Richard, you’re currently one of Ireland’s most prolific young designers with many accolades to your credit thus far. Where did your love of design begin?
I feel like it has always been there but perhaps a bit more abstract in the beginning. I was constantly drawing or sculpting - making anything from anything really so it was probably very obvious I would end up doing something creative, even though we haven't any other artists or designers in the family. Working with my Dad on building sites from a very young age and also being forced to wear a school uniform made me very aware of different types of dressing - things like functionality, conformity, how clothes can construct parts of an identity etc. Originally I was doing sculpture and performance before a tutor introduced me to Central Saint Martins and I thought I’d better go there even though I had no fashion experience and art at my school was completely shit. It was only when I did a short course in Waterford when I was 17 that a tutor introduced me to contemporary art, she was absolutely brilliant in pushing you outside your comfort zone and getting you back in line, she really made you take things seriously, her name was Anne O’Regan.
You’re incredibly open about your upbringing in Ireland with your current collection paying tribute to the work uniforms your Mum and other family members wore on a daily basis. Can you tell us a little about the process of each collection, from idea to customer.
I never try to focus on other references, looking at other designers or time periods etc - its such an easy formula. Originality is something I believe to be incredibly important, especially at a time when it is so lacking and so many seem so happy to conform, also we have a real problem with people from backgrounds like mine not having access to education. I really believe that your upbringing and surroundings are crucial to your identity as a designer, I’ve never tried to ignore where I’m from and luckily at Saint Martins it was really encouraged. My point of view is totally different as a result, and especially in an industry that is full of the upper class and extremely privileged. Theres something to be said for having to fight for your place, and I’m happy creating and working in the way I always have; essentially making something from nothing - its very creative and quite erratic, often creating forms away from the body and constant trials and errors. Its also super private and my working process/drawings and video works are never something I’ve allowed to be published although I’ve been lucky enough to have them collected by some amazing museums around the world. I’ve taught myself some quite extreme pattern cutting skills so I’m really proud that every piece that comes from the studio is pattern cut by me, as it's a skill that designers are losing all the time. People forget that creating garments is a skill, theres so much rubbish now thats made for Instagram, this front on image of a white teenage model that no woman can really relate to. Its really important to me that there is diversity in my casting for the shows, and that we aren't having negative conversations about womens bodies in the studio, or projecting negative ideals out there. I also hate that fashion is consumed as a front on image now, as opposed to being experienced. I alway design totally 3d, sometimes focusing silhouettes to the back or details all on the back of a garment, I really like when things don't register properly in those photos, as that's not their purpose for me.
Upon graduating from Central Saint Martins was it difficult to navigate the working world as a designer? In essence, to bridge that gap between the uninhibited world of creativity and the reality of making a living..
I was incredibly lucky on leaving Saint Martins. I’d already spent a year in the design team for Louis Vuitton in Paris and then came back for my final year, where I won the LVMH scholarship. It was my first time in uni that I didnt have to work 2 part time jobs to pay for it so I was just ploughing through all this work I would have never had the time to do before between jobs, and we’re always in 7.30am-10pm at CSM.. I think because I’d already been at Vuitton, which is fashions biggest company so I knew the inner workings of a corporate beast and I knew I couldn't really be part of that machine for any longer, its just a system that at its very core I despise, even though I absolutely loved the people I worked with it was just too much ‘stuff’. The day after I graduated CSM I was lucky enough to have two amazing job offers from huge houses in Paris who’s creative directors were changing hands, I met with both teams but said no to each one, even though everyone thought I was insane. I knew after final year and that accomplishment that I should just do my own thing and always stick to my guns. Creativity is now at the core of everything I do, I get to work on a tonne of projects and commissions that you would miss out on if you worked at a huge company, and working with private clients and working on your own terms is so much more rewarding. Everything is a risk but every accomplishment feels magnified because you did it entirely off your own back.
Working at a large fashion house can be restricted I would imagine, it’s not the designers who direct but rather the businessmen who need to see the return. Time at Louis Vuitton was clearly a hug3e learning curve but what was the greatest lesson you learned at such a huge house?
