Giles Deacon is and has been, fashion’s wiz-kid since his supermodel clad debut catwalk show fourteen years ago. Since then, it’s been one career milestone after another, with his namesake brand becoming the figurehead of London’s new breed of designers. With a twinkle in his eye, and his signature Cutler and Gros frames, Giles Deacon ushered in a new era of British design — an era of fearless fashion, considered theatricality, and brazen charisma.
We enter his sprawling warehouse/studio space in The Old Truman Brewery. The familiar Pac-Man helmets standing in attention atop some industrial file cabinets; and a row of sculptural couture dresses from his much talked about couture debut last July illuminating the space — from a dramatic black and white feathered evening gown, to a bright yellow Victorian style floor-length cape. In one corner, there are polaroids of Giles and his team, intimate moments caught between shows and fittings interspersed with pop-art and cheeky references coming from the most unusual places.
In conversation with Giles, it becomes clear that the extent of his inspiration is broad and elusive, with each season coming as an unexpected new surprise — his recent move into couture being no exception. We briefly talk about his early forays into Marine Biology, and the people who have helped him a long the way. We see how he lights up when talking about the east-end rejuvenation of the London Fashion scene, and the creative community that grew in its wake. In a world dominated by trends and market forecasts, Giles Deacon stands distinctly individual, and with a vision decidedly geared towards the future. Armed with inimitable style, and a new perspective on Haute Couture.
You grew up in the Lake District and actually started out pursuing Marine Biology. Where did your interest in fashion come from?
I never actually pursued Marine biology, it was actually my career advisor who recommended it to me. I suffer from vertigo in the sea, so it probably wouldn’t have worked out so well. I guess it was an expansion of my deep love for nature — stemming from growing up in the Lake District, which is a very coastal county. Marine biology was something that I had always been interested in, but didn’t get the grades for — and that resulted in me going into art. I’ve always been creative and so I joined an art foundation course that eventually led me to the Saint Martins School of Arts (now known as Central Saint Martins) It was at this foundation course where I discovered that I really loved art and fashion - I fell in love with the atmosphere of Saint-Martins.
You got a job at Jean-Charles de Castelbajac straight our of your graduate collection in Central Saint-Martins. This was followed by more high-profile stints at Bottega Veneta, Tom Ford, and Gucci. With such an impressive resumé in the industry, what made you decide to venture out and start your own brand? How do you think these experience influence the way you approach your own business?
Looking back, it was a great period of time in my life. I learned a lot working for Jean Charles; I looked after all of his Japanese and Korean licenses — designing everything from pencils to umbrellas. Bottega Veneta was an interesting one, as I worked with my good friend Katie Grand on the collections. She was styling the shows and the owners wanted someone new to come in and invigorate it. I was working there with Stuart Vevers, now the Creative Director of Coach, but at the time was the director of accessories for the Gucci Group. I then went to work for Gucci for a couple seasons before deciding to start my own label.
I’ve always wanted to get more experience than just to set up a label straight away. It was quite a different time in London back then, Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen moved their shows to Paris, but we decided that London was the right place to show our first collection. I had my eye on the royal hospital in Chelsea; I thought it was the perfect backdrop for our first collection. Through the years, we continued and created all sorts of wonderful collections in all sorts of fantastic venues. I always choose venues with great character from White Hall Palace to the Freemason’s Hall; and I really liked that there was an element of theatre to my shows. I think a fashion show should be somewhere where people come to see beautiful things in a fantastical environment that compliments the clothes — so they can also see the craftsmanship and the references.
GILES was launched to resounding acclaim; with supermodels Eva Herzigova, Lily Cole, and Linda Evangelista walking your runway. What was this experience like for you?
Back in 2003 we launched the collection and pulled in a lot of favours. It was brilliant! We were a tiny team of people, and everybody was doing everything together. We did all the show production ourselves and it was a real exciting event. It seems quite a long time ago now, but I remember everything very clearly.
Immediately after launching GILES, you won Best New Designer in the British Fashion Award in 2004, and British Fashion Designer of the year in 2006. How did your career change after receiving such prestigious awards?
