MILLIONS OF PEOPLE are strolling the streets of London as we speak. Some of them are tourists but the majority live and work here. They see the London Eye, Big Ben, and St Paul’s Cathedral as places to be visited by tourists alone, and no longer stop to look at the skyline on their daily commute. But not Daniel W Fletcher, who still enjoys observing London through the eyes of a tourist.

This kind of tourist who reads his book lazily at the Tate café, takes long walks along the South Bank, and stops every time he crosses London Bridge to catch a glimpse of the City’s iconic skyscrapers. Maybe this is why his designs are still magical, whimsical, and are worn by the likes of Nicholas Galitzine or the royal brothers in The Crown.

For Fletcher, the magic of London hasn’t waned, and, he says, “If it hasn’t after these ten years, then it probably never will.” Now, as the first ever creative director of the Royal Ascot, he’ll be inspiring the sartorial choices of real-life royalty (Prince Harry, if he had a choice) and anyone else wanting to dress fancy for the races.

His appointment as creative director marks a big change for the British summer institution. In more than 300 years, the Ascot lookbook and millinery collective have not yet had distinct editorial direction, and any original dress codes were just societal rules, latterly applied to each of the various enclosures.

Men of societal importance, like Beau Brummell, also contributed to the dress etiquette just by voicing their opinions; but never in an official capacity.

But as Alexandra Bertram, creative lead of the Ascot Racecourse says, “Self-expression and the joy of dressing up for a day at the races has always been at the heart of Ascot. Royal Ascot style transcends simply dressing for the races and Daniel brings a fresh, authentic aesthetic, which perfectly mirrors our passion for individuality and personal style.”

We meet Daniel just after this Spring’s London Fashion Week – a fitting moment to celebrate his new appointment.

Daniel W Fletcher

SM: What was it like to look back at 40 years of LFW, how has the industry evolved, and where do you think it’s going?

DF: What’s so special about London is that it’s always been such a great hub for emerging brands and young talent, much more so than over cities. I worked in Paris, and that’s a very difficult city to crack; with these really established houses that have been going for hundreds of years. Whereas London is much better at embracing and nurturing young talent. And I think that’s what makes it really unique.

SM: New York is commercial, Paris is haute couture. Is London underground?

DF: Yeah. I would say that in the last couple of years the brands that started as underground, and have managed to stand the test of time, have now come out with really strong businesses and are selling commercial products while remaining creative. Erdem, for example, is a brand that’s going to be around forever now.

SM: So who are the new-gen designers now? Are we looking at Central Saint Martins grads mainly?

DF: What I love about the designers coming out of CSM is that they really don’t give a shit; they kind of do whatever they want to do, which is so refreshing. I think that experience is something you don’t get in other cities, as well.

SM: You came out of Central Saint Martins, right?

DF: I did, and actually, we had a really strong year. There was Stefan Cooke, Chopova Lowena, and then Charlotte Knowles did the MA the year after me. Then WED studio – Amy Trinh and Evan Phillips, launched WED a couple years ago; I love it, it’s beautiful.

SM: Did you ever consider banding up with someone back then?

DF: I almost wish I had, because when I look at Emma [Chopova] and Laura [Lowena] working together and Charlotte [Knowles ]working with Alex [Arsenault], and Stefan working with Jake [Burt].

I’m kind of jealous of that because it’s so much doing it alone. Having someone else to bounce ideas off and take some of the responsibility away would be great. When it comes to running a brand there are so many things outside of just designing.

I know many people in the past have said that CSM is bad because they don’t give you the necessary skills you might need, but what they do teach you is to be as creative as possible, and you never get an opportunity to be that creative again once you’re working in the industry.

Daniel W Fletcher

SM: Do you consider yourself a hard-headed person?

DF: No, I am quite decisive. I wouldn’t use ‘hard-headed’ because I do listen when my team says things, in particular, my stylist Ben Schofield. It’s very much a collaboration – the work we do together – but I am very decisive. If I see something I do or don’t like, I’ll know straight away.