The power of saying no. Designers are expected to jump up and down for these companies but you have to give yourself some worth. I’ve been lucky to have that experience with Vuitton for over a year and I've consulted for some big brands since - there are times that are brilliant and obvious perks but it all depends on your mindset and your personality. At the end of the day I’ve never had money, I didnt grow up with money or excess so making decisions based on how much money I’ll get from it has never appealed to me, the cash reward doesnt interest me one bit, and some of these companies will throw money at designers but they just don't know the value in having creative freedom. I actually find it so weird when I go into a Vuitton store and you see things you've designed selling to thousands, well more like hundreds of thousands of people, it doesn't feel very personal or special, it's just product after product after product and nothing like I’d design for myself. These luxury brands have really killed what those namesakes originally stood for, I bet they'd turn in there graves seeing how these beautiful artisinal pieces have been reduced to something similar to a pound shop find but with a massive mark up. I mean Vuitton was never a fashion brand until the 90s, its bizarre that they do eight shows a year now really. It taught me much being there. If you figure out what you actually want to be doing decisions become extremely easy. At the end of the day creatives are the bread and butter of all of these companies, the business men know strategy and market but have zero taste or initiative. It's the same as all of these ‘business’ fashion brands like The Row and Victoria Beckham, they are not designers but brands, and there is a real difference between a designer and a brand - anyone with money can start a brand and hire the right people but you know something personal and raw and real when you see it, it doesn't need an explanation. The best lesson is to have balls and work harder.
Now that you’re well established with your own design house, how do you find or create that much-needed assurance between creativity and consumerism?
I’m very lucky to work with some incredible private clients who respond to the most creative pieces, and they've been selling really well since my graduate collection. I think when you are doing something creative and have an identity you’ll always have a customer. When you start doing bullshit cap sleeved shift dresses then you're up against every other brand with bullshit cap sleeve shift dresses. The reason I started my own brand was so I could avoid the easy selling crap, I also never work in black which scares some stores, but I just don't - I also don't own anything black, I have a complete aversion to it.
What does a day in the life of Richard Malone look like?
Hectic. It peaks sometimes around showtimes or when I have particularly hectic deadlines. Like at the minute I’m working on a project in the states so in the last 2 weeks alone I’ve been to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Mexico, New York, Ireland for a day, back to London and now I’m in India looking at some sustainable production and development techniques. But everyday is totally different so there is never really a typical day as such, if I had a routine I’d get bored too easily. Except on Fridays and Saturdays you can pretty much guarantee I’ll be watching RuPauls Drag Race somewhere. I’m also obsessed with dogs so anytime I can be around dogs I’m pretty much there.
Where do you find yourself most inspired? And by whom?
Anywhere, although I do love Wexford when I’m home as its so relaxing and so far from everything else. My family and my grandmother are always very inspiring because they don't give a shit and know how to have laugh, everything is a joke and its always great to be around that.
It’s an admirable trait in a designer to leave behind the trappings of the fantastical and bring about a foundation of the everyday in their designs. Your humility and lack of vanity in your work is beautiful and very much reflects that value. Is that a conscious direction you’re taking?
Not necessarily, I mean some clothes I design to be extremely functional, some are more like limited and one off pieces or ‘museum’ pieces, there has to be a balance - if I did 10 extreme sculptural pieces I’d be equally as bored as doing 10 pairs of flares.
Taking into account the world of social media and the pressures on designers these days to share their every move in the attaining of celebrity status themselves, how do you deal with such pressures and where do your values stand on the world as it is today?
I ignore it completely. Social media can be a good thing in terms of transparency or rallying for elections, but its so fake and forced the majority of the time. If it's proven anything to me its how bored most of the world is and also how there is such a lack of individual identity now - I mean what is with this bizarre contouring make up? And everyone trying to look like a Kardashian? Or Gucci making collection after collection that looks like any charity shop find with a logo on it, it's actually mortifying. Its really shown me that most people are sheep and we have to fight against that, having an individual taste is dying so quickly, I mean how many posts can there be about a minging Chanel bag thats been around for 60 years or how clever someone is for rolling up there fake worn in jeans to show off some Stan Smiths, it's sometimes plain stupid. I just hate the idea of making money out of someones insecurities, because at the root of it thats what it really fosters and its a bit of an epidemic. A place where people can boast about shit and make a fake personality they spend all day hiding in their real lives. We have to remember how to have conversations and stop using it as a distraction - get out and talk to people. I’m the same as my Mam in a way, if you even take to your phone at dinner with me I lose my mind, although my Mam would probably throw something at you.
