Designer Richard Malone discusses his AW17 collection, influences and the industry.
words by Ellie Brown
There’s more than what meets the eye in the bold, sculptural shapes of Irish designer, Richard Malone. Having studied at Central Saint Martins, working back in Ireland to pay the tuition fees, he brings a refreshing, and long overdue perspective to the fashion industry. Whilst the kaleidoscopic prints and textures look amazing, practicality is high up on Malone’s agenda. Since graduating in 2014, the designer has been making waves, having been selected in 2015 and 2016 for the Fashion East scheme – whilst he was announced as one of the BFC’s prestigious “NEWGEN” designers earlier this year.
NR Magazine: Can you talk through the inspiration of public transport in the shapes and patterns of the AW17 Collection?
Richard Malone: I’m always documenting people through photography and drawing, especially travelling back and forth between Wexford, where I’m from in Ireland, and London. I take the ferry across, and there’s just loads and loads of different patterns around. I started drawing and developing these patterns, elevating them in a way, but also keeping the repetition – so like, taking a tacky floor repeat pattern and completely changing the colours or the scale. I think as a design they’re really overlooked, so it was really nice to do something super modern with them.
NR: You had dancers perform in your designs at the AW17 show; if they can dance wearing what you create, what else can the Richard Malone-wearing woman do?
RM: A lot of the sculptural silhouettes that I create are super soft or super fluid, so they’re actually really easy to take care of and manoeuvre in. So I did it to prove that you can dance - or work - in them. I really relate to the women I have as private clients because there’s so much shit that they have to do in the day. You know, it’s not about clothes being made for just standing there, looking pretty, or for the sake of Instagram. These are clothes to actually be worn, and so, as much as you can describe the shapes as ‘avant-garde’, they’re also completely functional. at, for me, is the challenge of design.
NR: How do you marry the sculptural elements of your de- signs with their durability? As a designer, how do you make that work?
RM: It’s a case of trial and error you know, it’s about getting to a point where the designs can be made and work on very different body types. They’re made very separately from the body, they’re these very at, abstract shapes – and then, I try them on, other people try them on, making sure that you can move your arms, etc.
NR: Looking at your work, there’s this strong sense of craftsmanship in your designs – can that be attributed to your time at CSM, and work since, - or is this something that predates your “formal education”?
RM: I think it definitely does: I grew up working on building sites so if I ever wanted to make anything creative, I’d use industrial masonry paint, or make things from Polyfilla because that’s all that was available to me. So I suppose, for me, I’ve always been craft-driven in a sculptural and abstract way. Also, being surrounded by so many uniforms and codes of dress in a working class environment is definitely going to influence how you see function. For me, too, I never did a Foundation or anything before studying; I just came from doing this sculpture-y stuff.
NR: It’s an unusual approach to a lot of people coming into design, but the quilted elements in your designs connote a sense of tradition – is that deliberately so?
RM: Yeah definitely. It’s quite a basic, it’s something that everyone will be familiar with, and it was in my design vocabulary. I’m familiar with quilting from growing up, and being in a caravan or my grandmother’s front room. I think there’s a squishy homely feel to some of them.
NR: I can imagine the quilted elements really work with the importance of practicality in your designs, on a comfort level.
RM: Easy as well! It’s really tightly woven double jacquard cotton that’s all hand-woven and finished. I think it’s nice to wear something that you know someone has really worked on it – which is something that can be quite rare in the fashion industry.
NR: You can really tell when you’re wearing something that you know someone has genuinely put a lot of effort into creating it.
RM: Yeah, and building relationships with buyers, or even those who are just interested in my work – so that they can see, straight off, that this is something that really is crafted. If people are going to have these clothes and wear them for a long time, that’s a really great thing – it’s the biggest compliment you can get.
NR: I guess, then, is that the point of being a designer?
