The caterpillar’s metamorphosis into a butterfly remains one of life’s most fundamental case studies. It is introduced to us in the pivotal stages of childhood and subconsciously used as a measuring tool for change as we grow up. As the insect breaks free of its cocoon, it finds itself able to fly—soar, even—with the help of a pair of beautiful, eye-catching wings. At once, the world is different: comfortable, delightful and free.
Similarly, when it comes to instances of life-altering transformations, clothing is often wielded as an important tool. In James Cameron’s Titanic, Jack Dawson blended in with the help of a crisp tuxedo; in Grease, Sandy Olsson comes out of her shell courtesy of her leather-accented new look. The changes are subtle, but the results, grand—and the wearer? Comfortable, delightful and free.
Proving that the power of style lies in its subtleties, instead, is creative consultant and renowned stylist, Stephen Mann, who describes his emblematic trajectory as an organic journey. Today, the fashion industry stalwart boasts a quiet yet powerful recognition to his name, having worked with the likes of Missoni, Viviane Sassen and more. “I enjoy the experience of piecing together an image or collection and building the layers of detail and narrative. I always want to capture something that I believe. Even if it’s a fantasy image, I want an honesty to it.”
Honest is a fitting word to describe Mann’s stylistic vision. On the runway, it has presented itself as a Rolodex of characters recognisable in everyday life. From the impossibly tailored-meets-effortless men fashioned by long-time collaborator Nicholas Daley to the casual charm of the Kiko Kostadinov wearer, each look constructed by Mann is considered, simple and inextricably cool. “I enjoy my continued collaboration with Nicholas Daley who I’ve worked with since he started out. I take great pleasure and pride in being a part of a designer’s development and journey. We just wrapped Nicholas’s summer collection presentation with an incredible cast of his extended community,” shares Mann.
Daley, who hails from Leicester and has since made a splash in London’s menswear scene, reflects Mann’s ethos of understated, transformative choices. Daley’s deliberate declarations, for example, are made through small variations of fabrics, from tweed to tartan. What ties them together is his dedication to empowerment, a quality often overlooked in the sphere of men’s clothing. This vote of confidence, in Daley’s case, shifts beyond the individual—it is also a mirror for surrounding communities.
So how does Mann bring this forward in the people he styles? “I think styling is a very immediate and direct tool, but it can also speak in many layers and this is where it’s most interesting.” He shares examples of his own: in an image by Welsh photographer James Evan, a man in a coat jacket looks out to sea, white tassels blowing with the breeze. His hands reach out to the distance suggesting he is lost, but his clothes hint at an undercurrent of bravery. In another image by British photographer Samuel Bradley, a man in a cowboy hat and boots is caught mid-kick; the folds of his jacket, shirt and inner shirt following suit. The possibilities of the narrative are endless, but as Mann suggests, the clothes serve as a suggested course: “I think you have the look and then within that you have the details when you zoom in, that’s what tells the story and really speaks.” And often, it is in this second or third glance back that it speaks the loudest.
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