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Richard Malone AW15, Dazed Digital
Richard Malone AW15Photography Freya E. Morris & Richard Malone

The designer fighting for class diversity in fashion

Meet Richard Malone, the CSM grad taking his references from Ireland’s rebellious post-recession teens

On the Rise is a new monthly column taking a closer look at some of fashion’s most promising new talents. Revisit this page to keep up with the latest features.

Richard Malone’s studio is a constant mess. That’s just how it is – chaos, clutter, disarray. It’s here, an old shed in the middle of nowhere in the Irish countryside, he comes back to. Here he can concentrate fully. His heaven. “My brilliant shit hole,” he laughs.

Working on building sites from the age of 13 right up until he left school afforded Malone a devotion for DIY. Dressed in his trademark uniform of pyjamas and trainers, he made this space from scratch. And it’s clear to see he’s a hoarder: downstairs is full of tools, old paint from his dad – a decorator – offcuts of wood, timber. Upstairs is where the clothes are made. For the last two collections, he’s draped, cut, sewn and finished everything here by himself. This is the place where, during the process of his graduation collection, driven to distraction from embroidering all day, he watched films like Funny Girl and Hello Dolly, entranced and empowered by the flowery and fanciful costumes. Upon completion, it was a lauded and ultimately award-winning collection that led to The Central Saint Martins museum buying pieces for their permanent collection, which also includes McQueen, Galliano and Craig Green. But right here is where it all began, and this is where he returns. This little shed in Wexford. Between the paint brushes and paraphernalia.

What narrative thread connects your graduate collection to your most recent work?

Richard Malone: The common reference is people, real people. I’ve gone out and talked to people, sketched, observed them. Loads of my own photos have acted as references. Things that are very personal, that you will not find in a library or in a Google search. I don’t work with mood boards. I take my camera and my phone around with me and take all of my pictures myself, as well as recording conversations with interesting people and extracting things from it. For me that’s the only way to stay original. I do think that a knowledge of artists and designers is really important, but when collections are too readable it frustrates me. For this collection, I spoke to a lot of people about memories of place, environments, comfort, it was surprising how so many things seemed the same, as if their identity was all informed from the same place, or from images they all knew or supposed they knew. Fabrics and textures were shared between people, silhouettes even.

Your graduate collection was inspired by working class Irish youths, specifically in the midst of the recession. Is it the aesthetic, or more the attitude that inspired you?

Richard Malone: It was really the way that they just get on with things when everything is shit and serious. Just keep joking, keep fighting, keep going down town with the lads and getting pissed, and enjoying it. Speaking with and observing teenagers in my hometown, knacker drinking and having the craic was very inspiring. There is a strange mood in Ireland post-recession, teenagers feel the pressure from very early on to either stay and sign on or move to get a job. It was really their attitude that inspired me, not dressing for vanity, rebelling through uniform, taking the absolute piss out of anyone in power, it’s great. The absence of vanity when you’re dressed, it’s very appealing.

“There is a strange mood in Ireland post-recession, teenagers feel the pressure from very early on to either stay and sign on or move to get a job. It was really their attitude that inspired me, not dressing for vanity, rebelling through uniform, taking the absolute piss out of anyone in power, it’s great” – Richard Malone

Will these be recurring themes?

Richard Malone: Definitely, you can’t change who you are, or where you’re from, it’s always going to be inherent in everything I do, so it’s interesting to explore it and ask questions about it. I was quite intimidated when I started Saint Martins because I was always the poor one, who could not afford the expensive fabrics or a seamstress, but it just makes you work a lot harder. You realise no matter what, everyone has a unique perspective and my perspective is mine. It’s important for me to fight for it. There are so many privately educated and pretentious Notting Hill fashionistas, but the CSM tutors are literally fighting to give everyone a fair chance, they see the work and pass the bullshit. I hope it stays the same for the next generation.

Do you think the industry needs to improve the situation for designers from less privileged backgrounds?

Richard Malone: It resonates with so many people. It’s a real issue now. This isn’t just about a niche group of people. This isn’t just about me, or just  the case for Ireland post-recession. How can all working class kids get to third level [higher education]? I definitely couldn’t now. It needs to be addressed. I teach on a course for underpriviliged kids and I am so worried that they won’t get to school. The great thing that Saint Martins had, was that everyone from all backgrounds was accepted. You get this incredible mix of backgrounds, of people. But since the fees went up, I really noticed the change. It became a lot of runway Prada and Céline handbags. We will lose diversity in the industry if we don’t address the problem.

You recieved a great help by being awarded the prestigious LVMH Grand Prix scholarship. How did you find out you had won it?

Richard Malone: I was sat in my flat cutting out a pattern in my pants. I got an email through and nearly collapsed. I really didn’t expect it, as the interview was the evening before. It made such a huge difference to me. I'm used to having to work at least 2 jobs to pay for everything, I didn’t get a student loan because I’m Irish so I had to take out a real bank loan that needs paying ASAP. It was the first time I could ever focus on my work completely and I fucking loved it. I’m only the second person in my whole family to get to third level so it meant a lot. To celebrate immediately I bought a big cake and some cans.

“You get this incredible mix of backgrounds, of people [at CSM]. But since the fees went up, I really noticed the change. It became a lot of runway Prada and Céline handbags. We will lose diversity in the industry if we don’t address the problem” – Richard Malone

Your graduate collection opened the years BA Fashion press show and was concurrently awarded the Deutsche Bank Award for Fashion.

Richard Malone: That was a big shock. It’s really an honour to open the show. I didn’t expect it at all, especially because it was kind of taking the piss. Twelve dead pan serious girls in twisted uniforms and full skirts, with spray painted sorting hats and shiny white joke shop boots, stomping out to a radio 4 version of “Fancy”, complete with introduction. It was a very enjoyable moment. Then I found out that I won the “Deutsche Bank Award” for Fashion and I nearly died. It’s an amazing support and it really builds your confidence, when someone believes in you like that. Also, Christopher Kane previously won it when he graduated, so it felt unreal for me to win it! But I don’t think that any of the awards I’ve won have changed the way I approach my work. My approach is the reason that I won them.

You used up-cycled fabrics and make a point about responsibly sourcing everything that you possibly can; this is obviously something close to your heart?

Richard Malone: I worked in Paris for a year at Louis Vuitton and whilst working in Paris was a brilliant learning experience, you see a lot of waste. A lot of places make insanely wasteful ready-to-wear collections for the purpose of selling fucking perfume and it pisses me off. A bit of intellect and consideration is needed when you’re producing and I think we really need to see a lot more transparency at these companies, and a lot more responsibility. Vuitton are excellent at sponsoring people and utilising their waste fabrics, encouraging and sponsoring students and artists for projects, but others are not.

Your graduate collection was heralded for its exaggerated proportions. Will this be a signature of yours? 

Richard Malone: I think the minimal thing wore a bit thin. I mean, for me, cutting makes the garment. That is your job as a designer – a great cut and an impeccable finish. I feel like if it isn't that, then its just basic and ill-considered, and why pay a premium for that? The challenge is in balancing amazing creative cutting with amazing finish, Junya Watanabe is a great example. It should be special, and I feel like whatever it is I do, you shouldn't be able to get from any other designer and you certainly shouldn't be able to get it from Oxfam. 

You draped, cut, sewed, embroidered and finished everything yourself – are you a control freak?

Richard Malone: I am a control freak, entirely. I will always have to see everything and how it’s finished. I have to do everything. I am a control freak because it’s my name on the label.