After graduating from Central Saint Martins last year winning the LVMH Award and the Deutsche Bank Award, Richard Malone has then since gone on to orchestrate his own guerrilla presentation in Old Street Station during AW15 London Fashion Week. Attended by the likes of Suzy Menkes and has had likes of pop sensation Lorde wear his clothes. We spoke to the passionate young designer about his plans for the future and his inspirations.
Illustrations: Richard Malone
You won the LVMH Award during your BA degree at Central Saint Martins, which is extremely exciting and special. How has this helped since finishing?
Having the support of LVMH for my final year was amazing. Its the first time I’ve ever been able to fully concentrate on my own work. As an Irish student I was never able to get the maintenance loan, so it was a real struggle. I’m not from the kind of family where my parents could afford to fund my education or help out financially, so I always had to work loads of part time jobs and undertake freelance work that I really didn’t enjoy. I really didn’t expect to get the award either. When I met with them I remember saying a load of things that I wouldn’t do. I insisted on using waste fabric, I insisted on using my own research as opposed to sitting in a library and photocopying ‘cool’ images.
I generally spoke about how shitty I thought fashion was now, how no one seems to be considering cutting or finishing or the actual garment, and its like this wheel of neoprene or denim shift dresses that everyone is churning out, and it seems very vapid to me, everyone wants to be a mega brand instead of just making what they believe in and letting it grow organically.
The thing is I’m incredibly passionate and I always say it as it is, I think they found that quite refreshing. LVMH seemed to like it anyway and the next day I got the email confirming the sponsorship, and since then they have been really supportive and always encouraging.
You showed your Autumn/Winter 15 collection over London Fashion Week, how was the response? Also what were the reactions like over the fact you decided to boycott a show and also sponsorships in favour of setting up shop in Old Street Station?
The response has been amazing. I’m in touch with really exciting stores all over the world and everyone I’d hoped would come seemed to come along. A lot of people were a bit taken aback that I banned photography in the space, but for me it’s not about instagram or images or looking cool, its really about the clothes – the cutting and the finishing.
I’m not interested in inviting the kind of people who go to shows just to be seen, thats never what I’ve been about. There is a lot to be said for a little privacy.
The designs in your new collection, some looked like developments from your graduate collection. Is this intentional? Are you focusing on developing signature shapes?
For me, I design very intuitively, so I feel like my garments will always look like they’re from me. I don’t sit around making mood boards and trying to create collections that look exactly like the research images, that seems counter intuitive to me. I spend the majority of my time pattern cutting and fitting, and the rest figuring out how it can be finished really well, otherwise to me it’s a toile.
What’s London fashion week without it? Fucking New York, which is essentially where interest and diversity go to be suffocated.
When I came to see your Autumn/Winter presentation some of your designs reminded me of Prada and also Comme Des Garcons (that may have just been down to the fabric choices of some of your pieces.) Do you ever look at other designers work for inspiration?
Absolutely never. I can appreciate other designers work, like Alaia, Yohji, Comme, Lacroix, Vionnet, but there isn’t a part of me that thinks ‘Christ I want to be that’ or ‘I have to design like that’. What I admire about those designers is that they built slowly, they struggled but they persevered while maintaining an absolute sense of self, its that sense of self belief that I admire. Its the same way I don’t respond to repeating things, so there were dresses in my graduate collection that completely sold out and gave me a backlog of orders, but I’m not going to do those again for the sake of it.
I have to challenge myself and do something else. Also the women who have been buying want something new and they want to be involved, to understand where its all coming from, to speak with me and kind of see the world. I’m sure you know from coming to the exhibition that its very anti pretentious. I don’t put myself on a pedestal as a designer. I’m happy to meet the customers and open the space to the public. I mean I’m only 24 and I have a lot to learn.
Who are your favourite designers?
My favourite designer is Eileen Gray. She was an incredible force with an unbelievable drive and brilliant aesthetic. Completely herself without compromise for her entire 98 years.
Your designs feel very luxe and like they would be suited more towards showing in Paris just as much as they do in London, do you think you would like to debut a collection elsewhere in the future?
I have been thinking about that a lot myself. I love London and it really is home to me, but there is a real cycle of designers here and its a bit scary. Every year there seems to be about 20 designers that are the next big thing, they do a couple of seasons and then they can’t afford to keep going, then of course they are replaced with the next big thing.
I do feel like some of the larger ‘powers that be’ are exploiting the designers in London. Using us to show that London is the capital of creativity, we are like the advertisement that sells all the other established brands who can afford to wholesale, it seems a bit unfair and really very competitive now. Perhaps the real spirit that was there has been lost.
There is a lot of pressure here in London, especially with costs, thats probably why now a lot of the new young designers happen to be privately educated rich kids. There needs to be some kind of system for more diversity, sponsorships, encouragement. I mean if certain companies sponsor everything, and they don’t like you, then you’re fucked and you shouldn’t be. There needs to be other avenues. What if you disagree with them? You should be able to have an opinion.
I’m also really devastated that Meadham Kirchoff are on hiatus, thats very upsetting. They are just brilliant. I just wish one of the big corporations would just hand them a big bucket of cash to keep going, thats kind of what I mean by corporations exploiting real talent. London needs that diversity. What’s London fashion week without it? Fucking New York, which is essentially where interest and diversity go to be suffocated.
What I find so interesting about your work is the shapes and how your designs have this juxtapose. The shapes are so refined and sophisticated, but there is something that throws everything completely off, such as your hats in your graduate collection, or the pastel green pleather in your new collection. It’s this battle between good taste and bad taste if you don’t mind me saying. It’s work is really beautiful and quite cool, but there is something quite humorous about it too. Would you say this is something that is important to you?
