Julien Macdonald - Biography
The appointment of Welsh designer Julien Macdonald to the top design job at Givenchy seemed a strange choice for the chic Parisian couture house. After all, the knitwear genius is the celebrities' choice of designer - with his high-on-glamour, low-on-fabric creations guaranteeing headlines the following morning. The designer managed to secure healthy profits for the label, however, and after a successful three years he moved onwards and upwards.
Born in the Welsh town of Merthyr Tydfil on March 19, 1972, Julien was raised in a family with a talent for knitting even his father was handy with the needles. Aged 13, Julien was creating cardigans for his family, and even reworked his school uniform.
His first love was dancing, however. He trained as a tap dancer and set his heart on a career in the spotlight, either as a hoofer or an actor. But a one-year foundation course at Cardiff Art College revealed his talent for fabric design, and spurred him into enrolling on a degree course in Fashion Textiles course in the British seaside town of Brighton.
By the time Julien presented his graduate show in 1996 at London's Royal College of Art, where he had chosen to do his MA in knitwear, the fashion pack were clamouring to use him. But Karl Lagerfeld, the creative supremo at Chanel, had noted his work and already snapped him up to produce the French fashion house's knitwear while he was still at college. So impressed was the German-born designer by Julien's work on the Chanel line he was invited to share a curtain call with Kaiser Karl a rare accolade.
A year later Julien set up his own company which debuted its first collection at London Fashion Week. The press loved it probably something to do with the British designer's talent for publicity he has featured a Michael Jackson lookalike in the audience, and his catwalk shows regularly feature celebrities supermodel Naomi Campbell made a rare runway appearance in 2000, following in the footsteps of Spice Girl Mel B, who caused a near riot when she strutted her stuff.
Julien's ability to design show-stopping, barely-there numbers is clearly appreciated by the rich and famous. Who could forget Joely Richardson's film premiere entrance in a backless gold mini-dress, or the knitted pink creation which revealed more of Kelly Brook's curves than it concealed? And Geri Halliwell stole the show from the stars of Bridget Jones's Diary at the UK premiere when she walked up the red carpet in one of Julien's frocks.
In March 2000, just before the Givenchy job was announced, the designer unwittingly walked into a storm when British Airways commissioned him to redesign the airline's flight attendants' uniforms. Women's groups accused him of turning the stewardesses into sex objects after Julien said that he aimed to make the on-board crew sexy again.
His first couture collection for Givenchy was unveiled in July 2001, and commentators expecting vintage Macdonald were shocked. The severe, all-black collection was a departure from the effervescent designer's signature style and, while showing off Julien's technical mastery of cutting, stunned assembled fashion writers. His ready-to-wear designs for the French label were presented in October 2001 to rave reviews.
The Welsh wonder branched out in 2004, launching a more affordable range with high-street chain Debenhams, while maintaining his designer-to-the-stars status. Julien scored quite a coup when he persuaded Paris Hilton to take to the catwalk in February 2006 during London Fashion Week. "Who else could bring Paris to London?" mused Vogue magazine. In June of the same year the designer was honoured with an OBE.
The appearance of supermodel Naomi Campbell on his catwalk in February 2007 underlined Julien's continued popularity among the A-list, and yet the designer is not content to rest on his laurels. A homeware collection, jeans line and menswear range are all under discussion. "Ideally, I'd like to build the London version of an empire like Roberto Cavalli or Dolce & Gabbana," he says. "Why not? I haven't done badly in the last 10 years."