"She's the girl everyone wants to be," says Christopher Bailey, creative director of Burberry and the first designer to cast model Agyness Deyn in a global advertising campaign. "She's free-spirited and always stands out from the crowd." Deyn, 22, who says she was "spotted" wandering around London's Kentish Town, has landed in fashion's white-hot spotlight not only because of her unique androgynous look but also her funky personal style. She'll show up at any number of advertising shoots (Burberry, Armani, Galliano) or fashion shows in her signature nonchalant mix of a plaid blazer worn over a 1920s-vintage dress. "I've always been into fashion, always changing the way I looked, ripping up and putting stuff together," she says.
Growing up in Littleborough, a suburb of Manchester, Deyn never dreamed she would land on the cover of a magazine, not to mention have a handbag named after her (Mulberry's putty-colored Agyness bag). But Deyn caught the fashion bug early on, switching her hair color from pink to blue on a whim and ultimately even changing her name from Laura Hollins to something that would stand out, just like her. She took her style cues from guys, not girls. "The whole punk, skinhead thing really inspired me," she says. "I loved models like Stella Tennant with her nose rings and Karen Elson with her red hair and shaved eyebrows."
Despite the fact that her first professional foray into fashion landed her at the top (the November 2006 cover of Italian Vogue with photographer Steven Meisel), Deyn remains remarkably grounded. "Sometimes I wonder how the hell I got here," she says with a shrug. "I got lucky, I guess, though I still feel like the kid in the Dr. Martens boots that I was when I started." She owes a lot of her perspective to the fact that she didn't begin modeling until she was 18. "I had already worked as a cleaner, a waitress and behind the counter in a chip shop, so I sort of knew who I was and who I wanted to be," she says.
Last year Deyn was named British Fashion Council model of the year. "It was just amazing to win, and it's a very nice lump of glass. I gave it to my mum," says Deyn. At the awards ceremony, guests were surprised to see Deyn talking on her cell phone as she stepped up to the podium. "I was actually on the phone to my mum when they announced it," she says with a laugh. "I just kept her on the phone and went up to collect it. I don't think she gets what I do, so it was really exciting to share it with her."
Modeling, Deyn says, "is kind of like silent-movie acting." Now Deyn, who plays in a band appropriately named the Lucky Knitwear, has her eye on a future in film. "I'd love Shane Meadows [director of This Is England] to call me up!" she says. Until then, Deyn is not taking anything for granted. "Sometimes I'm a funky frock lady, and other times I just go to the opposite character that the clothes dictate. I like to have fun."