Nicholas Daley’s G.H.Bass collaboration is an ode to ska and two-tone

Nicholas Daley’s G.H.Bass collaboration is an ode to ska and two-tone

by Ollie Cox
9 min

Nicholas Daley knows a thing or two about music, with his namesake label a favourite of trailblazing musicians such as Yousef Dayes and Goya Gumbani. It is precisely this energy the designer has brought into his latest collaboration with G.H.Bass. The two have come together for a fashion-meets-music makeover of the Larson silhouette rooted in the style foundations set by ska, British reggae and two-tone.

The Nicholas Daley-designed loafer gets a lift courtesy of the EXTRALIGHT Super Lug sole and is hand-sewn by artisans in El Salvador. These techniques mirror those used by George Henry Bass way back in 1876, which ensure tried and tested durability and comfort.

The shoes arrive in navy and black, and chocolate colourways, with the former accented with silver hardware and the latter with antique brass. The slip-on style is crafted from a range of leathers, including suede, croc-embossed and burnished leather, to create a textured, dual-hue effect. 

The loafer link-up is part of Nicholas Daley’s Fall/Winter 2023 “Roots to Rebel” collection. It was first previewed at London Fashion Week in February this year and nodded to the British reggae, ska and two-tone movements of the ‘70s and ‘80s. We caught up with Nicholas Daley ahead of his G.H.Bass collaboration’s release to talk about the partnership, Coventry, and the legendary impact of the loafer silhouette. 

The Specials and The Selector influenced your “Roots to Rebel” collection, which firmly put the Midlands on the map. How is this reflected in your G.H.Bass collaboration?

When I was doing my research on two-tone and ska, obviously, the shoe of choice was the loafer, especially the shape and the style of the Weejuns. 

It was good timing when Bass approached me this season. It worked out really, really well.

What drew you to the collaboration with G.H.Bass? 

I have done a lot of work with traditional footwear companies, and I think it’s really interesting when you bring a contemporary edge, flair, or DNA, to such a historical piece of footwear. 

Bass started with the gold rush in America, and it turned into what is the loafer today and the evolution of that shoe style. For me, being a student of fashion and being able to work with companies that have been around for over seven decades is quite interesting to bring my own design into that.

The loafer has always been a hybrid between smart and casual dressing, which has led to its subcultural appeal. Was this something you wanted to tap into with this G.H.Bass collaboration? 

Yeah, it has the lugger sole unit, so it’s lightweight with a more utilitarian sole rather than the standard sole unit that you’d put on the Weejun style. [I] like a lot of workwear and military references, I wanted something that was quite robust and a bit chunkier, which I think is [the reality] for a lot of people that wear my clothing. 

The customer base that buys into it is always on the move, always on tour or doing something, so you want something that is going to last. The sole unit change was one of the first things that we wanted to do, and from there, [we developed] across the rest of the shoe. 

I feel like the laceless construction of a loafer makes for the perfect canvas. How did you make the silhouette your own for the collaboration? 

We kept the shape pretty true, we did a new counter on the back with a shape and a style we have run on a few different shoes which we’ve developed. From the profile shot it gives a new perspective on it. 

We just wanted to mix different materials and textures. So you have the embossed croc, you’ve got the suede/nubuck, and then you have the leather as well, so it’s about texture within it. 

We decided to do it in two colours, the coco chocolate brown and then the navy black – very classic menswear colour tones to the shoes because we wanted them to fit into a lot of people’s wardrobes and styling [choices]. 

There’s a lot of consideration in it – keeping it classic and true but with enough vibe and ND design that it feels a bit more interesting, which is something I think we achieved. 

Can you talk me through the process of designing and creating the collaboration? Were there any issues you had to navigate? 

I guess because of some of the hand work, like how we did the stitching on the front toe – that was something Bass is yet to do, so that took a few trials to get it right. But apart from that, a lot of it was small, intricate changes and details but done across the whole shoe to create something quite interesting. 

