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SS Daley’s Spring Summer 2023 collection is a charming ode to lesbian love

The designer’s fairytale show was inspired by love letters between Vita Sackville-West and Violet Trefusis…

Maja Smiejkowska
22 September 2022

he St Pancras Renaissance Hotel has played host to a number of cultural events, Spice Girls’ ‘Wannabe’ music video springs to mind. By contrast, this afternoon’s SS Daley SS23 show was a playground for all things fairytale - with a rare and touching ode to lesbian love.

Muffling the sounds of the underground rumbling beneath our feet, the show unfolded to a symphony of violins and classical music. The clothes - consisting of monochromatic tailoring, loose, flowing silhouettes and larger-than-life lapels - had a cheeky, youthfulness about them, like kids bundling downstairs in their pyjamas on Christmas morning.

Maja Smiejkowska

The playfulness was ramped up a notch as looks ventured into Easter Bunny territory, accessorised with bunny ears, whiskers and button noses. Like a scene from Where the Wild Things Are, the story became more theatrical and dreamlike as each model walked.

References to Peter Pan were conjured by a forest green shirt and short ensemble that included Peter’s infamous beret, whilst rabbit-like, woodland-animal-esque details almost convinced us we were running late for a very important date (à la, Alice in Wonderland).

It was joyfully childlike, but as with the original tales, there was a sense of lingering darkness. The original story of Peter and Wendy, written first as a play by J. M. Barrie in 1911, when unpacked, is incredibly disturbing. With Alice in Wonderland too, the darkness comes from the tale’s surrealism, and whilst children adore the absurdity of the Mad Hatter’s tea party, few people are aware that the truth behind his madness is mercury poisoning - which had grave effects on milliners during the 19th century.

Maja Smiejkowska

Beyond the enchanted forest, SS Daley’s primary inspiration for his SS23 collection was the hushed romance between English authors Violet Trefusis and Vita Sackville-West (who also had romantic relationships with Virginia Woolf). Moved by the love letters exchanged between the two women during the 1910s, SS Daley paid tribute to them by having actors read their letters aloud to close the show.

Just as there are shadows that hide within fairytales, there was also a deep sadness to the relationship between Trefusis and Sackville-West. At the time of their romance it was illegal to be a gay man, but for women it was a slightly different story. In the UK, lesbianism was never made illegal because society never acknowledged it as something that existed; a concept so taboo that it must’ve been a myth.

As a result, records of lesbian history are far fewer than those of gay men. Trefusis and Sackville-West were forced into secrecy, using the power of their pens to communicate love for one another.

SS Daley’s tribute to queer women was welcomed with open arms, not only for bringing attention to lesbian love stories, but for doing so with a charming collection of impeccably tailored clothes.

Maja Smiejkowska

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