Our Interview with International Fashion Commentator GODFREY DEENY
Fashion Editor, Godfrey Deeny, talks to Liz Greehy about Spring 2012; if Irish fashion is making any global impact; what kind of lady, sartorially speaking, he might dine with and what he will be looking for as Judge of the Hennessy Best Dressed Lady 2012.
The setting is a dark but cosy snug, tucked in off the large main entrance hallway at 53 Ailesbury Road, the Residence of French Ambassador, Her Excellency, Emmanuelle d’Achon and I’m sitting opposite a man who could easily be described as fashion journalistic deity.
As former Editor in Chief of Vogue HOMMES International, currently the Paris Bureau Chief at Women’s Wear Daily, the European Editor at Large of Fashion Wire Daily, a contributor to everything from Esquire and Details, to The International Herald Tribune, The Sunday Independent, Le Figaro and www.imaginefashion.com, it’s no wonder I was feeling somewhat overwhelmed in the presence of Godrey Deeny. Whilst I am busy wishing I had been blessed with an eidetic memory to preserve the moment, he straightens his Dior tie, gets comfortable and we begin.
“You gotta get lace” he starts in that gorgeous Northern lilt of his. Deeny hails from the North of Ireland but lives in Paris and spends his life travelling the world; taking his place on front rows at the most influential shows in fashion. He was referring to the ‘stand out’ elements from the ‘Spring 2012’ shows from which he had just returned. “You can wear it (lace) all hardcore like in Miu Miu (left) - where it’s almost like a tapestry. You can work it with a shirt or wear it with jeans. It’s about women trying to be feminine again but maybe just a little more lady like. With lace you can be opulent, courtly and couture - or you could wear it, not in an authoritative way, but as more of a damsel....”
“When someone like Miuccia Prada, who is like the ultimate feminist designer, does a show with mostly lace, then you know it’s big!” he states.
He leans back, relaxing somewhat into the chair and continues. “Then I think it (S12) is about Art Deco and old Hollywood – like we saw at Gucci. For instance, the kind of music we were hearing at shows in Milan was like Louis Armstrong music and snippets from Fred Astaire movies and quite a lot of shows had old soundtrack pieces mixed in with modern techno music. I think the Art Deco thing is particularly telling because that was the last time we had a Great Depression and people picked up on that at the time by creating new kinds of structural architectural shapes. That’s what we are seeing now”.
He takes a sip of his drink; it’s Hennessy. I seize the opportunity to push him on fashions past. “So, is our current obsession with those post war influences a nostalgia thing then?” I ask. “Are we looking backwards for comfort perhaps?” Deeny nods in agreement. “I think it is that yes. But there is also an inequality thing. Ok, so this is a bad recession” he acknowledges “...but it’s not as bad as the Great Depression was. There is a feeling however that some people are not paying for the experience and much like the whole art deco thing, it does result in an elitism in fashion; for good or for bad”.
He pauses again; seemingly mulling over what he had just said.
“One thing I do see though” he suddenly purports, “is that this (S12) is a much less slutty era ...if I can use that word”.
He can use any word he likes. He’s Godfrey Deeny, for goodness sake. “For instance” he clarifies, “I was at the Roberto Cavalli show (left) which is normally kind of ‘rock & roll’, almost Russian trophy girlfriend’ type of stuff - I don’t mean that critically – but this time, in his show, he also made use of lace and golden columns and very slick jackets and flapper style dresses that you could imagine people wearing in jazz nightclubs. It was all kind of chic and ladylike - and so when a designer like that is doing it, it’s prominent and it’s very telling about the genre we’re in now”.
Although not an overly physically expressive individual, there is an exciting animation in Deeny's face when he talks ‘design’.
“There is also a new kind of silhouette to contend with now” he goes on, matter of factly, “one which sits just below the knee and with fuller bigger shoulders” he clasps his hands together “....and the best collection I saw doing this was...” he lets the sentence hang for effect. Saunders I thought? Burberry perhaps?... “Lanvin” he stated with purpose. “Lanvin own this look. That will be the look for Spring 12. That is the look to watch for”. (Lanvin S12 above)
So with shape and detail now firmly on my mind, I was interested to probe if there were any particular aspects standing out from individual shows in London that perhaps weren’t appearing elsewhere. Deeny didn’t waste any time in replying. “One thing that you got in London but you didn’t really get in Milan or Paris in the same way, was the serious print thing – in America yes, predictably, but not elsewhere in Europe. Christopher Kane did it (in London)".
Another pause - he was clearly still pondering and something had just interrupted his train of thought. "And yes another thing" he abruptly continues "....everything is going really plasticised – a technical innovation where they seem to be able to plasticise materials like chiffon where they couldn’t before, but there was a lot of that in London. Actually, we saw it also in Jacobs’ collection in New York where the models were all like dance hall sweethearts. That set reminded me of a Wild West scene in the Rockies; vaguely decadent but with some suggestion of loose bars”. He laughs at his own analogy. “But” he goes on “... the main stand out details there (Marc Jacob’s) were all these floral prints with this plastic sheen broken into layers – and yeah, Christopher Kane (pictured) was the same thing, micro floral prints and this plasticised sheen”.
