Sunday, 6 September 2009


Some careers are born by design, others by good fortune. Agyness Deyn was not born Agyness Deyn, but through a series of events the girl from Littleborough, who once worked in a chippy, became an internationally acclaimed model.

The girl who professes herself to be ‘happier mixing with [her] small circle of friends’ than attending fashion parties, is now at the epicentre of contemporary fashion. Agyness is part of a group of friends – designers, models, collaborators – who have grabbed the reins of modern fashion. When you can count designers like Henry Holland and Gareth Pugh as personal friends, the term ‘outsider’ no longer applies.

Everything about Agyness is the result of reflection and change. Deyn was born Laura Hollins in Littleborough, 1983, and only thought of changing her name when deciding to pursue a modelling career. Consulting her mother’s friend, who specialised in numerology, she was advised to change Laura to Agnes. Laura took the advice and further altered Agnes to the more unusual (and memorable) Agyness. The strategy, while unorthodox, paid off.

Agyness’ second piece of good fortune came when she was working in a fish and chip shop in 1998. The up-and-coming designer Henry Holland was a regular, met Agyness and the two immediately bonded over their love of fashion. Agyness was even scouted by a modelling agency rep whilst out shopping with Henry in Kentish Town. She signed with Select and began runway work in September 2006, modelling for Marc Jacobs’ diffusion line, plus cutting edge designers Proenza Schouler and Zac Posen.

Her runway debut, which already had her marked as someone outside the norm (even in fashion terms) was confirmed when, in November 2006, Deyn appeared on the cover of Italian Vogue sporting a bleached, cropped pixie-cut. Making that bold decision to change her image so drastically put Agyness on the map. But as with Twiggy forty years before, a hair cut is never just a hair cut.

Deyn’s incredible new look made her unmissable: the peroxide crop was exciting and fresh, something that ran counter to the ultra-feminine, doll-like look that was in favour at the time. Harder and tougher, it was something that went perfectly with the neon bright, Eighties-influenced clothes being produced by designers such as Richard Nicoll. Deyn’s attempt to get herself noticed could not have been better timed.

Her haircut, combined with her love of British fashion, nurtured as a result of her friendship with Henry Holland, made Agyness a startling presence both on the runway and in real life. Teaming her cropped hair with boyish, urban separates and eclectic accessories made Agyness eminently watchable.

Her own personal style, something that grew organically from her radical change in image, became a regular feature in fashion magazines. Her trilby hats worn with Wayfarer sunglasses made a vital connection not just with the fashion press, but more crucially, with the British public.

Her look, merging the best of designer and high-street fashion, became an inspiration for teenagers across the country. Girls began to crop and bleach their hair to match Deyn’s. The cool yet casual look played perfectly to fashion-conscious students of both sexes who were looking for something with more personality than a hoodie and a pair of jeans. Deyn rapidly became a taste-maker: whatever she wore, however she wore it, it was profiled, studied and copied. Through her personal style, Agyness Deyn connected with an entire generation in a way that few other contemporary models have managed.

Born in the dying days of the New-Romantic movement, Deyn’s punk-inspired look owes a great debt to Vivienne Westwood’s work during the late Seventies and progression into the early Eighties. The wild excess, tempered with a very real awareness of design and fashion history, is a British tradition that has translated to street fashion across the globe.

The mix of rebellion and high fashion that is embedded in Deyn’s look has formed a whole new level of street style, quite separate from the label-led sportswear trend. Whereas many fashion watchers presumed that the age of influence ended with Kate Moss, Deyn’s unique homage to street fashion has secured a revival of interest in the industry.

Deyn forms part of a later generation than Moss who came to modelling already equipped with an awareness of how modern media works. Deyn entered the industry with an understanding of the link between the popular press (tabloids and broadsheets) and the more traditional fashion media. Once absolutely divisable, it is now commonplace to find a tabloid devoting at least a page to a fashion story on a daily basis.

Previously scorned for its ‘outlandish’ and ‘unwearable’ creations, fashion receives a kinder deal as newspapers, eager to boost their own sales, have sharpened their approach to fashion journalism. They report fashion events with the same attention once reserved for domestic politics.

Fashion now sells papers on its own intrinsic merits, rather than on a dated notion of ‘shock value’. It is taken much more seriously, because the public have made that personal connection with what they wear, and what it says about them, and that connection has been bridged by people like Deyn.

Agyness’ triumph can be summed up in terms of how she has made street icon and fashion icon one and the same. Working with the best of British avant-garde design talent such as Gareth Pugh and landing campaigns for established labels like Burberry and Hugo Boss, proves that Deyn is the ultimate chameleon.

Deyn has, within the space of three years, become an unrivalled influence in contemporary street fashion. She has successfully challenged our pre-conceptions about what constitutes everyday style. Her commitment to transforming herself into one of the fashion world’s top players shows how, even early on, Agyness was prepared to take personal responsibility for her own career. To become one of fashion’s most recognisable faces takes more than self-belief.
It took tremendous nerve, but by having the guts to change her look when it wasn’t delivering the results she wanted, Agyness became one of fashion’s elite by rebranding her own image into something more daring and fashion-forward.

While everything from her hair to her name may be manufactured, it is important to see Deyn’s progress as something that did not happen merely as the result of wishful thinking. She took charge of her own success by turning herself (physically and emotionally) into the model she wanted to become. Marketing is as much about perusading yourself that you belong as convincing others of the fact.

In the short term, Deyn’s immediate legacy will be her extraordinary influence on street fashion.
But what will endure is her willingness and determination to craft her own future, leading us away from the notion that people who have succeeded have done so because they let success happen to them. It may not be the name on her birth certificate, but Agyness has built a name for herself in the fashion world that is synonymous with style and influence, and not being afraid to take a risk right at the moment when it counts the most.


1 comment:

  1. I love Agyness Deyn and this post. Her personal style is amazing. I like your thoughts on self marketing/ branding and her go-getter attitude. I actually just put a small post up about her: