Setting the trend
It was bitterly cold all over Europe, it seems, last week. While Ireland was preparing for snow and storm, Wexford fashion designer Richard Malone was in a freezing Paris, getting ready for the onslaught of fashion orders that come after a busy season of shows and launches. His new collection of work for Autumn/Winter 2018 opened London Fashion Week recently and the gifted designer has received high praise.
'I've opened London for two seasons now and there is a sense that you are expected to set the precedent. The feedback has been incredible - we've been highlighted as one of the Top Ten Collection in American Vogue which is huge.'
Richard, 28, is the son of son of James and Helen Malone, from Ardcavan. Richard's parents, his brother John, his aunt Mary and his 85-year-old grandmother Nellie Malone, a retired seamstress, were at the event to support him, something that he always enjoys.
'It's nice that Nellie got to come over for it. My family come to all the shows and it's great for them to see how my ideas get articulated into the clothing they see.'
Richard's new collection is focused on the twin themes of community and common purpose, taking a journey through the market stalls of the working class towns of his youth. While some references are literal - handwoven aprons and headscarves - others are societal. The show looks at markets and their role within the social fabric of communities, as honest and authentic spaces of resourcefulness.
The author Zadie Smith also served as inspiration for Richard, who said: 'The way she describes the place that she comes from strikes such a chord with me. I understand the beauty she sees in those places - that sense of vitality.'
Richard's personal experience of the magic of marketplaces began at the Unyoke Market in Blackwater, where handcrafted bric-a-brac sits alongside stolen power tools! Richard's aunts ran stalls selling miniature crochet dresses made for folk dolls, fashioned from sea shells.
Central to Richard's work is the exploration of beauty in the unremarkable, or the banal.
Richard said: 'I always try to design an original look from within by own personal experiences. Fashion is seen as an elitist industry but I'm not from an elitist background so I enjoy taking something normal, something that might be overlooked, and elevating it into something exquisite. I cannot stand the idea of 'good taste'. The idea that there is only either good or bad - one or the other - it's so arrogant, and so short-sighted, to overlook what might lie in between.'
To that end, the collection is peppered with willfully unrefined details. Turbo-sized shoulder-bags with floor-length tassles are hand-woven entirely from recycled plastic. Trousers and aprons in recycled viscose are realized in 'Milk Tray' purple. Repeat checks of every shape and size are reminiscent of scraps of fabric found on factory floors. Sustainability is a given for the brand.
Fabrics are sourced from the community of female weavers in Southern India that Richard has worked with since his graduate collection. The clothes are functional: evening gowns are machine-washable, riding coats have side-closures for ease, silk trousers have tracksuit-inspired seams to ensure they sit against the skin comfortably.
The collection was described as a 'charmingly skewed take on glamour' and dedicated to 'every heroine who knows how to hustle'.
The last two years, Richard says, have been crazy with lots of travelling for shows. While in Paris, where he used to live, he says that he will catch up with some friends while also overseeing orders and making appointments with clients which, he says, is one of his favourite parts of the industry,
'It's the most authentic part of it - I get to work with people who are actually going to wear my designs.'
Last year, Richard was commissioned by the New York Museum of Modern Art to create a custom piece for its first fashion exhibition in 70 years. That exhibition, 'Is Fashion Modern?' featured iconic fashion pieces from the past century and, alongside them, Richard's optical illusion-like jumpsuit. So impressed were the team at MOMA that the piece was their first fashion acquisition since 1997 - the designer on that occasion was Issey Miyake.
'It was an honour to be part of that one-off exhibition. It was quite incredible to see my work amongst such historic pieces.'