LONDON — Friends, family and fashion industry figures gathered at Union Chapel in Islington on Tuesday for a music-filled tribute to design trailblazer and former Gieves & Hawkes creative director Joe Casely-Hayford, who died in January at 62.
Designer Duro Olowu; stylist, editor and creative consultant Karen Binns; writer and journalist Ekow Eshun and the late designer’s children Alice and Charlie Casely-Hayford were among the speakers, while Jack Peñate sang and gave an acoustic guitar performance. Before the closing tribute, Braimah Kanneh-Mason played a Bach sonata, and folk music, on the violin.
The service, where guests included Roksanda Ilincic, Stephen Jones, Lulu Kennedy, Oliver Spencer, Fabio Piras, Edward Enninful, Caroline Rush, Dylan Jones and Pam Hogg, began and ended with upbeat tracks mixed by Pete Duffy. Union Chapel, a working church, concert venue and drop-in center for the homeless, had long been a neighborhood favorite of Casely-Hayford and his wife, Maria, who would often attend music performances there.
The chapel’s altar was transformed into a wildflower garden, courtesy of florist Rachael Barker, and the skies cooperated, too, with sunshine beaming through the stained-glass windows and onto the Gothic revival arches, dark wood pews and the big heart shape, originally drawn by Joe Casely-Hayford for i-D in 1998, hanging above the pulpit.
During the service, Olowu said Casely-Hayford blazed a trail for so many designers during his decades in business. “He knew how to shape fashion and how to shift culture, too, making Gieves & Hawkes relevant and cosmopolitan,” said Olowu, saying his friend also showed him how to operate in the fashion world. “I am terribly grateful to him.”
He described Casely-Hayford’s aesthetic as a mix of classical tailoring with unexpected, deconstructed elements, and that he’d felt an “immediate affinity,” with Casely-Hayford’s “Afrocentric, bold color palette and textile-rich designs.”
Ekow Eshun, the British writer and journalist who, like Casely-Hayford, was born in Britain of Ghanaian descent, said the late designer was “innately cosmopolitan,” and argued that he’d helped to shape the identity of black Britons. “His designs arrived at an exhilarating point in 1980s Britain,” he said.
A film put together by Charlie Casely-Hayford, who had worked alongside his father and who is now in charge of the eponymous family business, shows Joe telling Edward Enninful in an early-Nineties TV interview that being an outsider fueled his design ambitions and helped to shape his aesthetic. “Being a British-born black person, I wanted to become even more of an individual,” he said, adding that “London, for me, is the only place for regeneration and finding new ideas.”
Binns, a New Yorker, shed light on a whole other side of Casely-Hayford. “This guy’s hot, straight, and husband material — it’s hard to find a hot brother these days,” said Binns, describing her immediate thoughts after first meeting Casely-Hayford in London many years ago. “No shame, Maria,” she said addressing Casely-Hayford’s widow. “We were all jealous — and we all had a side eye.”
She described Casely-Hayford as a rare creature in an industry filled with “nightmares in the daytime.” She said he was humble, kind, thoughtful and self-possessed. “Only the most talented people can be that relaxed.” She also said he was “blessed to have Maria there, 24/7.”
Binns said his knack for starting trends and his influence on men’s clothing is seen across every London men’s runway, year after year. She called his style “unduplicatable.”
Casely-Hayford’s children Charlie, and Alice Casely-Hayford, who is digital editor of British Vogue, said their father always put family first.
Alice talked about how her “darling pa” encouraged her love of music and reading, accompanied her when she was little to a concert by the Nineties pop band Steps — and then proceeded to read the newspaper, seemingly unperturbed by the goings-on around him. She also recalled, with a smile, how he covered for her when she skipped school to line up for the first Stella McCartney for H&M collaboration.
“And he always said love was the cheapest beauty product,” she said.
Charlie described his father as “my best mate, my mentor, my world,” and said he pushed him hard, and taught him that staying true to yourself is the greatest personal success.