Collaborations between designers, photographers, and stylists have always been critical to the creative process of fashion, but few have remained as consistent over the years as the partnership between Giles Deacon, Solve Sundsbo, and Katie Grand.
For roughly two decades, there has been the trio of Deacon, the delightfully creative English designer; Sundsbo, the Nordic photographer known for his precisely fluid imagery; and Grand, the nonstop stylist and editor of avant-garde fashion magazines. Every season since Deacon began his label in London in 2003, they have found a moment backstage or in Deacon’s studio to document in a photo shoot the many amazing models that have walked along his runways. And before that, they created ad campaigns together for Bottega Veneta, where Deacon had been head of design prior to its acquisition by Gucci. And before that, Deacon and Grand had been classmates at Central Saint Martins in London.
A few years ago, while browsing archived images on a work computer, Deacon realized there was enough material to fill a book, and thus came GilesSolveKatie, out from Laurence King Publishing this summer. The book has been a big hit in fashion circles with its unusual bright yellow cover – “That Kodak yellow is a real favorite of mine,” Deacon says. “As a child of the Seventies, that color is ingrained on my retina.”
It also offers as a fascinating history of modeling of the last two decades, from the Bottega Veneta images from 1999 starring Laura Delicata to the sharp portraits of Gisele Bundchen that had initially been commissioned by Grand for The Face magazine after Deacon’s first show – but never saw the light of day because the magazine closed a few days after the shoot. Throughout the book are images of Missy Rayder, Karen Elson, Stella Tennant, Linda Evangelista, Lottie Moss, Andreja Pejic, and many, many more.
“The girls all like to come to London to do our shows,” Deacon says. “With Katie’s pull from the magazine and Solve’s as well, they come because they know they’re going to have a nice time and have some nice pictures taken.”
It was actually Grand’s idea to begin creating shoots around each collection, because “she can never do enough work,” Deacon says. “She thrives on it.” And the designer found that the excitement and drama of pulling a group of models together to create an impromptu image actually added to the drama and excitement of putting on his shows. What’s most remarkable is that the finished images, created over 20 years, look as if they had been conceived as a cohesive fashion editorial.
“There is a surprising sense of timelessness to the images, which is also what I would hope to achieve in my designs,” Deacon says.
Of course, the details do reflect their moment, perhaps in unexpected ways. An image from 2012, for example, shows Julia Nobis holding a small bunny. That was Tallulah, a rabbit that lived in the Giles studio at the time (she later moved to a home for children because she spent too much time nibbling on the photo books in Deacon’s office). Another from 2015 depicts Lineisy Montero wearing a headpiece that appears to be made of at least a dozen spanner wrenches entwined with wire. It looks as if it must have weighed a ton, but it was actually as light as cardboard, as Stephen Jones, the milliner, had created the hat by photocopying a wrench and pasting the images to foam board.
“They weighed absolutely nothing,” Deacon says.
Beyond the three names in the book’s title, it is ultimately the models who are the star of Deacon’s shows, and that’s something the designer has always believed set him apart in fashion.
“I cannot bear when there are runways filled with a homogenized type of look,” he says. “I don’t want to say we were always banging the drum of diversity, but for me, I’ve just always been interested in models as people and characters.”