Paris match: Giles Deacon's tough glamour
British designer Giles Deacon's brand of tough glamour made him a star of the London catwalks. This week he's going to show the French capital what he's made of, he tells Susannah Frankel
Monday 05 October 2009
Feast your eyes on this fiercely beautiful creature, whose attire is just as adult, unashamedly glamorous and tough as might be expected, given autumn/ winter fashion's prevailing mood and, of course, the hand-writing behind her clothing.
The silver-grey, corseted, fashionably-undone and creased gown in question, which comes complete with snaking safety-pin belt, comes courtesy of the designer Giles Deacon, a man who has consistently evolved his signature while always ensuring it suits a dignified and, some might say, magnificent woman, as opposed to that strange creature of the catwalk, the expensively-dressed child.
His autumn/winter collection, the designer says, is "in honour of characters", a tribute to "interesting eccentricity". With each individual piece hand-finished and increasingly "big entrance", it is that and more. The woman who wears Giles Deacon's designs – the label is called Giles – is no shrinking violet, preferring instead to stand out from the crowd, as this collection, and past seasons, serve to testify.
Whichever way one chooses to look at it, 2009 has been quite a year for the designer. In June this year, Deacon was awarded the prestigious ANDAM award, a prize of €160,000, backed by the French National Association for the Development of the Fashion Arts , LVMH, Gucci Group, the Pierre Bergé Society and Longchamp among others, which is aimed at expanding the recipient's business – he or she must be under 40 – in that country. Past winners have included both Martin Margiela and Viktor & Rolf.
"It's a fantastic opportunity for me, and it's great to be recognised," Deacon told Women's Wear Daily following the announcement, which came hot on the heels of a licensing deal with the Italian company Castor srl that will ensure his work reaches a wider audience. "The manufacturing deal and the award represent two years of hard work," Deacon continued. "They both show the label is progressing and that we can handle larger orders and deliver on time."
With this in mind, it should perhaps come as no surprise that Deacon, who is Central Saint Martins-trained, and whose studio has always been based in London, will now follow in the footsteps of Hussein Chalayan, a former classmate, and, of course, the Gucci Group-backed Alexander McQueen, and show in Paris this season alongside fashion's most fêted names. His spring/summer collection will be unveiled there this Thursday. It's no secret that London Fashion Week, while increasingly a force to be reckoned with, remains something of a kindergarten as compared to the French fashion capital. Deacon is just the latest in a long line of talented, British-educated designers to make the decision to move his show there.
"The logistics appear to be the same," Deacon says of the move, "apart from two days before, everybody decamps to the Paris studio we have in place." In fact, Deacon has remained loyal to London far longer than many of his profession. "The decision to move had to be made for the right reasons," he explains; "that is, business". In Paris, Deacon can be sure that his collection will be seen first-hand by all the major international editors and buyers alike. "I love showing in London but think it's good for the brand to move on. You can move around much more freely these days."
Cumbrian-born Deacon, 39, is, of course, no stranger to international fashion. After graduating from Saint Martins in 1992, he worked with Jean-Charles de Castelbajac in Paris for two years. From 1998 to 2002, he was designer at Gucci Group-owned Bottega Veneta. His long-time creative collaborator and former partner, Katie Grand, worked with him there.
In February 2004, Deacon presented his first collection under his own name in London – at the Royal Hospital Chelsea, home to the Chelsea Pensioners, to be precise. Styled by Grand and with music by Pulp's Steve Mackey, despite this being a début outing, the show notes read like a Who's Who of fashion. And then there were the models. Karen Elson, Eva Herzigova and Nadja Auermann – all normally rather too super for London Fashion Week appearances – flew in for the designer who said, then as now, that his clothes were for real women not girls. The collection in question was featured everywhere from US, British, Italian and French Vogue to W, and from POP to i-D, and was immediately bought by Harvey Nichols, Liberty and Selfridges.
Since that time, Deacon has regularly dressed Thandie Newton, Kate Moss, Kristin Scott Thomas, Drew Barrymore, Kylie Minogue, Lily Allen and Daisy Lowe. As well as designing clothes, he is an accomplished illustrator whose work has appeared in Interview, The Face, Arena Homme Plus and more. In 2006, he was awarded Designer of the Year at the British Fashion Awards. He has recently expanded his ready-to-wear main line with a pre-collection, has a successful two-season deal with Mulberry to design a Mulberry for Giles accessories line, is in the process of launching a costume jewellery collection and, for those who can't afford designer prices, also benefits from an ongoing consultancy with the high street retailer, New Look. "That has been an enormous help from a business point of view and to raise awareness of what I do," he says.
If all this might suggest an established business, it's worth noting that Deacon still works with a skeleton staff – the designer has only eight full-time employees in his east London studio, six or seven freelancers and, even during the run-up to labour-intensive, twice yearly, women's ready-to-wear shows, no more than 40 pairs of hands are there to assist. His company is still a fledgling as far as the global fashion arena is concerned. It's small wonder, then, that Deacon describes maintaining independence as "a battle but still worth it. The recent licence deal and jewellery line will hopefully help, and we have an accessory deal in the pipeline. I am also exploring the world of cycling wear and would love to design some interesting gym equipment."
Would the multi-tasking designer ever consider moving his entire business to more up-scale economic climes?
"God no," he says. "I love London. I have had a home here for exactly 20 years – I arrived in October 1989. It's quite amazing to be showing in Paris 20 years after that, but my friends are in London. And the telly's better." There's certainly no doubt about that.
And what of the collection he is set to show in only a few days time? Anyone familiar with the workings of this particular fashion talent's mind will know that a long-term love affair with the animal kingdom has often been part of the story, and this collection proves no exception.
With this in mind he says: "I got totally excited about a documentary about animals in the lost volcano in Papua New Guinea, and then by the ongoing hope of designing beautiful, interesting, relevant clothes."
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