SM: How have you changed since starting your brand?

DF: A big change is that I trust people to do their jobs now, and I can recognise if someone is better at something than I am. Which is something that doesn’t come straight away. But what you have to learn is that when the operation becomes bigger, and there are more people involved, you have to trust people to get on with what you’ve asked them to do.

SM: What do you look for when hiring people for your team?

DF: It’s a lot about the person. Obviously they have to be able to do the work, but if we can connect on a personal level, that’s really important.

I’ve worked in places where it wasn’t a nice environment, and people were made to feel uncomfortable. In the 2000s – the 1990s were worse, I’ve heard– there were a lot of people who were not that nice.

But I’ve also been lucky to work with people who were great, and I saw the difference. I want people to come to my studio, an environment that I’m in charge of, and feel comfortable, safe, and relaxed.

SM: Has there been more of a reckoning in recent years?

DF: I think social media has played a huge part in recent years, because people are scared of getting called out. Which, to me, is crazy because actually you should just not behave like that in the first place.

SM: What has been the most formative experience of your career so far?

DF: I would say last year, when I did a collaboration with Huntsman on Savile Row. That was the first time since I’d been at university that I was really learning again. I was seeing things that I’d never seen in such detail before. The tailors work in such a special, precise way, that it felt like going back to school. I really enjoyed it.

Daniel W Fletcher x Huntsman
Daniel W Fletcher x Huntsman

SM: How did that collection fit in with your clientele?

DF: Eight years ago, I designed my graduate collection, which was then bought by Harry Styles. But throughout my career, it’s been more reflective of where I am myself. Earlier, it was much more casual, and streetwear inspired, as a result of my being a student at Uni.

Now, instead I’m more focused on tailoring, event-dressing, and evening wear. I feel very comfortable with that because my capabilities as a designer and the resources I have are much bigger, so I’m able to produce those things properly.

I felt really intimidated by suits initially, and didn’t want to do them at the start because I was worried I wasn’t going to do them properly. You can get away with more when making a silk shirt.

SM: Were there any tips or tricks that you learnt from the Huntsman tailors and still use today?

DF: Definitely. The whole fitting process, noticing where things should fall, where the notch is on a collar. It’s hard to pinpoint one specific thing, but the whole experience of it was really eye-opening.

SM: How does that tailoring model work with runway and model casting?

DF: We precast the models for the nine-look show, and they were coming [for fittings] up to six months before; it takes between three and six months to make a bespoke suit on Savile Row.

At first I was a bit stressed because the tailors are used to working in a way that’s really long-form, whereas in fashion, I could probably turn a show out in two weeks’ time if I had to.

They were really easy to work with, which is really refreshing for such a heritage institution.

Daniel W Fletcher

SM: But I’d imagine you challenged them too, and brought them into a contemporary landscape.

DF: I think I pushed them a little by making the shoulders bigger, the waist smaller, the hips bigger – and I don’t think their normal clients are asking for that. They were so open and I think they really liked it as well. Some of the tailors came to the show, and then afterwards, we took the collection back to their store for a little champagne reception. I remember all of the tailors at the atelier came up and had a glass with us.

SM: So across each of your different phases, is there a defining trait that has flowed throughout your work?

DF: The inspiration always comes from the same place, which most of the time is from looking at various aspects of British Heritage, be that from a fashion perspective or art, interiors, history. I’m very fascinated by old English eccentricity, but I want to take it to a modern contemporary place.

I try to turn it into something that feels more relevant to today.

SM: Was the Royal Ascot project already on the books when you departed Fiorucci last summer? 

DF: No, it’s only come up this year, and quite out of the blue. It’s so funny because a few things have come up over the last couple of years, that now, it makes sense that I’d be doing this project.

For instance, my opening look for the finale of Next in Fashion [Netflix reality TV show] was jockey inspired. There’s also been this running joke that I dress fictional princes because I’ve dressed Nicholas Galitzine, Luther Ford, and Ed McVey who were William and Harry in The Crown…

There have been numerous fictional princes that I’ve dressed, and when I put two and two together it made me say: ‘Oh, I need to go do that!’

