LONDON — Joe Casely-Hayford, who came to the fore in Eighties London and was known for his sleek, sculptural tailored clothing and professional rigor, died on Thursday at age 62 from cancer, according to a spokesman for his brand.
A Briton of Ghanaian descent, Casely-Hayford launched his first eponymous label in 1984, a time when the likes of John Galliano, BodyMap and Richmond/Cornejo were shaking up the city’s fashion scene. It was a time of fashion iconoclasm during the cutbacks and labor strife of the Margaret Thatcher era and Casely-Hayford was among those designers who put London back on the fashion map after years of gentrified doldrums as the city teemed with New Romantics, Goths and the Buffalo Gang — and long before the likes of Alexander McQueen, Hussein Chalayan and Julien Macdonald arrived on the scene.
Casely-Hayford dressed bands and musicians including U2, Betty Boo, Lou Reed and The Clash in his leather creations and tailored clothing and proved prescient on the sustainability front, too, spinning a bulk buy of World War Two army tents into a collection of safari-inspired clothes for one of his very early collections. A soft-spoken, polite and friendly man with a ramrod straight posture, the designer delighted in discussing his craft and his early runway shows were often rousing affairs, with cleverly tailored collections that mixed British and African influences.
After the usual ups and downs through the Eighties and Nineties that so many London designers faced — and still do — he relaunched his label with his son Charlie Casely-Hayford a decade ago, after serving as creative director at Gieves & Hawkes from 2005 to 2008.
The relaunched Casely-Hayford label was a regular at London Fashion Week, although the father-and-son team recently changed tack, moving away from the catwalk, the traditional wholesale model and seasonal collections.
In an interview in October, Charlie Casely-Hayford told WWD the brand wanted to be “the antithesis of current fashion.” In October, father and son opened the doors to Casely-Hayford’s first retail space in London’s Marylebone. They collaborated with Sophie Ashby, Charlie’s wife, on the interiors.
“We will now just be selling online and through the store, so it’s really the start of a new chapter in the business,” said Charlie, adding that offering bespoke services for men and women was also a key part of their plan.
A family friend, Mark C. O’Flaherty, described Casely-Hayford as a “gentleman tailor within a tightly knit scene of iconoclast designers and labels. He became an integral and much-loved part of the lexicon of London street style.”
Casely-Hayford trained on Savile Row, at the Tailor and Cutter Academy and at Central Saint Martins School of Art. After graduating in 1979, he immediately began selling his work internationally.
O’Flaherty described his suits as a “feat of engineering. His design vocabulary incorporated lighter fabrics and ingenuity of cut to let the wearer move in ways tailoring hadn’t allowed before, whether that was on the street, or on the stage. He was one of a handful of tailors — not just of his generation, but of the last 100 years — to push the boundaries of the medium and form.”
Judith Watt, pathway leader, BA Fashion Journalism at Central Saint Martins, called him a “very serious, well-educated, thoughtful, intelligent and urbane man. He had great historic knowledge” of fashion and tailoring, she said. “He saw fashion in the round.”
Watt also said he was a pioneer, setting up an early men’s fashion week decades ago in London with fellow designers, and blazing a trail for black designers and stylists at a time when there were very few working in the industry or studying at the fashion colleges. “He was a great humanitarian and a bloody good designer, too,” she said.
Casely-Hayford came from a family of intellectuals. His grandfather was J.E. Casely Hayford, the Ghanian lawyer and journalist and author of Ethiopia Unbound. His brother Gus is a curator, cultural historian and broadcaster, his other brother Peter is a television producer and his sister is businesswoman, lawyer and mentor Margaret Casely-Hayford.
He is survived by his wife, Maria Stevens, and children Charlie and Alice, who is editor of vogue.co.uk.