Mr Charlie Casely-Hayford’s Off-Duty Commute
Taking a drive with the London menswear designer in the Mercedes-AMG GT 4-Door Coupé
What does a day off look like for one of London’s most exciting young menswear designers? It is the hottest day of the year, but in his tiny air-conditioned boutique on Chiltern Street, Mr Charlie Casely-Hayford is characteristically cool. Known for the eponymous brand that he launched in 2009 with his late father Joe (the OBE-decorated designer who died in January), Mr Casely-Hayford is a steadfast figure in the city’s fashion scene. Charming, clever and surprisingly tall, what the designer wears day to day is woven up in his identity.
“I’ve always been interested in this idea of uniform,” he says. “By definition, fashion has to be transient. Because everything around me is constantly evolving, I like the idea of having some uniformity in my life.”
For inspiration, Mr Casely-Hayford draws on artists such as Gilbert & George and Mr Lucien Freud, as well as designer Sir Paul Smith, all noted for their consistent sense of personal style. “It looks like it’s done in a nonchalant way, but there’s thought behind the process. These top creators, they choose a uniform. I’m fascinated by the idea and the power of it.”
Through code-switching, a uniform can be a statement in itself. “My great-grandfather, for instance, studied at Cambridge,” says Mr Casely-Hayford. “He would wear his traditional kente cloths when he went to university, and when he went back to Ghana, he would wear Savile Row suits.”
It’s not often that you’ll find Mr Casely-Hayford wearing anything other than his own brand. “I like the structure that it gives my life. Like most guys, I wear a lot of navy. It’s not quite like Batman where I go home and open the wardrobe and there are all these identical outfits. I like some variation, of course, but that comes through in the details.”
This erudite attention to detail is something that extends to Mr Casely-Hayford’s choice of car for today’s commute, the Mercedes-AMG GT 4-Door Coupé. “I’m 6ft 6in. Being in cars is not usually a comfortable experience, but I’m really at ease in this one. It’s a sleek car, very elegant and sophisticated. It’s not exactly understated, but it’s also not too flashy or showy. It knows very much what it’s saying, but it’s not in your face.”
Something that particularly appeals about the car is the fact that the Mercedes-AMG engine was built by one person and bears their name. “It feels similar to what we do, putting our name on things,” says Mr Casely-Hayford. “I like this focus on human touch and modern craft, in the sense of the relationship between you and the person who made your garment. In the digital age, the notion of human interaction becomes more important. There’s a strong relationship between what we do and the way the car has been made.
“You can feel the power as soon as you put your foot on the pedal,” he grins. “It doesn’t take much.” Cruising to the Vintage Showroom in Covent Garden – a shop known for its old-school finds – stopping off at Duck Soup for a bite to eat before driving back to his store, Mr Casely-Hayford’s off-duty commute is a smooth affair. The Mercedes-AMG GT 4-Door Coupé is a haven from the hubbub of the city. “When I’m in there, I definitely feel like I’m just in my own world,” he says.
Stepping inside Mr Casely-Hayford’s store is a singularly welcoming experience. Decorated with the help of his wife, the interior designer Ms Sophie Ashby, it has a sense of the familial about it. From a Japanese book about Mr David Lynch to a painting by their friend Mr Tomo Campbell and a stack of The Face magazines that sit outside the fitting rooms, everything is personal to the family to the extent that it almost feels like a second home. “It hopefully feels a bit more authentic and real,” he says. “That’s our approach. A lot of luxury retail is quite austere. There’s this desire to create some kind of separation by placing the brand at a certain level for the customer to aspire to. There’s nothing wrong with that, but for us, it’s more engaging if we can create a world that’s culturally rich that our customers can relate to.”
When Mr Casely-Hayford isn’t running his brand, his downtime is “usually spent either at galleries with my wife or in the park trying to keep up with my five-year-old daughter on her scooter”. That, or simply taking in his surroundings.
Driving in the Mercedes-AMG, Mr Casely-Hayford notes the importance of maintaining an engagement with the city. “The traditional definition of a flâneur is someone who wanders the streets and absorbs what’s around him, and the modern man feels very much like that,” he says. “I don’t like using the term ‘woke’, but effectively it means it’s your responsibility to be socially and politically aware. In London, we are at the centre of global exchange. We’re such an international city that you have no excuse, you have to be aware. I try to surround myself with people like that because it challenges me. That’s what being a modern man in London is about – challenging yourself to be more open.”