From County Durham to couture: Giles Deacon is doing things his way

<i>Giles Deacon lets us in on the world of couture [Photo: PA]</i>
Giles Deacon lets us in on the world of couture [Photo: PA]

Giles Deacon is an interesting character in fashion. Starting his life in County Durham, the designer worked for the likes of Bottega Veneta and Tom Ford’s Gucci before launching his own label in 2004.

Always sticking to his own path, Deacon has never walked the conventional route, preferring theatrical spectacles instead of bland shows. His first show was a memorable one, featuring major names including Karen Elson and Linda Evangelista; people he can still call friends today.

His designs too aren’t for the faint-hearted. Bordering on the dramatic, the billowing garments are a stalwart in the wardrobes of Erin O’Connor, Solange Knowles and Game of Thrones star Gwendoline Christie. It’s this passion for the unique that prompted the designer to suspend his ready-to-wear and focus on the ultimate fantasy world in the form of couture.

<i>Anna Cleveland models Giles Deacon’s first couture collection [Photo: Instagram/gilesdeacon_]</i>
Anna Cleveland models Giles Deacon’s first couture collection [Photo: Instagram/gilesdeacon_]

“The system doesn’t work,” Deacon states over the phone. “The ready-to-wear world seems to be in a state of confusion with see now, buy now, menswear showing with womenswear, customers wanting winter clothes in the winter… With all the changes in technology, it’s a broken system. Couture is irrelevant of any time or season.”

This independent spirit has led Deacon down another unorthodox path: global fashion consultant at P&G Fabric Care. Yes, the well-known brand behind Ariel, Lenor and more. A role that he has (rather quietly) held since 2013, Giles’ job entails devising concepts that fuse design with aftercare. “I was really fascinated when I went over to [Ariel’s] research and development centre in Brussels,” he says. “Especially with the technological aspects that link back to fashion and how to take care of garments after you’ve bought them.”

<i>Giles’ Eek! collection in collaboration with Ariel focuses on sustainability [Photo: Ketchum]</i>
Giles’ Eek! collection in collaboration with Ariel focuses on sustainability [Photo: Ketchum]

In line with Ariel’s new 3 in 1 PODS which can transform a garment back to its new state in just one wash, Giles designed a stark white collection printed with lovable cartoon characters. Then the fun began. Throwing the likes of gravy and wine onto the clothes, the designer completely trashed his Eek! designs. “At one point, I remember thinking, crikey, what the hell are we doing?” he laughs.

One quick spin in the washing machine though and everything appeared as if nothing had ever happened; something that even Giles was astounded by: “I wanted to make a really graphic, vibrant collection on these brilliant white bases so we could push the staining process to the extreme. I really like the social experiment side of it. Everybody has ‘first wash anxiety’ so for the [garments] to come out looking new was incredible.”

This is a real feat in a world that is starting to wake up to the importance of sustainability. “I was excited to help reverse the common perception that once washed, clothes lose their appeal. Consumers are becoming much more interested in aftercare rather than the wear it once and bin it approach,” he comments. “Of course, the whole process of making a garment look and fit great is paramount but how it’s going to remain is becoming much more important.”

A rejection of the fast fashion concept has taken over every inch of Deacon’s brand. Obviously, his switcheroo to couture removes any need for multiple collections a year. Instead, he is able to spend up to three months designing one piece that can cost up to £25,000, working with clients from a range of backgrounds, ages and careers: “One of the things that is so great is you’re catering for all shapes and sizes. We sell to 25-75 year olds. You get to meet some really interesting characters and build nice relationships. And I think that’s the purpose of it all.”

The other purpose is the art of collaboration. Giles explains that some clients have a very defined idea of what they want while others are open to suggestions, adding that his customers “get quite hooked. Once you’ve actually had something made for you, it’s quite addictive.”

<i>A sketch for one of Deacon’s private clients [Photo: Instagram/gilesdeacon_]</i>
A sketch for one of Deacon’s private clients [Photo: Instagram/gilesdeacon_]

He refuses to believe that couture is a dying art form, labelling technology as the number one way to keep the world of bespoke relevant. From virtual avatars of clients to sending updates through Snapchat, it appears as if what was once seen as a fusty business dominated by old-fashioned thinkers is transforming into a truly modern version of luxury.

In fact, his first couture collection was the perfect demonstration of his moving with the times. Solely showcased on model Anna Cleveland – the just-as-theatrical daughter of industry legend Pat – the dark exaggerated designs appeared timeless; almost as if they could be worn by anyone from a 21-year-old billionaire offspring to a more elderly face “who’d made money through astro turf.”

“I always go for women who have a character about them rather than girls who just look the same. The blank canvas homogenised look really isn’t my thing at all,” he states. And he’s not lying. His ready-to-wear shows always featured a cross-range of young and old faces from sixties model Veruschka to transgender icon Andreja Pejic along with a smattering of It girls including Bella Hadid, Poppy Delevingne and Irina Shayk.

Just as his casting demonstrates, the experience of life is vitally important to Giles. When it comes to fascinations, he has a few starting with a deep interest in the psychology of fashion and the thinking behind why we spend our money on clothes. “What is it that really attracts someone to do something? It’s a guttural instinct – that’s something I’m really fascinated by especially when things aren’t trend-led.”

<i>Cate Blanchett caused quite a stir at Cannes in a dramatic Giles Deacon gown [Photo: Getty]</i>
Cate Blanchett caused quite a stir at Cannes in a dramatic Giles Deacon gown [Photo: Getty]

And even though he now primarily caters for big money clients, Giles is still a big believer in mass appeal. “I’ve always believed in the democracy of design,” he comments when asked about fluctuating between high street and high end. “You want to make great garments for the people at a certain price point as well as couture pieces that are incredibly expensive.”

As he prepares to put the finishing touches on bespoke gowns for awards season (who he is dressing this year is a well-kept secret), Giles reminisces on his past red carpet successes – noting that that 2015 Cate Blanchett moment was “quite an orchestrated movement” – before finally deciding that Meryl Streep and Rooney Mara would be the perfect future Deacon women.

Is that a hint for what’s to come? In Giles’ world, anything is possible.

For more information about Ariel’s 3 in 1 PODS, head to SuperSavvyMe.

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