For ladies who lunch, it doesn’t get much better than being treated to an intimate, high fashion show at a chic downtown eatery in the presence of a much-buzzed-about international designer, all for a great cause. That was the case at the Thompson Hotel’s Scarpetta recently, as Yorkville’s swank George C. boutique hosted a charity fashion luncheon to benefit the Princess Margaret Hospital, with British design star Giles Deacon there to schmooze the stylish guests. Deacon’s dazzling spring collection, inspired in part by the swish subjects of Cecil Beaton’s photographs, was breathtaking, and those lucky enough to see it up close and personal readily understood why the 42-year-old Deacon is one of London’s brightest lights.
Deacon trained at the prestigious Central St. Martin’s fashion school, alongside classmates like the late Alexander McQueen and the avant-garde Hussein Chalayan. He then worked for Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, headed up Bottega Veneta, and assisted Tom Ford at Gucci before launching his own collection in 2004. Last year, Deacon was recruited by the ailing house of Ungaro to try and revive that legendary label. Unfortunately though, after just one glorious season, the talented designer retreated, deciding to concentrate solely on his own brand instead.
I first had the pleasure of meeting Deacon when he came to Toronto last year, as part of a ‘British Fashion Invasion’ event staged by The Room. I was delighted to see him come back to our city so soon, especially after such a hectic year. But he’s obviously savvy enough to know there are some daring and devoted fashionistas in Toronto who are charmed by the fabulous fare he has to offer. And nothing beats cultivating that personal designer/client relationship. I saddled up to the bar at The Thompson with Deacon for a cozy chat about glamour, good design, and what it takes to build a brand.
Jeanne: In between your two visits to Toronto, were there any big epiphanies?
Giles: I think the biggest epiphany was the very fine realization that what I really want to do is just concentrate on my own label as much as possible. With seven years into the line now, it’s developed into a very well known brand worldwide. So I felt that it’s time to really maximize on all that and kind of push it onto that next level, and really develop all those new product areas, and fragrances… just really kind of push that and concentrate my time. I’m not getting any younger, you know!
Jeanne: But you do have a strong brand. You do really stand for something. There’s something so definite about what you do, it’s almost unmistakable.
Giles: Well, describe it to me in a nutshell because I’m always being asked that!
Jeanne: Whimsical, seductive…
Giles: Yeah playful….
Jeanne: You’ve got a sense of humour, almost a kind of witty intellectualism within the garments…
Giles: Well, quasi intellectualism maybe (laughs)… I think that’s what people really like about it. Because people often think that the world fashion is so full of a certain pretense that it can’t just be about going for something because it suits you and looks great, and it’s nicely cut and is made of beautiful fabric. You know, if it has a bit of lightness and playfulness to it, then I think people just respond to that really well.
Jeanne: Okay. Is it verboten to talk about the Ungaro experience?
Giles: Not at all…
Jeanne: Well, we were all very excited for about five seconds. Here we thought maybe you were coming to the rescue of that ailing house, and you did a beautiful first presentation, which was optimistic and colourful…
Giles: You know, you take it very seriously when you start any project, but not everything in life ends up where you think it’s going to be. And that was just one of those situations.
Jeanne: Did it pain you to leave or did you just know it was something you had to do?
Giles: I was very disappointed within the whole working relationship. But these things just happen. And it’s best to be taken with a pinch of salt.
Jeanne: And again, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, which I keep on saying again and again. Bu it’s so true…
Giles: Yeah, it is.
Jeanne: Well, you’ve just put out this fabulous collection, again filled with a kind of light heartedness, a whimsy. It’s a true ode to glamour. How have your ideas of glamour and what that means changed since you were a little kid?
Giles: My god, well it manifests itself much more now in the form of a technical aspect I suppose, the more we work on the collections… When I was a child, I couldn’t even really have a concept of glamour. It’s more about the work in the collections. And we try to define and refine each season, and work with more depth, and focus on all the details just to make these really special clothes that women really want and have to have . It’s all about that kind of luxury and the fit of the pieces. They have a seductive feel to them when they’re worn… all those things are really important. There’s a lot of work that goes on within the pieces that’s on the insides as much as on the outsides.
Jeanne: One of the wonderful things about your clothes is that they truly make a statement.
Giles: They do.
Jeanne: I mean they all make a statement in tandem with the women making her own statement, because you never want the dress to wear the women, obviously. But what do you say to women who are just adamant about making statements with the way they look? How would you guide them to find the pieces that are right for them?
Giles: I think you’ve got to know your character and how you are and what works for you. But then again, I think the interesting thing about people is their range of characters. Everybody’s got a lot to their personalities. You’re not just one element. There are some days you want something that can be a bit stricter or a bit more disciplined or something a bit more floaty and a bit freer… I think all of those feelings work within your psyche. And then it depends on what you might want to project at a particular event or function. So it’s a bit of understanding of that and having a bit of fun with it. That’s really important. If you like strong things then go for strong. And if you like quieter things, then go for those.