I’m really obsessed with people so I do think that personality really comes through in my work. It’s deadly serious but also can be quite ironic. I’m constantly drawing and interviewing people. I come from a very working class background, so I was always surrounded with what most people would consider ‘bad taste’ but I work really hard to make things beautifully, pieces that are very covetable and really considered on the inside. Its kind of annoying that ‘bad taste’ is so trendy now.
Theres a lot of these posh toffs who are suddenly referencing chavs and the working class, but only on a very basic, shitty, image-based level. Really superficial and with no meaning behind it. No one wants to get deep. That pisses me off. That really pisses me off. I mean this is what I grew up with, thats my family you know, that’s very real to me. Stop with the appropriation, stop exploiting. Stop fucking using it for your shitty 90s nostalgia instagram updates and go and read a book. Get out and do something real.
If you could describe your aesthetic in three words?
(I just picked these off my business plan lol)
After meeting you, you don’t seem like the kind of person who designs with a full on fashion approach. I am curious to know though, what is your first ‘fashion’ memory?
I’m not sure. Although I remember when I was really little I was always drawing people who happened to be wearing clothes.
You studied at Central Saint Martins, did you go there with the idea of studying Womenswear or something else?
Womenswear. The course is just insane in the best possible way. It was brilliant. The tutors are fantastic, they’re all artists not fashion designers so that definitely helps. I came out of it really calm and really feeling like anything is achievable. You learn to see past a lot of the bullshit while you’re there. With university everyone always takes away different things and life lessons regarding their education.
What would you say it is that you feel you learnt during your time at Central Saint Martins?
To get on with it. Just do exactly what you want to and do it really well. Find what makes you happy and continue it, have an argument, fight for the things you believe in. If you’re in a room with 40 other designers and you’re all the same, its a massive problem. On the BA in St. Martins that just doesn’t happen, everyone is about something, they have a voice and it comes through in every part of them, its really honest, good work. Its the same way you would apply yourself in the outside world.
If you find the course incredibly stressful and draining, chance are if you get a job in fashion it will be just as bad, so maybe reconsider. I honestly loved every single day of it. I’m only the 2nd person in my whole family to get to go to university so for me it was a real privilege and I really feel like I made the most of every day.
Whilst studying you went and did a placement in Paris. Where was it you went and interned?
In Womenswear we do a project/competition thing with Louis Vuitton in the 2nd year, where you work to a brief for the design team who come over and give you tutorials and then choose a winner or winners. I was one of the winners and got offered a contract to go and work there, which was amazing. I’m not crazy about living in Paris, but working there was a brilliant experience. You’re really treated like a designer and you really feel valued. They also pay really well so you don’t feel like an intern.
Also the team I worked with were just the best, I definitely think I had the best boss ever. It was such a laugh every day, but also we got shit loads of work done. It taught me a lot about working environments, how being in a good, positive environment equals good work, and being in a shitty negative environment equals bad work, which is a problem with a lot of the brands in Paris as they have some crazies working for them.
It is very interesting as yours was really a breakout year for BA students, with the likes of you and also fellow alumni Grace Wales Bonner gathering a lot of press. Grace is now showing collections under Fashion East. Do you think you would ever consider a sponsorship/mentoring programme?
We had a really amazing year for sure. I remember getting to the press show and thinking this is amazing, a real achievement as a group. And not just for the few people in the show, I mean that’s less than a third of the year. There was other equally brilliant collections not in the show. It’s such a huge sense of pride seeing everyone’s vision being realised. I opened the show which was great as I got to stand around like an eejit and watch everyone else’s and help out my friends.
It was a very long day but super rewarding in the end. I would consider sponsorships for sure. Its always great to have a platform, but it has to be the right one. I almost showed my last collection with one of those sponsored things, I won’t say which, but I pulled out at the last minute as I and just went and did it on my own on my own terms. That way if people hated it at least they hated it on my terms, and the whole thing felt right.
I also wanted real people to be able to come to it, not fashion posers, no ones opinion is more important than any others in my eyes. I have a problem with the exclusivity thing, with fine art everyone can come and see and appreciate an exhibition, whereas fashion is super elitist, with special tickets and lists and for no good reason. The whole system needs a good shaking. Get a fucking grip, you’re making clothes not splitting atoms.
Currently you are working in between London and your home in Wexford, Ireland. You mentioned to me previously that it’s easy to get caught up in London life. Is this why you choose to live between the two places?
Definitely. London is beginning to have a real aesthetic, and it’s not half as exciting as it used to be. It’s also important for me to source and produce properly, and I love to work with up-skilling the local community in Wexford. The recession really did a job on us there and I’d love to be able to create jobs.
Do you think you would have decided to continue doing your own designs if you hadn’t won the LVMH prize?
I think so. The way I was working in my final year, it really made sense to go forward and have a go at it. I was super lucky to have won the Deutsche Bank award for fashion too, that Christopher Kane previously won, so that really helped with setting up and having some advice etc. I’m much more happy working on my own and I absolutely hate compromising. I’m fully committed now to making it work, and on the right terms, being contemporary but also producing right, sourcing right, I have no intention to exploit anyone along the way.
I did that last 2 collections on an absolute shoestring budget, and they were alright, they got across what I wanted to say. Now that the company is making a little bit of money, I can invest more in pushing things, in presenting in the right way, in collaborating and really opening up a dialogue.