Breaking the mould
Published 21/04/2015 | 00:00
Young Wexford man Richard Malone is not what you'd probably expect of a fashion designer whose collection is stocked by Brown Thomas, whose work has featured in 'Vogue' and been ordered by Lady GaGa and Paris Hilton, and who last year won the top prize on offer at the top fashion school in London.
He says he doesn't like 'fashion-y people'. He won that prize after telling judges representing some of the biggest fashion houses in the world that he doesn't like much of what they do ('basically, that they're full of sh**,' he says). And he turned down job offers in Paris, fashion capital of the world, because he thinks people in the scene there are 'far too pretentious, and really up themselves' - so he prefers to work from a shed at the back of the family home in Ardcavan.
It's an extraordinary story of an extraordinary young man whose background is in construction sites rather than the catwalk, and who says he really just 'fell into' fashion design as an off-shoot from an earlier love of drawing, painting, and sculpture.
The tale begins in the unlikely surrounds of Castlebridge National School, where Richard's artistic talent was first remarked upon, before he went on to St Peter's in Wexford and from there to the Waterford College of Further Education, where he took a course that combined elements of painting, sculpture, and what was his first formal introduction to the world of fashion.
The next step was taking the boat to Wales for a course at a college in Camarthen, which unfortunately didn't live up to expectations.
'It was rubbish,' Richard says, with characteristic bluntness. It was a tutor there however who made the suggestion that really set him on the pathway to success: that he should apply to the prestigious Central Saint Martin's school in London instead.
'I hadn't even heard of it, but I looked it up and saw it's one of the best in the world,' he says. 'I was really lucky to get in - there were about 40,000 applications, and just 25 people were selected. What you had to go through was a bit like an X-Factor process! But I was accepted anyway, and they ended up telling me that the fact I hadn't done a 'proper' foundation was actually an advantage to me, because it meant I was quite radical and innovative.
'That's what they look for - they encourage you to do something different all the time, or else they kick you out!'
Richard was soon making his mark, as evidenced when a team from Louis Vuitton travelled from Paris to London during his second year there, to run tutorials and a contest which ended up with Richard being invited to go work for them in Paris.
'They invited me over for six months, and the money was really good, so I said of course I'd go. I was working on leather development and their handbags there, and my time got extended to a year when the first six months was up. I really enjoyed the work, but I didn't like living in Paris. The people there are far too pretentious, and everybody is really up themselves - that's not what I'd be used to at all.'
It was back then to London for his final year of study before graduation last May, and that turned out to be more successful than even wildest dreams could imagine, as he won both a prize sponsored by Deutsche Bank that was worth £10,000 to him, and a Louis Vuitton-Moet Hennessy (LVMH) Grand Prix Scholarship that was worth £12,500.
'I never expected either of them,' he says.
'They were both very similar in that you had to put yourself and your work in front of a jury, and for the LVMH one in particular, I was very blunt. They're a huge company that own the likes of Dior and Rolex as well as Louis Vuitton and Moet, and I told the judges that there's lots I don't like about what they do, like how they always shoot their clothes on skinny white girls, and basically that they're full of sh**.
'I don't think anybody had ever told them that before - they're used to people licking their arses - and I came out thinking I hadn't a hope. I was amazed to get an e-mail the next day to say that I'd won!'.
The work that formed his competition entry was inspired by unlikely elements including building site apparel and school uniforms.
Richard is linked to the building trade himself through his father's work as a painter and decorator, while in terms of the school uniforms, he was interested in how teenagers often rebel by not wearing their uniform exactly in accordance with school rules.
'I used to be like that myself in St Peter's,' he says.
'I wore white shoes, where they asked us to wear brown. I used to pretend to be colour blind!'
Other elements of 'Irishness' also combined in the eye-catching work that led to invitations to put on exhibitions as far away as Melbourne in Australia, and also led to a number of job offers in London, Paris, and beyond.
He went so far as to meet the creative director of one of the companies involved - 'but he was such an arsehole that I knew I wouldn't be happy working for him,' Richard says. 'I'm far happier being able to work for myself. It doesn't pay as much, but it's much more rewarding in other ways - if people like something I do, then they're liking it on my terms, instead of liking something I had to under the direction of other people.'
Those who like his work have included some top names from the world of showbiz and glamour.
'Lady GaGa got a few pieces, but I don't think they fit her because she put on a bit of weight!' he reports. 'Paris Hilton is getting some stuff too, and there's a singer - Marina and The Diamonds - who got a piece to wear on an album cover. I don't know much about her, but she was number one on iTunes, so she must have a lot of fans.
'Most of the stuff is bought by other artists, writers, and even art collectors - that's where the main market is.
'My work is not very mainstream - it's based on what I know and see on the streets of Wexford, but you won't see it being worn there!'
Richard Malone - Fashion Designer.
Son of James and Helen Malone, Ardcavan, Wexford. Age 24.
Educated at Castlebridge N.S., St Peter's College, Waterford College of Further Education, and Central Saint Martin's (London).
Winner last year of the Deutsche Bank Prize and LVMH Grand Prix Scholarship at Central Saint Martin's - total prize value £22,500
Work has featured in print and online media including Vogue UK, Vogue Italia, Love, Wonderland, Garage, Schon, Disegno, and Idol
Richard's work now sees him commute regularly between Wexford and London, with some time spent in Dublin too.
Last week alone, for example, saw him fly to London on Monday; fly back to Dublin and travel home to Wexford on Tuesday; head back to Dublin again on Wednesday for meetings; spend Thursday to Sunday at home; and then take another flight to London on Monday.
'There isn't a set pattern or a typical week - I'm just on the go all the time,' he says. 'There's constant work to be done, but it's different every day, and sometimes the real challenge is got round to it all!'
The bulk of his actual design work is done in the upstairs section of his dad's garage at the family home ('although I've taken over most of the downstairs by now as well - it's a real mess!' he admits), while time in London is normally spent in meetings and dealing with other demands of the fashion scene.
'I love being home and working on stuff,' he says. 'I get a lot of press requests when I'm in London, and often, I don't really enjoy them - it probably sounds funny, but I don't really like fashion-y people!
'I'm from a very different background to most of them - more down to earth, or 'normal'. For example, my dad's a painter and decorator, and I was out on jobs with him from the age of about 13. Not too many others that I deal with were ever out on a building site.'
Gaining such attention can only be a good sign though, and there was another accolade of sorts for Richard last week when he learned he'd been nominated by 'The Independent' newspaper in the UK as one of the top artists under the age of 25 to watch (he only just makes the cut age-wise, as he'll actually turn 25 during May). Duties in the coming week or two include a photoshoot for that newspaper, and also an interview for the BBC.
'You can't really turn down those sort of requests,' he says. 'And I'm still amazed sometimes by some of the attention, like some of the magazines who have featured my work. But I suppose it's all good!'