Yeah, just working within the range that Bass had, its leathers, obviously anything that is worked on, especially footwear, it’s got to be worn, it’s got to be practical and made well. 

It’s a nice marriage of design and engineering within footwear. 

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What was the cultural exchange that took place as part of this collaboration? 

Probably the whole Americana vibe because Bass is obviously [rooted in] the whole Americana type of vibe, because it definitely has a more entrenched cultural nuance within the American style, particularly within menswear. 

That was interesting because I’ve worked with a lot of British shoemakers but not an American shoemaker.

It was interesting looking at pictures from the ‘60s or the ‘70s. Some of the artists who I’m inspired by would wear Weejuns or Weejuns-style loafers. Yeah, that was interesting to gain cultural nuances. 

Who’s a particular Weejun wearer who stands out? 

I mean, I hope now, the people who are going to be wearing it [the new Nicholas Daley collaboration], like the ND community, a lot of the jazz community, and musicians who I work with, you know, Shabaka [Hutchings] or Yussef Dayes or Goya Gumbani, they’re all people in my world, and the style of it works quite well. 

The sneaker culture is massive and has grown dramatically, but I do think there are a lot of artists who are definitely more informed about classic styles and shapes, so I guess it’s interesting to see that trend. 

For a brand that is so rooted in music, is there a song or musician that sums up the Nicholas Daley x G.H.Bass collaboration? 

Probably [working with] Pauline Black when we did our London Fashion Week Show, and Nubya Garcia. Yeah, it was nice working with Bass [on this]. 

We sort of styled the footwear for shoots and performances. Pauline, being a legend of the two-tone and ska scene, wearing our Bass shoes with our bespoke fit for fashion week for our event in February [was a highlight].

Seeing Nabya perform at the Southbank Centre wearing the loafer and seeing how it all gets put together – I think, was a really nice synergy for the overall direction for this season. It was a nice complement of design, fashion, culture and style. 

How important is the two-tone and second-wave ska movement in influencing your designs? 

I went to the Coventry Music Museum for “Roots to Rebel.” Being brought up in the Midlands, I’ve always wanted to do a collection honouring my roots. The rebels, like Pauline Black, who was part of The Selector [and] the only black female in a predominantly white male environment in the ‘70s doing two-tone and ska, was pretty fire. 

We shot Benjamin Zephaniah, the dub poet, [who is] an amazing icon coming out of Birmingham. It’s all things that have been part of my cultural references through Mum and Dad, or people we see perform or play, listening to their music. 

When I went to the Music Museum, it was really amazing because I’d never been there before. I didn’t even know it existed, to be fully honest, until I started this investigation. It’s such an amazing little self-run [operation] by Pete Chambers, who built this amazing museum just dedicated to ska and two-tone, which I thought was pretty rad. 

They’ve got some amazing stuff in there. They’ve got the original organ from “Ghost Town,” [and] they’ve cut the car in half. 

I did a post on my ‘gram about it, but there’s so much stuff in there – just music coming out of Coventry and, I guess, the wider Midlands area, in particular reggae and ska. 

You described this process as an investigation. Is that a testament to how important it was for you to get this exploration right? 

Yeah, definitely. It’s just telling an authentic story and making sure it all works together nicely. 

I think that’s what I always try and do with every collection or every collab. [I just try and] make it all fit together and make sure that I’m trying to be honest and reflective of where I’m getting the inspiration from. 

I dragged Mum and Dad out to Coventry Music Museum last November, and obviously, it was sad because Terry Hall had just passed away, so it was weird coming to find out more when one of the pioneers had passed. 

I obviously went to the cathedral and paid my respects, they had a eulogy to Terry Hall. It was really profound seeing the impact of what one person did for that city. 

Is there anything else you want to share about the collaboration? 

I’m excited that it’s out, and everyone seems to be liking it. It’s been a nice collab to work on. 

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