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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Designer Giles Deacon on the intimacy of couture

The British designer on his Aspinal of London collection, his love for couture and designing Pippa Middleton's wedding dress

British designer Giles Deacon launches his collaboration with Aspinal of London at The Dubai Mall. Aspinal of London
British designer Giles Deacon launches his collaboration with Aspinal of London at The Dubai Mall. Aspinal of London

“I don’t really design for wallflowers,” Giles Deacon explains at the unveiling of his new collaboration with Aspinal of London. And the Aspinal women dotted all over this new capsule collection of bags, scarves and purses are anything but. “I drew these characters that exemplify the Giles x Aspinal world: global, cosmopolitan, inclusive ladies,” he says.

“I decided to do Aspinal through my eyes. I didn’t want to make a load of new bag shapes because they have fabulous shapes already. To amplify that meeting of a quintessentially British viewpoint and the couture world, and see how they creatively collide – that was what I was hoping to get,” Deacon explains.

The full Giles x Aspinal collection at the flagship Dubai store. Aspinal of London
The full Giles x Aspinal collection at the flagship Dubai store. Aspinal of London

The result sees Deacon’s illustrations embossed on to Aspinal’s classic clutches and trunk bags, giving them a fresh lease of life. “I just wanted them to be gorgeous, ephemeral objects — desirable things that you want to keep. And timeless as well. In 15 years’ time, they will be as relevant as they are now.”

He officially launched the collection in the UAE last week, alongside Aspinal's creative director Mariya Dykalo, at the British accessories brand's flagship store at The Dubai Mall. The UAE launch follows the collection’s release in the UK and the US - marking the first time Aspinal of London has been available stateside.

It was during a couture fitting with Mariya, who also happens to be married to Aspinal owner Iain Burton, that the collaboration was dreamt up. “She has been a client for a couple of years and she is always arriving at my studio with these fantastic bags, boxes and vanity cases - beautiful things," Giles says. “About a year ago, she suggested that we get together and do a capsule holiday collection of bags and I said: ‘That sounds like a wonderful thing to do.'”

In fact, such has been the success of the initial collection, that the partnership has been made permanent. Deacon was appointed design director of Aspinal of London in October and will oversee the brand’s core line, as well as conceptualising two collections a year going forward. “We have pretty much got everything organised for London Fashion Week in February and I will be overseeing the whole collection,” he says. “We will properly start for September 2019, which is looking lots of fun, and we have a got a real treat in store.”

Designer Giles Deacon outside the flagship Aspinal store in Dubai. Aspinal of London
Designer Giles Deacon outside the flagship Aspinal store in Dubai. Aspinal of London

All of this, of course, comes on top of running his own couture empire. It’s a business that takes him to all corners of the world, and sees him spending a lot of time in the Middle East. “I have been coming here for 15 years, and I am lucky to have clients here. Over here, people have a really high standard for uniqueness, quality and craftsmanship, which I love. For a designer like me, they are like a dream client.”

Deacon has been at the forefront of British fashion design since the early noughties, when he created his own label after stints working with Bottega Veneta and Gucci. His ready-to-wear Giles designs were among some of the most eagerly anticipated collections coming out of the UK at the time.

But that line has now been put on hiatus, allowing him to focus entirely on couture since 2016. And it’s clear from our conversation that Deacon’s love for couture is born in large part out of the intimacy of the process. From the red carpet to bridal, he has been’s trusted to dress some of his client’s’ most defining moments, although one of his buyers, he confides, never leaves the house in hers – wearing a different piece of couture each night just to have dinner with her husband. “Not bad,” he jokes. “She doesn’t wear them out at all – she buys it for home.”

Pippa Middleton's wedding dress was designed by XXXX. AP photo file
Pippa Middleton's wedding dress was designed by Giles Deacon. AP photo file

One of those defining moments, for both bride and designer, came in May last year, when Pippa Middleton wed James Matthews in a Giles Deacon design. With its high collar and open back, the lace gown became an instant classic, making headlines worldwide. “It was brilliant to get that commission,” the designer recalls. “From start to finish, it took about seven months. It was a beautiful dress to work on, and it was brilliant waking up the next day and seeing all the Sunday newspapers coming through on my phone. As the world woke up, round it went. I think we got – bar two or three papers – every single front cover. I think her and her sister [Kate Middleton] are brilliant in the way they support British designers; they are phenomenal ambassadors for lots of British labels.”

Creating Cate Blanchett’s show-stopping Cannes dress in 2015 was another defining moment for the British designer. The custom-made gown has since been named multiple times as one of the best dresses ever worn at the film festival. “I am very happy with that,” he proudly says. “I have been so lucky. I have had so many [red carpet moments] over the years. One of the most recent was Sarah Jessica Parker at the [New York City] ballet premier. We made her a divine bespoke tomato red balloon gown, with this gorgeous big train. We were waiting for her to arrive, she didn’t arrive, she didn’t arrive, and I am thinking: ‘Oh my god there has been a malfunction and she has had to go to Zara on the way’. But eventually she arrived, and she looked extraordinary, so that was a highlight.”

The Girls Print Mini-Trunk from the Giles X Aspinal collection. Aspinal of London
The Girls Print Mini-Trunk from the Giles X Aspinal collection. Aspinal of London

Deacon counts Parker as a long-time client, and the actress helped land him a recent high-profile collaboration with the New York City Ballet, where he worked alongside choreographer Kyle Abraham to design monochrome creations for The Runway – a piece that brings the music of Jay-Z and Kayne West on to the prestigious stage. “[Kyle] has a very idiosyncratic outlook on contemporary dance and ballet. We just started working together, and it was very organic. It was a good learning curve for me, which I loved. Anything that is a new element to add to the design world, it’s great.

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“I love working with people and that collaborative idea. I am not the reclusive designer who wants to cut all his own patterns and hardly show his face. I think that’s why I love ­couture so much, it’s all that involvement with the client.”

And this couture mindset will remain at the forefront of his design work with Aspinal. “The design process for me always begins with the character – it’s who’s going to be wearing the piece and where she’s going,” he says. “My clients come to me for that sense of uniqueness, and something that they are not going to get anywhere else. That’s what I like to get across in all my work.

“There is no point doing something that’s already being done by everyone else,” he concludes.