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Richard Malone SS16
Photography Alice Neale

How to empower women through their wardrobes

For SS16, Irish designer Richard Malone created sculptural garments made to be comfortable, not constricting – peek inside his new book documenting the collection here

While fashion has done much to aid female liberation (see Chanel’s embrace of boyish silhouettes over tight corsets and Yves Saint Laurent’s revolutionary Le Smoking suits) women can often find themselves at the mercy of their clothes – like on the discovery of the dreaded “do not wash” label in a new purchase, or when suffering through the plaster-inducing pain brought on by teetering heels.

In his SS16 collection, brought to life both as a presentation at London Fashion Week and in the pages of an accompanying book (previewed in the gallery above) Irish designer Richard Malone was set on exploring the limitations placed on women’s lives and bodies. For his Fashion East showcase, he took over the bougie quarters of a Soho restaurant, playing the haunting voice of Sylvia Plath over the sound system while his group of models stood around chatting and drinking champagne beneath pastel baroque ceilings draped with plastic. They weren’t there to be clothes hangers, but to embody Malone’s creations as living, breathing muses. 

They donned a collection that was comprised of flared trousers, jackets and silhouettes that stood dramatically away from the body but were still practical, made to be rolled up in a bag or chucked in the washing machine. Typically feminine colours and tropes were subverted – shirts that looked like they were borrowed from a checkout girl’s uniform were embroidered with designs lifted from a family cookbook, passed like a baton of domesticity down through the women in Malone’s family, while long white socks were paired with mules painted a sickly sugar plum pink. 

“Some casting directors asked what sizes the clothes were so they can send girls that fit them, and it made me angry. You should be making clothes to fit the girls” – Richard Malone

“I went out of my way to find real women,” the designer explains of the presentation’s models. “They’re not even street cast, they’re friends who have jobs – there’s a solicitor, there’s an artist. It was a bit of a struggle trying to fit in fittings around them because they all work, but I think it’s worth it. And they’re not like 16, they’re in their 20s.” The fittings process was captured by photographer Alice Neale, whose images make up a chapter in the book.

“Alice photographs women in a really beautiful way,” he says. “They’re not photoshopped pictures, they’re just really celebrating of them – it’s not fake, and I just want that to be the right message going forward.” For Malone, these people are the collection, not some fantasy “girl” of the season. “I think it’s totally wrong at the minute – some casting directors asked what sizes the clothes were so they can send girls that fit them, and it made me angry. You should be making clothes to fit the girls.”

Besides Neale’s work, the book features art and photography created by Malone that juggles with trappings of femininity – stockings, rubber gloves, high heels and hairpieces, as well as the designer’s own childhood photographs. There is also poetry, as well as images of work by sculptor Evelyn O’Connor, whose work created from sugar cubes and ketchup was displayed in the SS16 presentation space. Check it out in the gallery above.