Jeanne: There’s a lot of discussion lately about “age appropriate” dressing, which I personally find really boring.
Giles: I don’t really understand what that is.
Jeanne: Good! (laughs)
Giles: I’ve known amazing women who are ninety-seven who can just wear anything, and look as stylish as anybody who’s seventeen, and like vice versa. It just really depends on the person. That’s what I like about characters. I like people who tell a story about their life. I find that really interesting and I think that comes across in people. It’s all those elements that make people interesting. It’s not just about a frock.
Jeanne: And it’s obviously important to express yourself and dress for your spirit and body type more than your age.
Giles: Yeah! Oh God yeah! I mean that whole “age appropriate” thing is a bit of a pedestrian point of view really. I don’t really give it much credence.
Jeanne: Good! We need more people like you telling us those things. But what do you think about women’s self-confidence? Do you feel we’re as confident as we ought to be?
Giles: It’s a funny one, isn’t it? That’s one of things that’s really interesting about coming out and doing events like this, because yes some of these ladies are very fashion aware on the whole, but some aren’t. This is a very important charity event. So you’re getting a very broad cross section of women. Women I’ve known have always been quite strong and confident women. Sure, I’ve got some friends who aren’t so overtly confident, or at least don’t appear that way. But when you get to know them, they are very much so. But within the context of clothing and confidence, I think it’s probably good that people are much more aware of fashion, and maybe that’s helping give a bigger cross section of people a bit more confidence
Jeanne: And do you find it gives you more motivation or maybe do you find it more challenging to know that you’re dealing with such savvy consumers?
Giles: Well, it keeps you on your toes. You can’t be lazy and just think, “Oh that’s fine…we’ll just do that again.” They’re very, very aware of what’s around, what’s working, what’s not working, what’s interesting… And fashion fans who like investing money in designer clothing want to feel that they’ve got something very special. From my perspective, it’s great that people are really knowledgeable and appreciative of the craftsmanship, the fabrics, and all the details.
Jeanne: What is fashion’s biggest problem today?
Giles: Probably addressing all the issues around sustainability. That’s where it’s really needing to do a lot more work…. working in ecological and sustainable areas, like with fabric production.
Jeanne: And are you exploring new technologies?
Giles: Over the years we’ve used a lot of eco-friendly cottons and silks but it’s just getting the time and the turnaround. It’s difficult but it’s something we’re definitely working on.
Jeanne: There’s so much talk about things being eco-friendly. Yet there’s still increasingly so much junk out there… fast fashion—stuff that seems so disposable: You wear it twice, and it falls apart….
Giles: That’s what I’m saying. That’s one of the biggest challenges that’s facing the fashion industry….
Jeanne: But you’re not a snob. I know you like the concept of making things accessible…
Giles: I do. I very much believe in the democracy of design. I think it’s highly important. If you don’t have the money, or you don’t choose to spend your money on something of mine, let’s say, that’s very expensive, then what you do buy should still be well-designed and well-produced and well-thought out. But I think that’s something that’s changed in everybody’s life, even interacting outside of fashion—like car design, or home interiors—everyone’s awareness of design is so much greater than it was 10 years ago.
Jeanne: So as you cultivate your brand and push it forward and really grow it to take on the world, is there one mantra that you keep repeating to yourself?
Giles: Work hard and be nice to people. That sort of works I think. You also have to make sure you’re not resting on your laurels, and that whatever it is that you put out there, you’ve put a lot of effort into it. The competition is huge now. So for anybody to spend their hard earned dollar, it’s got to have the right amount of design work and thought put into it. I fully respect that. I wouldn’t want to just flippantly go around spending money on something I didn’t really want or need. You want to want it, or you want people to want it. And I think that only comes through when you’ve put a lot of work into it and it’s really been well thought-out, well-cut, with nice fabrics. You know, is it appropriate for the people that you’re targeting? Does your customer really want to wear this? Is it great for image? You know all those things. So they can hit lots of different places….
Jeanne: Well your passion is infectious. And for you to come all the way to Toronto for such a small kind of show, that says a lot too.
Giles: I can remember years ago reading about various big name designers of the time who use to do like an awful lot of grassroots work… make all kinds of trips. I think it’s really important, and even more relevant now. The competition is so huge, you need to have that interaction with your customer. Obviously you can’t go everywhere but there are ways doing that and building a solid word of mouth, a business base of people who support and love your work is going to help you through all sorts of unusual economic times. I mean it’s fun and interesting to go and meet the real ladies who are buying and wearing the pieces. It’s very different from just doing red carpet things for people. These are real women who buy and spend well on designer clothes. And they’re the ones who are keeping all our industry properly working.