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Room to Breathe - Richard Malone


Office —What was growing up in Ireland like? Can you tell me about your town?


Richard Malone — It’s beautiful. It’s really, really rural. It’s nice, because it’s totally quiet. It’s one of those seaside sand towns. There’s a lot of them in Britain as well—they look amazing to tourists, but the reality is that living there can be quite different. There are a lot of drug problems and a lot of crime. It’s a different thing to live there because it’s quite a secluded, periphery town. Coming to London I was very aware that where I was from was very different from the background of a lot of people.


O — Was it a hard transition to move from such a rural upbringing? I can’t imagine there was much fashion growing up.


RM — God, no. My dad is a painter and decorator, he paints houses. My mom had a shop job. I was never really exposed to any kind of creative careers. When I was younger, I would always work on building sites, from when I was about thirteen to when I left at about eighteen. My approach to materials is different to what other people are used to doing. I think it’s actually a good thing that I never knew much about fashion. When I first applied to Central Saint Martins, I didn’t really know what it was. I was only the second person in my whole family to go to university, it was such an opportunity to go to a school like that. It was quite hard, when I got to Saint Martins, you realize that—even more so now that the fees have gone up—it’s quite a homogenized group of people. I feel like there are a lot of very white, very rich, Notting Hill, West End people. I think to the tutors it was very refreshing to have someone like me because I didn’t care about fashion particularly, it was just what I was doing and the way that I was working. I did a lot of projects that were a lot more performance-based. For one project, I didn’t make any clothes, I just sort of wrote a story. For others, I did video work. There was something quite different about the way that I worked, they responded quite well to that. I guess I was lucky in a way.


O — Is your upbringing within the working class in the Irish countryside implemented into your work? There’s this idea of uniform dressing and traditional workwear that you’re often exposed to in the suburbs.


RM — That’s what you’re sort of surrounded by. In a town like that, people don’t dress for vanity at all. My mom would have a uniform for the shop she worked in and my dad would have a uniform for work. I had a horrible Catholic school uniform. You’d find ways of rebelling through a uniform, like wearing different shoes. I think it’s very interesting how people who have shit to do dress. It’s a far more interesting way of dressing—you dress for warmth, you dress for work. You don’t really consider a “look.” Whereas when I got to Saint Martins, I was really surprised at how many people spent a lot of time getting ready. Even now when I do research, I do a lot of photography and real drawing out on the street. I just look at what people are wearing and their ways of mixing silhouettes. They don’t care about something being fitted perfectly. It’s always a quite interesting place to start, because it’s directly related to people.


O — I always find it interesting to study people on public transportation, for example, and draw observations of mass trends based on that.


RM — I find there’s a lot less originality in major cities, it’s sometimes just the “cool thing,” that I despise. It almost kind of whitewashes everyone. I find it really interesting that these trends in infiltrate young people so much more immediately now than they used to. I’ve got young cousins and the whole Instagram, Facebook thing just kind of freaks me out. They’re so in tune with it and it’s such a part of their life. They engage with it every single day. That influences the way that they dress and the way they try to appear to other people. I don’t know if I’m comfortable with it entirely. At the moment, I’m thinking about how I can get away with non-Instagrammable things. I’m onto something at the minute here that I think is going to work. There are some fabrics that look completely different in a photo than they do in real life. The fabric from last season didn’t translate at all in photos, which I loved.


O — Has your stance been to try and develop a way to fight the social media system? There’s so much pressure to create ephemeral “moments.”


RM — We made this really amazing set with this gorgeous sculpture installation with all the models. I didn’t want anyone to take photos. For me, it took away from the whole experience, wandering around this Soho restaurant that we cleared out, this bourgeois furnishing with weird gold that was really worn-in. All the and Vogue Runway images, it doesn’t have the same translation. You don’t see the clothes at all, you just see a front-on image. Especially for me, I wouldn’t say that I really design for a front view. I kind of design quite 3D things. I don’t think they’ll ever translate in photos. I don’t really want them to translate in simple photos like that, because I kind of hate them. It’s not something that interests me. It’s just this pace of fashion. I’m almost trying to avoid it as much as I can and as much as people will let me. I can’t not let people take photos at Fashion Week—although I did the first time. 

O — How did you get away with that?

RM — I was just like, no. I literally stood at the door and was like, absolutely not, there’s no photos. There were some writers and reporters, but I didn’t really want it to be an Instagrammable thing. That’s such a fleeting thing anyways. You almost don’t even need people to go if it’s an Instagram thing, people just scan through. Especially when you’re a young designer, there’s so much work in making a collection when you’re doing it on your own. It kind of pisses you off when people don’t even bother coming and they just look at Instagram or they look online. You lose everything about cutting. I don’t think people are actually criticizing clothes anymore, they’re only criticizing imagery. I don’t want my role as a designer to be about making images for people to criticize. 

O — Everyone is so in tune with what’s happening at that very moment. No one picks up a magazine anymore— you lose that tangible aspect of fashion.


RM — It’s a tactile thing. You’re making shapes and forms and textures, and none of that translates in photos really. You look at some of the collections of the mega brands, and you can tell. They’re thinking about what they’re going to look like online. I find it really interesting because the way that I ended up doing my own label is that I started with private clients. I’m very lucky because I get to have conversations with these women, who are art collectors or gallerists. They’re really inspiring women who have just done shit really well, have amazing careers and actually love clothes. They don’t go for mega brands anymore, because there’s no shape in it. They can really tell, as people who appreciate fashion and understand cutting, that there’s no work in it. It’s just quickly churned out, to have another garment on the rail. They don’t need it.