SM: Did you ever consider getting into costume designing?

DF: I’ve never thought about it actually, because I feel that it’s such a hard job, and so different to what I do. Designing things for a fashion show is one thing, but if you’re doing costumes, there can be tons and tons of people to dress and often it has to be historically accurate. I’ve never really thought about it because I respect so much what costume designers do.

SM: How are you going to reimagine Royal Ascot here?

DF: One of the things with Ascot, is that people really have an idea about how one should dress for the races, with different dress codes depending on the enclosure. One requires a top hat and tails, the hat at a minimum of 10cm, and skirts that go over the knee, so there are very specific rules for certain enclosures and some without those rules. But actually, you can push it a little bit within those guidelines; that part is quite fun actually.

I took inspiration from British heritage, but also old ascot looks, particularly from the 1980s. I loved the big, strong shoulder suits and nipped-in waists, but then paired with a big hat. I wanted to play around with that legacy but then also do something that felt unexpected.

Although some of the looks we did are very traditional ascot dresses, very feminine in silk, but then we put together with ties, little berets, sunglasses. It’s kind of tongue in cheek.

Daniel W Fletcher x Royal Ascot
Daniel W Fletcher x Royal Ascot

SM: What do you think the reception will be for your collection?

DF: I don’t know, but I’m not worried because I kind of enjoy the drama of it all. When I was announced as the creative director of Ascot, there were even some pieces that came out in the press about how I don’t believe in gendered clothing, and that I put men in corsets.

They took quotes from an interview that I’d done a couple years ago, but I stand by those quotes. I said if an item of clothing is for function, like a bra, then it’s a gendered garment. But if it’s a shirt, then anyone can wear it, and it doesn’t really matter.

Some of the papers said, ‘Ascot goes woke’; ‘he doesn’t believe in gender’ but the headlines were much worse than the actual articles. But it was silly, really; people making something out of nothing.

SM: That’s tabloid bread and butter…

DF: But it was funny to read. For me, certain things like putting women in suits, isn’t really revolutionary. I do understand that for more of the traditional racegoers, they might see it as really pushing the boundaries, but for me it comes naturally.

Actually, within the RA dress code, it doesn’t specify gender as long as you abide by the particular rules, as they removed the gendered specifications a few years ago.

Daniel W Fletcher x Royal Ascot
Daniel W Fletcher x Royal Ascot

SM: Do people ever attribute you solely to Next in Fashion and reality television?

DF: I was more worried about it before going on the show, because I had spent years building up my career and getting it to a good place. But what I later found was that people in the fashion industry really liked it, and journalists that I really respect would come up to me at events after, and say “really loved you on the show.” That was nice, and I think a testament to the show, which did really well to showcase our best abilities as a designer instead of just contestant drama.

I was just designing for all of that time, I was in a different time zone, and I didn’t have my phone. They’d pick me up at 6am and we’d film until 10pm. I was sewing, designing, making patterns, and I loved it. By the time I left it just reminded me how much I love doing that side of the work, and made me want to do that even more.

I missed sitting down in front of the sewing machine in the studio, and it was like being back at university working on my graduate collection all over again.

SM: What would you like to change about the Ascot dress code?

DF: One that I’m going to push them to change is in the second-most dressy enclosure, where the jacket and trousers have to match. I designed a look where the trousers and jacket don’t match – stripey trousers and navy jacket – that’s still quite formal and would fit into that enclosure. So if I were to make a change, it would be that trousers and jackets don’t have to match. Same rule for skirts and jackets.

I also want to make the point that: you can go into the cheapest enclosure but still really want to dress up. I really want to encourage people to dress up for Royal Ascot, and to make the most of it, no matter which enclosure you’re in. 

Royal Ascot takes place from Tuesday 18th to Saturday 22nd June 2024. See Explore the new Daniel W Fletcher collection at