Julien Macdonald

JULIEN MACDONALD is a Welsh fashion designer with a celebrity client list which has included Beyoncé, Madonna, Cher, Jennifer Lopez and Kylie Minogue. In 2001, he was named British Fashion Designer of the Year and in March that year was appointed as chief designer at Givenchy.

Manufactured in Italy, his collections are available in luxury boutiques and shops across the world. His atelier is at Old Burlington Street, London.

“Fashion is something that can transform somebody’s life,” Macdonald said in an interview with Unblock magazine. “It can cheer you up, and transform you into a Hollywood star, by the transformation of a fabulous gown, a fabulous dress. Fashion makes most people happy.”

Macdonald has also become something of a television celebrity in his own right, appearing as a judge on Britain & Ireland’s Next Top Model and taking part as a contestant on the dance competition show Strictly Come Dancing.

Described by Hello magazine as a “knitwear genius”, he forms part of the media profile given to Welsh figures in the Cool Cymru movement, often referred to in fashion circles as the ‘King of Glamour’.

Macdonald was born on March 19, 1971, and was taught knitting as a boy by his mother. Even his father was handy with the needles and young Julien soon became interested in design. Aged 13, he was already creating cardigans for his family, and even reworked his school uniform.

He attended Cyfarthfa High School in his place of birth, the working class town of Merthyr Tydfil.

He went on to train as a tap dancer and was interested in a career as a dancer, 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 at the Faculty of Arts and Architecture, Brighton.

By the time Macdonald 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 already clamouring to use him.

Karl Lagerfeld, the creative supremo at Chanel, had noted his work and snapped him up to produce the French fashion house’s knitwear while he was still at college, a role that was accompanied with creating knitwear for top British fashion designer and couturier Alexander McQueen.

Macdonald later set up his own company which debuted its first collection at London Fashion Week. The young designer’s talent for publicity – which included him featuring a Michael Jackson lookalike in the audience – attracted plenty of press attention.

His catwalk shows would regularly feature celebrities; supermodel Naomi Campbell made a rare runway appearance, following in the footsteps of Spice Girl Mel B.

In 2001, after being named British Fashion Designer of the Year, Macdonald was appointed to the position of creative director at the Paris Haute Couture house of Givenchy as successor to McQueen.

Hello commented that Macdonald may have “seemed a strange choice for the chic Parisian couture house”, but added, “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.”

And explaining why celebrities were lining up to be seen in Julien Macdonald creations: “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.”

His first couture collection for Givenchy was unveiled in July 2001, and commentators expecting vintage Macdonald were given something of a surprise. The severe, all-black collection was a departure from the effervescent designer’s signature style, shocking assembled fashion writers. His ready-to-wear designs for the French label were presented in October 2001 to rave reviews.

Macdonald branched out in 2004, launching a more affordable range with high-street chain Debenhams, while maintaining his designer-to-the-stars status.

He 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?” asked Vogue magazine.

In June of the same year the designer was recognised in the Queen’s Birthday Honours with an OBE for services to fashion.

Despite continuing popularity among the A-list, the designer was never content to rest on his laurels: “Ideally, I’d like to build the London version of an empire like Roberto Cavalli or Dolce & Gabbana,” he said. “Why not? I haven’t done badly in the last 10 years.”

Perhaps inevitably for such a high-profile designer, Macdonald has had to deal with moments of controversy along the way. Early in the new millennium, he was selected by British Airways to redesign their flight attendants’ uniforms. Women’s groups accused him of turning the stewardesses into sex objects after Macdonald said that he aimed to make the on-board crew sexy again.

He has also attracted criticism for his use of fur, including one incident in which he and Paris Hilton were flour-bombed. He stated that fur provides the majority of his revenue and that his label would collapse were he not to use it. In 2017, however, Macdonald apologized for his previous use of fur, telling Reuters, “You do not need to kill animals to wear nice clothes.”

Macdonald has been involved in a number of fashion-ralted collaborations, involving everything from Barbie dolls, to spectacles and even beefburgers.

He started a partnership with Debenhams in 2003. ‘The Star by Julien Macdonald’ range was expanded to feature women’s occasional wear, accessories, homeware and make-up.

Next, he was asked to create a range of clothing for Barbie and unveiled his couture-clad doll at a glittering catwalk show jam-packed with fashion’s most stylish children, including Bob Geldof’s teenage girls Peaches and Pixie, dressed up in mini-skirts and high heels.

Macdonald showed off his kidswear line for Mattel’s Barbie label, with girls taking to the runway in a mix of tiny shimmering dresses paired with funky tights, oversized cowboy hats and rhinestone-studded jackets. “My inspiration for the collection was rock ‘n’ roll, glitter, and serious glamour,” said the designer,

In 2014, Macdonald launched an eyewear range in collaboration with Vision Express. At the launch party the designer said: “It was important that the collection accurately embraced the design and detailing that people know and love about the Julien Macdonald fashion house.

“Glasses are as much a statement fashion accessory as a handbag or earrings. For me, it’s about completing the picture, by having a pair of eye-catching frames to complement any outfit, and for any occasion. These are definitely not glasses to hide behind – these frames will put the wearer bang in the spotlight.”

In 2017, Macdonald was invited to bring his “undeniably glamourous aesthetic to combine fashion and food’s finest” when he teamed up with McDonald’s UK to create a special edition burger box for its new Signature Collection range of ‘gourmet’ burgers.

His chic burger-box design featured crystal detailing, embellishment and a bespoke digital print. “I drew inspiration from my fashion creations and iconic embellished red-carpet dresses,” he remarked.

The following year, Macdonald entered into a partnership with Victorian Plumbing to create five tile ranges for the online retailer. The ranges consisted of Miami Decadence, St Barts Glamour, Las Vegas Glitz, Hollywood Shimmer and New York Luxury.

He took his opulent style and streetwear attitude to the ski slopes in 2019 with the Dare 2b collection of designer snow wear, including ski jackets, ski suits and bras.

“The collection has been designed to bring together the world of specialist sportwear and luxury fashion design to provide slope glamour that will carry through to apres-ski,” said Macdonald.

Macdonald appeared as a judge on the British version of Project Runway, known as Project Catwalk, that was broadcast on Sky One and, in February 2010, was appointed as a new judge on Britain’s Next Top Model, alongside host and former supermodel, Elle Macpherson.

In September 2013, MacDonald was revealed as one of the contestants on the dancing competition television show Strictly Come Dancing.

During the show, he said: “I’ve become the unofficial Strictly fashion expert. Everyone takes pictures of themselves in the dresses and brings them to me. I’ll maybe say the hem could be a bit shorter, or suggest a few crystals, and then I hide from the costume maker.”

Julien Macdonald on the television show Strictly Come Dancing Picture credit: BBC

He was eliminated in the fourth week of the competition and Macdonald felt that the judges may have been a little harsh. “It does hurt because no one wants to be told you can’t dance,” he said. “But – I hate to say it – the comments are right. If they commented on my outfit I’d go mad, but they are right about the dancing!”