February 18, 2013 LONDON
As Kristen McMenamy emerged in the first look of Giles Deacon's show this evening—white hair flowing, eye makeup appearing almost bruised, expression somewhat askance, clothed in a long white silk organza dress, modest yet extravagant, somewhere between the bridal and the funeral shroud—it appeared it was time for an excursion in melancholia. And a somewhat Pre-Raphaelite one, for good measure. But it is never quite as simple as that with one of Giles Deacon's collections, and what we actually got was a cross between high art and pop culture, the up and the down, intense craftsmanship and throwaway punch lines.
If there was an abiding theme for this collection—and it is always difficult to pin the designer down—it was heaven and hell, with McMenamy leading a cast of fallen angels. The show venue was the venerable Stationers' Hall, dating back to the seventeenth century, standing in close proximity to Saint Paul's Cathedral. It was here that Deacon had gathered chief inspiration for the collection, in the form of Viscount Melbourne's monument, the doorway to which is meant to be a portal to heaven or to hell, depending on which side you enter. This collection walked through the middle and had something of both.
There was a heavy debt to the sculptor and wood-carver Grinling Gibbons—again, his work features heavily in Saint Paul's. That was particularly the case in the carefully crafted gold laser-cut leather pieces of baroque curling feathers. But there was equally a debt to the American grunge music scene of the early nineties. The downbeat mood, the purposeful repetition of floor-sweeping full-skirted silhouettes, and the slouchy knitted caps had as much to do with this as any English baroque meditation on death.
Still, the real guiding principle of this collection was its craftsmanship, and that is what grounds Deacon as a designer. "This takes time, all of this work," he said after the show. "The latticed leather bodices alone took two months to perfect and complete. It simply is not fast fashion; it is fashion that is flamboyant, specialist, creative, and can often be made to order. It really should stand apart in that way." And it did. Despite the professed influence of the TV show Blackadder, and setting jokes aside—which is hard for Deacon to do—he is a serious designer who can really make clothes. Theatrical maybe, but in terms of the man-hours involved, the handcrafted techniques, and the level of skill shown, nothing comes close to this in London this week.