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Richard Malone AW16
Backstage at Richard Malone at Fashion East AW16Photography Chris Rhodes

Richard Malone is one young designer unbothered by fame

Referencing his working-class Irish youth, the Dazed 100 designer and master pattern cutter is the ultimate antithesis to today’s social media crazed fashion industry

This is one of four features on the Dazed 100 designers who showed their AW16 collections at London Fashion Week. Vote for Richard Malone in the Dazed 100 here, read a feature on Molly Goddard here and stay tuned for pieces on Claire Barrow, and Ashley Williams

In an era dominated by celebrity creative directors, Instagram superstars and cults of personality, Richard Malone’s utter disregard for the spotlight is incredibly refreshing. “I don’t want my face to be everywhere,” he shrugs over cup of tea in his north London studio, a few days before he’s set to release his AW16 collection into the world (an intimidatingly detailed plan of the Tate Britain’s Clore Gallery, where the show is to be held, is blu-tacked to the wall). “I don’t have any desire to be a famous celebrity. I’d rather just stand back and design clothes.”

When you see what it is he’s designing, you understand why. On Saturday morning, the Irish-born CSM grad put on his first runway show on the London Fashion Week schedule, showing with emerging designer support scheme Fashion East alongside Caitlin Price and A.V. Robertson. To the sounds of Big Punisher and E-40 – mixed by Hanna Hanra as a throwback to the caravan parties of his proudly working class, Irish youth – models in smock dresses, helter-skelter flares and tie-around dungarees took to the runway. There were blue and white stripes that recalled corner shop plastic bags, and brilliant good-taste-bad-taste zebra prints inspired by his Auntie Anne, who showed up to his Catholic school communion in one such patterned dress. “It was skin tight lycra, and she had a shaved head, and all these Celtic tattoos…” he remembers. “It was so good!”

“While fashion has a nasty habit of appropriating the trappings of cultures far removed from its own ivory tower of luxury, there is nothing disingenuous about Malone’s references”

Held beneath the Tate’s vaulted ceilings, the show was proof that Malone has come a long way from hand-sewing his graduate collection in a shed at the bottom of his parents’ garden. Still, there are a good few constants – like his incredible skill for pattern cutting, and how it’s his interest in working-class uniforms like his aunt’s dress that form the basis of his design. While fashion has a nasty habit of appropriating the trappings of cultures far removed from its own ivory tower of luxury, there is nothing disingenuous about Malone’s references – which in the past have included his mother’s Argos uniform and the clothes he wore to work on building sites. They are simply what he knows. “The more I’m in London, the more I think about it being so much less homogenised than where I’m from,” he muses. “There everyone’s like, builders and nurses – there are codes to dressing. Teenagers will have those go-faster stripes which you find on everything in the collection, girls from a certain school all had these weird eyelash extensions – it was a way of identifying themselves in a really narrow part of society.”

The clumped lashes of the school girl gangs found their way into the brightly coloured mascara worn by models, while other elements of the collection were inspired by another ritual from Malone’s youth: the sexual politics of oyster season in his home town, where men wade out to sea to harvest the shellfish and women lie back to watch. “There’s a weird kind of foggy weather, the tide goes really far out and all the guys wear yellow plastic overalls and they go and dig,” he remembers (that hi-vis yellow appears in the collection, suddenly punctuating the shades of what Malone calls “average blue”). “There’s a mix of girls trying to be really sexy and guys trying to be really manly...the sun and testosterone. You get it in Britain as well I’m sure, that whole seaside town, sexed-up summer kind of thing.”

While most designers are focussing on building their personal Insta brands, Malone prefers to create moments you need to experience rather than just double-tap – like last season, when the curt voice of powerful poetess Sylvia Plath boomed across speakers at his SS16 presentation, his first under the Fashion East wing. “I tried to get them not to allow photography, but I think that you can’t really do that,” he recalls. “I just think it is a nicer thing if you aren’t there with the camera.” This season, his clothes have the kind of details you simply won’t see from a flat, front on runway image – optical illusion stripes were “anti-nice to look at,” meant to trick the eye IRL rather than on an iPhone, while garments have a tendency to burst unexpectedly into new dimensions. “I’m quite pleased that you won’t be able to see it all in a photo,” he says. “It’s not designed for that. It’s designed for the body and the women that are eventually going to wear it.”

“I tried to get them not to allow photography, but I think that you can’t really do that. I just think it is a nicer thing if you aren’t there with the camera” – Richard Malone

It’s these women who Malone is always keeping at the very front of his mind, and who help inform the decision to show his collections on friends who inspire him rather than tiny-framed teenage models. Instead of focusing on creating impractical outfits for some fantasy muse of the season, he wants his clothes to be comfortable, adjustable, machine washable, and, most importantly, wearable (and with pockets you can actually use, hallelujah). Ultimately, he doesn’t feel the need to compromise the integrity of his design to cut a corner – or make a quick sale. “I don’t want to make t-shirts for the sake of making t-shirts. It’s not really what I intend to do,” he says. “Some of the dresses from the last season are editions of five, and once the five of them are gone, I’d like them to be gone for good, and I’ll move on to making the next set of five or ten that’s interesting enough for women to want to buy.”

Since graduating from CSM in 2014 alongside fellow success story Grace Wales Bonner, Malone has fast made a name for himself in a city which champions emerging talent. Still, despite his determination, he doesn’t see design as some kind of race to the top with the ultimate end goal of heading up some global fashion mega-house. Instead, he’s setting his own agenda. “In London there’s quite a trajectory from being a young designer to having a huge business and dealing with creative direction or something,” he says on the subject. “That happens a lot to people – there’s a system to it. I think if you don’t ever want that, you can avoid doing those tricks. Cause it’s not kind of the life I want, at all.”