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Agyness Deyn Dazed Matt Irwin Katie Shillingford June 2007
Agyness DeynPhotography Matt Irwin, fashion Katie Shillingford; taken from the June 2007 issue of Dazed & Confused

Are you ready for the second coming of Agyness Deyn?

The model turned actor has been lying low in upstate New York. As she prepares to head back to the city for a new chapter, she spills some Indie Sleaze-flavoured tea on her colourful past

Every era of pop culture has its muses. At the height of Indie Sleaze – which I was there to witness IRL as a teen – it was model Agyness Deyn.

Her wonky peroxide crop, androgynous beauty, cultural knowledge, and Rochdale roots were part of the authentic allure and elusive sense of style that everyone tried – and failed – to copy. She dated and hung out with the rock stars of the moment at pubs, bars, clubs, raves, and squat parties. She lived between London, Paris, and New York, hopping runways from Chanel to Dior to Burberry to Jean Paul Gaultier and back again. She was the it-girl muse for Dr Martens, for which she released a debut collection that informed the 2010s uniform with stacked boots and creepers – including the now iconic, decade-old Jadon silhouette. She appeared on countless magazine covers (including Dazed & Confused’s May 2007 issue alongside her best friend, fashion designer du jour Henry Holland). She was everything. She was the moment. She was mother. 

The face which was once saved into various ‘FASHION INSPIRATION’ folders on the desktop of my shared family PC, is now looking back at me over a Zoom call. Deyn is dialling in from the home she shares with her husband and three children in Upstate New York for our interview. I’m a touch starstruck, but she’s so down to earth, I’m soon chatting away as though with a friend. “Yeah, just scrambling around today,” she says in a Mancunian lilt. Her hair is obviously just barely towel dried. “I was choosing between drying my hair or toast. So yeah, as you can see I chose toast.”

Hi Agyness. How are you? What has changed for you in the past however many years?

Agyness Deyn: So, I’m living in Upstate New York at the moment and I have been since COVID. It’s about two hours north of the city – very much the countryside. I’ve gone from 30 to 40. I got married, moved from modelling to acting in a bunch of English independent films, and did some theatre, which was amazing. And I think so much changes during these ages. I mean, before COVID me and my husband didn’t have any kids: and now we have three, which is mental.

So a lot has changed… But I think becoming a mother, plus COVID, puts a lot of things into perspective. I try to live in the moment and not plan too much for the future where I can help it. It’s about waking up, experiencing joy where you can. My oldest will be starting school soon, though. So we’re moving back to the city.

You might not like thinking about the future, but do you like to think about the past?

Agyness Deyn: Yeah, I do. I feel like from 17 – or even younger actually, more like 13 – I had a dream that I was going to leave and explore the world. My 20s were so fun, because I worked as a model for a long, long time. It was also during that time when I first came to New York and met Louis, my agent, through random connections. Someone wrote down his name on a napkin in a restaurant for me and said, ‘You should go see this guy!’ I remember practically camping out in his office until he would see me. He kind of ended up becoming kind of like my New York dad, my New York brother, my New York best friend, all in one. He gave me freedom to be myself. 

What about before then, at the start of your career, when you lived in Paris for a while? 

Agyness Deyn: When I was living in Paris, that was the start of it for me really. I think I was about 19. I wasn't doing very well at modelling during that time, but I was definitely trying. But I was having a great time in Paris, and I met these Russian guys that were really into 1950s music. But I also liked punk at the same time. They’d all dress like Teddy Boys, and they just knew all the places to go. So we went to all these, like, you know, underground concerts and squat parties. 

“[Indie Sleaze] cultivated my style. It was the effortlessness that was sought after, style wise. Because that was totally the style at the time, to look like you didn't give a shit even though you definitely did give a shit” – Agyness Deyn

Who did you meet during your time there? 

Agyness Deyn: I don’t know if you remember a band called the Cazals – but they were British, so I gravitated towards them. I ended up being invited to a party with them and there was this random guy taking photos of everyone. The guy asked if I wanted to come to his birthday party, and when I asked where it was he told me that his assistant would be able to give me details. I was confused as to why he had an assistant. Then he told me his name, Hedi. Which I thought was a lovely name! I called Henry [Holland] in London up on a payphone – there were no mobiles at that time – and told him the story and said we should go together. He clocked onto who it was and said, ‘You know that’s Hedi Slimane?’, and so we went to his birthday party. And that’s when my mind exploded. That’s where I met the Paddingtons, and then I obviously ended up being with Josh [Hubbard]. I just thought ‘Wow, these are my people’. It really felt like you were part of something.

Did you feel like you really cultivated your own sense of style and own identity during the ‘Indie Sleaze’ years?

Agyness Deyn: No, I think that time cultivated my style. It was the effortlessness that was sought after, style wise. Because that was totally the style at the time, to look like you didn't give a shit even though you definitely did give a shit. You kind of picked up what clothes were clean and just popped them on.

I remember the boys… their shoes would break and they would just fix them with the same gaffer tape they’d use for fixing the wires on stage. Dr Martens were also a huge part of that time for me. I mean, I’d always worn them when I was a kid; I grew up with them. I remember thinking that they always looked best when they were absolutely battered. I actually used to give my pairs to my sister, because she was into heavy metal music and would wear them to gigs for me. And they’d get battered up for me in the mosh pit. And of course I did a collaboration with them in 2013 that ended up being worn by Miley Cyrus during her image revamp, which was amazing.

So you and Henry [Holland] obviously have a really close friendship. During the 00s you were an iconic pairing. When did you first meet Henry?

Agyness Deyn: We met when we were about 12 in the bus station Rawtenstall. We went to different schools, but loads of kids caught buses from the same place. We just got on really, really well. And then I met his friend that he went to school with, Jess, and it just became the three of us as a crew, listening to Green Day and stuff like that. Henry was a skateboarder, but also really into fashion. He was always doing fashion projects and dressing us, and doing shoots like we were in a band and stuff like that. It was just so hilarious.

Then, when Henry moved to London to go to uni, I went along with him. I had three part time jobs, including being a cleaner in a burger diner in Hampstead, and then in a bar in West Hampstead. Which we got sacked from for giving out too many free drinks.

We have to talk about those iconic Henry Holland T-shirts: ‘FLICK YER BEAN FOR AGYNESS DEYN’. What’s the story behind them? Do you still own any?

Agyness Deyn: Yeah, I have all of them – I think they're in my mum’s loft. It was funny how they came about, really. We’d all been out one night and Henry was joking around making fun of us. We were dying laughing. I think Gareth [Pugh] and Giles [Deacon] were there as well. And he was like, ‘I gotta make these jokes into T-shirts!’ So he made them and then Giles and Gareth ended up wearing them for their shows. And then people kept asking about them. He made some more. And then started to sell them. The rest is history.

Sometimes the looks from that era could get quite… wild. Any fashion faux pas

Agyness Deyn: I think that was all part of the fun. I always just thought: what do I feel like wearing? You’d end up going out in a catsuit, or hot pants and a six inch heel, and you’d get cheers when you make your grand entrance to the pub or the club. Or there were times when you’d just wear your pyjamas out. My agent Louis was great because I was allowed to wear whatever I wanted. I wasn't told what to say in castings, or how to behave. I remember being given clothes to wear at castings and I literally would go into the toilet and change into them and feel so uncomfortable. So Louis stopped me from feeling like I had to. Those years were a great time for self expression.