It all grew very steadily. We began working with a licensing company in Italy, who worked on the production of all our ready-to-wear pieces for about five years. We’ve always made all the major showpieces in-house in our atelier. Around a year and a half ago, I began to look at where the fashion world was going, and realised I had to adapt my business. For an independent label to compete with the big guys, we needed to have substantial backing to enter the ready-to-wear world. I felt that what we were doing as a brand was different, which was why I made the decision to pull away from ready-to-wear and concentrate on couture. We showed our first couture collection last July in Paris and have not looked back since.
The Giles Deacon Studio is in the Old Truman Brewery; and I think you can’t get more London that that. Do you think being in London is intrinsic to your brand?
This is actually my third different office space in here. I had a different space in the mid-to-late nineties, then moved to a larger space, and then moved back here six years later. The Old Truman Brewery has really been at the centre for the whole east-end rejuvenation; enabling designers to have spaces to work and build up a community of artists where everyone knows everyone. It has changed the whole brick lane scene! While it has always been a very cosmopolitan community, it is now a worldwide destination for tourists, while also being a creative melting pot.
Being in London is definitely intrinsic to my brand; and it's really important to have a studio here. Even if I worked all over the world, I really love the atmosphere here — there is always something going on!
Throughout your career, you’ve had several playful collaborations from Mulberry to New Look, and even Müller! How do you go about finding the right brands and the right people to collaborate with?
I think Mulberry is a really good example. Stuart Vevers was working there at the time; and we had worked together before and I knew the product really well. At the same time, we would also do things like Müller, which was really fun and playful. I illustrate and draw and awful lot, and Müller was a fun way to get our name out there which in turn helps my brand. We also have a line with Debenhams and its very important for their customer as well - I just like the democracy of it all! Even with yoghurt you can get a piece of Giles Deacon.
You’ve made several TV appearances throughout the years; becoming a judge in Britain’s Next Top model, and starring in New Look Style the Nation with Barbara Horspool. Do you want to do more TV?
I love doing TV. The first time I ever did television was for Britain’s Next Top Model which was lots of fun; we had Isabella Blow and Elizabeth Hurley who did the presenting. Style The Nation was interesting as I was presenting with Nick Grimshaw, who was well on the way to becoming the household name that he is today. We did that for six weeks every Saturday morning at 7 am, and it was a real eye opener to the commitment of TV. I really enjoyed it and would definitely do some more.
This year was a big year for Giles Deacon, with the launch of your first couture collection. What inspired you to go in this direction?
We’ve been doing private client sales for quite some time; and there has been a lot of interest on the couture side of the company. I feel really passionately about the combination of traditional techniques and modern technology. I felt that in order to stand out, I needed to have my vision for the next ten years ready — and that was couture technology. We slowly started working on our first couture collection, and we’ve had lovely order from private clients and worked with some shows and trunk shows independently.
The technology is really fascinating. We can now have clients make avatars of themselves and make mannequins through 3D modelling, which cuts down fitting times. For me, I like to keep everything fresh and new. The system we know is broken to a degree and is very confused in the direction it is going; whether its see-now-buy-now, or the changing fashion calendars. It’s really difficult for a small label to do something really special, and to give people something that they can respect and are willing to wait for. Made-to-measure is something really special, and is a way to get the uniqueness of the pieces — no two pieces are the same.
What are you working on now? What can we expect from Giles Deacon in 2017?
We are currently working on our couture show in July and I think that there’s going to be a more technological aspect implemented into the collection and into the business. We want to continue to build in the direction we’ve chosen to go on. We’ve got an e-commerce platform which is about ready to finish, and it’s going to link directly to the couture collection. There are gonna be elements of prints and jacquards in the collection which could then be made available in a varied product range — a very beautiful beach towel for example. There are all sorts of ways that we can think of incorporating the couture elements into a bigger world.
Finally, how do you think designers like yourself have changed and continue to change the face of London Fashion?
We are a fourteen year old label now, and we are continuing to follow our path. I’ve never been one to do what everyone else does, and I’ve always tried to keep what we do different from everyone else. I think there’s a lot of brilliant things happening in the London fashion scene, and that’s what is great about London - everybody really does their own thing and that makes it unique from other fashion capitals.
Portraits by Chris Baker
Words by Hannah Tan