It is this keen eye for detail, which sets Deeny apart in the world of fashion journalism. He has an almost intimate knowledge of the collections and of the methods applied in creating them. Not just a regular face on the front row, Deeny has also met or interviewed almost every designer of note including Burberry’s Christopher Bailey, Karl Lagerfeld and Giorgio Armani. If anyone could be claimed an ‘expert’ on the finer details, it is he.
Staying on the subject of ‘detail’, I was anxious to know how important Deeny felt it was, that the overall theme of a collection and the finer details within it were unified. “Well” he starts “there is a big lean towards the aquatic theme – like we saw at Chanel and Givenchy. The set of Chanel was like an aquarium. It (Chanel S12) was held in the Grand Palais and there were giant white whales and giant shells and at one point, one of the shells opened up and Florence Welch was in one of them singing (pictured left). But overeall it was softer" he pointed out, refering, presumably, to their interpretation of the theme.
"The best aquatic that I saw was Givenchy (s12 picture left) with the actual structure of the outfits (he gestures along his rib cage) looking kind of like fish ribs – and the pendants depicting sharks teeth and so on. It was curious to see two of the biggest shows doing the same theme the day after the other”.
Ok, so now I was rapidly forming my own ideas on the kind of styles he loved, so I boldly asked him was he personally drawn to ladies who were fearless in fashion or more classic and elegant. A cheeky glint appeared in his eyes. “Aw I love a fashion freak” he said with a mischievous smile. “As long as she knows her own body shape and what looks well on her - If I was going out to a nightclub I would like to go out with a girl in one of the silver sequined kind of fish scales dresses from the Givenchy show. If I was going to take her to lunch or dinner I would like to see the Miu Miu influence there - that kind of 'street meets couture' look, ike Isabel Marant, Givenchy or Alexander Wang – that’s the lunch dinner look. And finally, if I was going to take someone away for the weekend it would be in some of the crazy volcanic colours and shapes like we saw in Bottega Venetta" he went on with fervour " You see, I don’t think people are obsessed enough with style. People should be more obsessed by it. Too many people think of style as a threat and are a bit scared or intimidated by that. But I like fashion freaks I think they make the world a happier and better place”
So at this point I realise, that armed with that knowledge - and perhaps, a lottery win - I might someday be sartorially interesting enough to dine with Mr Deeny (pictured left with Her Excellency, Emmanuelle d'Achon). But parking my now brand new mission to 'Dine with Deeny' for a moment, I moved on because I was very keen to extract, from the man with a birds’ eye view on the international fashion scene, what kind of an impact Irish fashion design was really making outside of home?
He had to think about this for a moment. I wasn’t sure whether that was such a good sign.
“John Rocha still creates a buzz” he finally conceded. “I know hundreds of designers and I’ve been to many designers homes or apartments and two of the half dozen that I have really liked have both been John Rochas. There is Eilis Boyle and Lainey Keogh... Philip Treacy is clearly in the top two of the world’s best milliners. Irish fashion may not be on the map in the same way as Irish literature or music but it has managed to carve a little bit of a niche for itself. More so than Brazil or even Rome has – Irish designers may not be regularly at the biggest shows but they are punching above their weight. I’ll give them that”
Conscious that my time with Godfrey was coming to an end, I finally asked what he would be looking for as Judge of the Hennessy Best Dressed Lady Competition in association with the Design Centre in February next year. A little inside information for the ladies hoping to partake in the competition perhaps?
“I am looking for women who are at ease in their own skin, who wear clothes that they feel good about themselves in. I want someone who stands out but isn’t deliberately attention seeking and someone who has panache but at the same time, whose style corresponds to the setting she is in”. Sounds like a rather testing balance to strike, but with a prize of a €7,000 voucher for the Design Centre up for grabs, I don’t doubt many will be up for the challenge.
So, that was it. My time was up.
“I like Kilkee you know” he said as we got up to go, making reference to whereabouts I hail from. “I had a romantic tryst there many years ago" he offered, hands in pockets and with a distant glance towards the impressive gardens behind us. 'Was she sashaying down the prom in Bottega Venetta?, I wonder secretly'. “Well, you were in good company” I point out. “Che Guevara, Richard Harris and Charlotte Bronte are all past visitors to Kilkee”. “Really?” he asks, as we turn to walk down the hall.
“Really? …Che Guevara?”
I leave him with the image of an infamous Cuban Revolutionary strolling through the seaside town of Kilkee and pledge that I would definitely meet AND dine with Mr Deeny again - hopefully sooner rather than later.