O — The repetition gets so monotonous. Your eyes aren’t excited when they don’t see anything new. When you look at something really different for the first time, it often translates as “ugly,” because your eye isn’t used to it, but most people don’t take the time to break down what that means. 

I just want to keep it about the interesting things, not about me.

RM — I remember even before the show, when stylists came in, saying that I don’t want it to be “chic,” because “chic” is something you can create yourself. It’s totally boring. To be a young designer and have all of these opportunities and then to decide to do something totally “chic.” Sometimes people say that things are new, but they’re not new. It’s just a time period that people are kind of reinventing, which is something I try to avoid. In the studio, I do so many projects that have nothing to do with fashion at all until I get to the end goal, which is usually a collection. It’s been a nice opportunity to be able to show people that the way I work isn’t cut-copy-paste. It doesn’t seem real at all to me. There’s so much 3D work that’s more sculptural, or me trying on things or me doing weird performance things with paint and stuff. I always had a quite different way of working.

It just doesn’t feel like there’s the same diversity that there used to be, especially in London Fashion Week. It’s quite crazy, even if I went to study now, I couldn’t. They just got rid of a whole section of society by upping the fees that much. I could barely afford to go when I did and I got a scholarship for my final year. It’s going to get more and more repetitive. You’ll always feel like you’re looking at the same silhouettes or the same shapes.


O — Social media makes it so easy for everyone to be a “critic.” Andy Warhol’s saying about fifteen minutes of fame has now become everyone being famous for fifteen likes. You really have to work against the fray to be something timeless and transcendent.


RM — Everything is online. You just feel like everyone is so fake, when I go through some of those weird Instagram accounts, I’m like, “Oh my god.” Some people are saying so much, but at the same time, they’re saying nothing. It feels so vapid to me. It just depends on whether you want to be that. I never wanted it to be this really hype-y thing. I absolutely despise the term “cool.” Something being cool to me means that it’s absolutely not going to be cool in six months’ time.


O — What is your process for working? Do you look to recycled material and fabrics as a starting point?


RM — I’ll do a lot of performance things and my way of cutting is really abstract. The way I draw or write is really loose and abstract. And then I start turning that into shapes...not looking at other clothes at all, and trying to make something that I haven’t seen. That way of cutting before and that way of getting it to fit, it’s a very long process, but it’s the only way to keep it exciting for yourself as a designer or an artist. You have to have that challenge. I always have a sketchbook with me or a notepad so that if something comes into my head, I have to draw it or write it down before I get back to the studio. It’s a bit of a nightmare, because if you work the way I do, you don’t have a set of references for the collection, so anything becomes inspiration.


O — What sorts of references and inspirations have you used for your collections thus far?


RM —The last collection was a lot to do with uniforms and screwing them up a bit. I really wanted the space that I showed the collection in to be a female-led space and not to be about thin, white girls wearing nice clothes, because that’s just so vapid. One of the first things I looked at was my mom when she started working at Argos, which is a rubbish shop over here. Her uniform requirements were completely different to a man’s. A woman would have to wear a fitted shirt and a man would have to wear a polo shirt. A woman would have to wear a boot-cut trouser with a heel and a man would wear a straight cut trouser with flats. A woman would be expected to wear “natural” makeup. It fascinated me that that still exists in our society, that women have to wear these really sexy, fitted clothes. I almost wanted to mix up all of those references. There was a lot of backless, apron dresses. 

O — I think it’s important to have designers championing that voice and standpoint, especially in fashion where it’s an epidemic. It’s a superficial industry at its foundation — one that has the power to morph society’s beauty ideals and standards.


RM — It infuriates me that women’s work sells for considerably less than men’s. When I had a fine artist come in to do the set, she installed her sculptures and it annoyed me that people would refer to her as a “set designer.” She’s not, she’s a sculptor. You realize that if a man was behind tåhe work it would be totally different. You want that pro-woman thing to go through to all of the casting as well. It was really important to me that we didn’t have models. We cast girls that are representations of all of these different kinds of women, with different jobs, who are doing amazing things. We had solicitors in it, writers, art critics, fine artists, gallerists, women with real shit to do. I quite like that they’re representative of people in the real world, with different body shapes. It doesn’t make sense for me to do anything else.


O — You won’t be publishing a book of selfies anytime soon?


RM — No, no time soon. Sometimes I do come across as a nightmare, because I don’t like interviews, but I think it’s important that I have something to say. People who are from a background like mine need to know that it’s possible, you just need to work super hard. I just don’t want to get into that weird, fashion thing—so much of fashion now isn’t about clothes at all. I just want to keep it about the interesting things, not about me.


O — Everything in fashion has this resurgence where it comes back in and out of style, it just gets reappropriated over and over again.


RM — That’s the kind of thing that I find exciting about our generation. It seems like people are so much more aware of it now. At Saint Martins now, people are very aware of the whole replication and appropriation, especially cultural appropriation. There’s a lot more discussion about that, which I find really interesting. Now people are really looking into what those meanings are and how people are getting away with it. In a way, it’s opening up more of a conversation around fashion and actually making fashion a bit more of an interesting place to work than just the imagery. – END 

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