, his death just days before the start of London Fashion Week Men’s cast a shadow over the shows.
“His clothes were studiously street, like graffiti with tailor’s chalk,” his friend Ofili, the artist, said by e-mail. “In these times, when visibility is by no means a measure of quality and creativity is measured financially, I cherish his rare and incisively experimental spirit.”
Mr. Casely-Hayford leaves his sister, Margaret, chairwoman of Shakespeare’s Globe Theater; his brothers Peter, a film producer, and Gus, director of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African Art; his wife, Maria; his son, Charlie; and his daughter, Alice, the digital editor of British Vogue.
“It is impossible to believe that our beloved father is gone,” Alice Casely-Hayford said. “He taught us kindness, integrity, generosity, a strong work ethic, and to always put family first. Though it was an unconventional upbringing, growing up in our parents’ studio, it was incredibly exciting to see them build an empire, bring a bold vision to life, and inspire and ignite passion in so many people.”