RM: I mean, yeah; I think that is is. There’s a lot of stuff out there that is made for the sake of the image, and that’s never been my interest. I don’t like putting out images of the collection, and I absolutely hate runway images because it really flattens the designs, especially if you do something that’s sculptural. Obviously, it’s got to look nice on a runway image, but for me it’s much more about the three-dimensional.
NR: What do your designs aim to say in terms of confronting the issue of class?
RM: It’s about merging things, and showing that the clothes that I grew up with are as valid as couture and high end clothes. I think the frustration for me is when, say, people deal with working class imagery, or chav culture – but they’re not from that culture. They’re just looking at it as an image. It’s quite a sensitive subject I think, especially when you’re just trivialising what other people do without acknowledging what those clothes might actually mean for a whole community of people.
NR: One thing that can be quite problematic, I think, is when uniforms are virtually ripped off, but with a huge price tag added.
RM: I know; I guess the customers are quite detached from it anyway. To them, there’s no concept of what that might actually mean or might actually be. There’s also never any challenge to the designer to elevate that in any way. It’s essentially just appropriating from a less well off group of people. It’s just bizarre, literally bizarre. I guess you can polish anything and someone will want to buy it, if it’s heavily branded.
NR: So with your designs then, how can they tackle the issue of the appropriation of the working classes that exists in fashion?
RM: I’m very vocal about my feelings towards the industry, and that I have to defy it – I couldn’t have gone to university if I’d gone one year later because of the price of the fees. There’s this disconnect. I’ve not just gone to university, I’ve grown up around grafters and craftspeople and you know, it’s very much: you get up, you go to work, you learn your craft really well and that’s the way of working that I was used to. You put on your uniform. That’s very personal to me, but also very new to other people - they’re getting a different perspective of things, I hope.
NR: Is there a danger that the inspiration for your collections (i.e. public transport for AW17 / mother’s Argos uniform for SS16, and your surroundings growing up more generally) will be interpreted as ephemeral even if that was the case, would it matter?
RM: Yeah I guess there’s that, but I think a lot of the time there are journalists who read things on one level – and interpret it as “this means this”, whereas there’s a lot more that goes into it. That Argos uniform, for example, that’s more about the actual differences between the male and female uniform. What I found absolutely ridiculous and what really frustrated me was what’s acceptable for men and what’s acceptable for women. And I guess, you almost don’t want to put out a press release sometimes because people will read too much into something.
NR: I can imagine it’s a difficult thing to put together, because there’ll be one small thing that gets blown out of proportion.
RM: Yeah, and I want to be transparent with the way that I work, but sometimes it can get misconstrued. I wouldn’t say I come up with things necessarily from a “from my childhood” experiences approach, it’s more that I was learning different codes, and ideas – and they’re still relevant now. These aren’t historical experiences I’m using, they’re codes and ideas that are still there.
NR: Would it go too far to suggest that, by incorporating the everyday aspects of working class culture in your designs, there’s a political sentiment in what you’re doing?
RM: Yeah, I think that that’s kind of right; like seeing it in a context. If you’re doing something that’s a bit abstract or creative, and if you have a voice – by doing that, it’s rebellious. It’s not just about putting slogans on something or trying to do something really obvious… it’s about being creative in the industry, and being bold about what you do is enough. I think that that’s the thing that lasts.
NR: Now that you’re working in London, would you say the influence on your work has shifted?
RM: I guess you inevitably respond to things you’re surrounded by - you don’t realise you’re doing it. I feel quite lucky, in a way, that I get to go back to Wexford and have a conversation with someone who’s completely outside of it all because their views are fresh, whether it’s good or not. I don’t think opinions are valid only from people who know about the industry – it’s really nice to get an opinion on your work. That’s very human.
NR: It’s so easy, in anything that you do you can get so absorbed in one thing, sometimes you need a fresh perspective to clarify things.
Exactly, especially sometimes in London, where it’s such a bubble. I think in London, you have to remember that you have to keep your identity and not lose that - or become just a ‘London designer’ because that wouldn’t be right either.