Giles Deacon is stumped. The celebrated British designer, trying to describe his eponymous, decade-old label, says after a considerable pause, “There’s one side of Giles that’s gothic, dark, and beautiful, and then there’s the playful—though definitely not ironic—side.” With some brands, adjectives come easy. Urban. Minimal. Avant-garde. With Giles, there’s always duality in the description: modest yet extravagant, graceful yet wild, sweet yet vicious, serious yet kooky. As a catchall, the 44-year-old Londoner suggests “sideways flamboyance.” Perhaps it’s closer to something like “ineffable chaotic harmony,” or, as a critic for Style.com aptly called it, “randomness incarnate,” a slippery blend of familiar notions that never quite fit together, except in their balance on the body.
The ineffability of Deacon’s forms underscores his artistry in an industry built on merchandising. Deacon belongs to a generation of Central Saint Martins graduates, including Alexander McQueen, Hussein Chalayan, and Stella McCartney, known for their persistence of vision. While his peers were causing runway ruckuses in the second half of the ’90s, Deacon was working to realize the vision of other brands, first with French designer and marquis Jean- Charles de Castelbajac, then as head designer of Bottega Veneta, and finally while assisting Tom Ford at Gucci. It wasn’t until 2004 that Deacon launched Giles at London Fashion Week, unleashing an arsenal of ’70s-infused looks that were uptight yet perverse, mature yet coquettish, and flamboyant yet tangible.
Deacon’s instinctual juxtapositions recall F. Scott Fitzgerald’s assertion that “the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” There’s dark beauty and sincere playfulness in these pieces—one part, according to Deacon, “stately home or art gallery and another that’s a bit like a ’70s sitcom.” Deacon’s Fall/Winter 2009 collection (one of his personal favorites) paired the retro-futurism of thigh-high Barbarella boots with bulky gauntlets knit to resemble a wild animal’s pelt. That year, Deacon’s gorilla-armed models wore deconstructed corsetry, peacock feather prints, gray flannel, and metallic leather with horned French berets and UFO-like hats. The mix could—and in anyone else’s hands should—have been a mess. But Deacon transformed the bricolage into a captivating, otherworldly vision.
For Spring/Summer 2013, Deacon’s playful side sparkles, though the devil lies in the details. The dresses—baby dolls and ball gowns, pinafores and prom numbers—look like something a little girl would craft for her dolls if she could laser-cut leather and tier tulle. Teams of horses gallop across straight suits and billowy skirts. Many garments appear to have been made from found materials (crumpled sheets of Xerox paper or black garbage bags) but closer inspection reveals extraordinary compositions of holographic pearl jacquard and crinkled black leather.
The collection rollicks with childlike wonder and exuberance, but still maintains subtle seriousness. Leather, cut into choppy dentelle, forms a pattern of shattered glass, a motif that reappears printed on silk and shaped out of crystals. Pop artist Allen Jones, best known for his forniphilic sculptures, and cult figure Jayne Mansfield, the blue-collar Marilyn Monroe who died tragically in a car accident, were two of Deacon’s inspirations. The pop perversity of Jones’ pneumatic women is evident in the collection’s graphic curves; the Mansfield reference suggests that the brilliant bodice of a skater dress might symbolize a smashed car windshield, and a silver red carpet number a cracked mirror.
“I’m not one to pick out a single reference,” Deacon says. “The starting point often gets lost along the way, in the crafting process, and I like that because I end up with clothes that have a sort of timelessness.” Deacon’s wild array of references reflects what he calls his “magpie” nature, but his label’s mainstay is, and has always been, its creator’s dedication to the art of the object. Like a Surrealist painting, the references clash, but Deacon’s artistry brings harmony to the chaos.