In a natural evolution, designers tend to find their own signature inclinations as each collection accumulates over time. How do you ensure your collections remain fresh and never become stale to your customers?
Keep honest, work hard, only listen to the few people you trust.
Do you have a mentor and what has been the greatest learnings up to this point that you hold on to?
I have a small group of people who's opinion I really, truly value, my boyfriend is one of them. We actually met before applying for Saint Martins and we both applied and got accepted, the odds of that happening were crazy and the odds of us both coming out the other side unharmed and not psychologically damaged are almost unheard of. He’s a genuinely brilliant artist and is always by my side and vice versa. His work is so intelligent and sophisticated its inspires an awful lot of people. Also my family, my grandmother is brilliantly honest and incredibly creative - she's constantly busy painting or making photo books or getting back to her countless friends, she's 83 and slaying life basically. I've never come across someone that age with such a modern take on life. I’ve also a couple of close friends who are also artists and some of my incredible tutors from Saint Martins who have since retired. Other than that I rely on myself for most things.
Do you have a life motto that you live by?
Not really, although I’d never base a decision on money, it's the most useless thing.
Your pieces have been worn by some incredibly famous people and shot in the world’s most influential magazines. What does it mean to you to have that recognition and ultimately, who is your ideal customer?
I think its nice but I don’t place much real value on that side of things. Press has never really interested me and although my works been in all of these incredible magazines I dont really read fashion magazines at all. The recognition is lovely and much appreciated but I think learning to critique your own work and value it differently and individually is more important, away from current trends that don’t relate to it. Being nominated for designer of the year at the Design Museum this year was really incredible and so unexpected - it was really surreal seeing it in the exhibition, I also have a really exciting museum project coming up in New York that I feel so honoured to be a part of. Seeing your clothes worn and lived in by women who inspire you is the most rewarding thing - from Bjork and Roisin Murphy to some incredible artists, collectors and gallerists, you get to learn from them and have brilliant conversations about anything and everything, that's really my favourite thing. It's also really funny when I think that I made my first collection in the top of my Dad's shed in a tiny room and now the label is stocked all around the world, from 8 locations in America and Canada through to stores in South Korea, Hong Kong, Shanghai and of course Europe. It's a bit mental.
You recently sat on the judging panel of The Racing Colours competition in association with Kildare Village. What was the like to reach a point where your opinion and level of excellence hold so much influence?
It's great and its nice to have really open conversations with other people in the industry. I think you learn that every opinion is important, and also that opinions are just opinions at the end of the day and they should never deter you from doing anything. You also realise there is so much support there if you look for it. I’ve tutored several times at Central Saint Martins since and its really quite a weird experience - I’m not even out of it three years yet, same as the judging, I just think that it's best to be totally and brutally honest and give the best feedback you can, that's the only way any of us learn. We all have to support each other at the end of the day and if there's a way I can help someone I certainly will. I also think what Kildare Village are doing in sponsoring students education, showing their work etc is really incredible and so so smart, that is really what is needed. Even through these internship programmes it's such a great way of getting these students and graduates into the industry, as obviously there is no fashion industry here that can create jobs and sustain lots of progress for designers. It breaks down that homogenised thing where only rich students can do internships, now it goes to the person with the most talent. You have these stores here who do pop up events for graduates and students but its completely self serving - it's a way of them making more money for themselves and promoting themselves in the right light whereas Kildare Village are willing to actually put the money on the table and get these students into education and show their work in real exhibitions, we need more of this - actual tangible support that will help these students succeed. I mean stores are only good if they have your customer and the customer base here is tiny. I’ve seen work here that I would never have really seen otherwise, and I can help people out as we’re all very closely connected in the fashion industry, I mean its tiny. If theres an opportunity for someone that I think suits whether its in Paris with one of the houses or with another young designer that I think they’d love I’ll definitely put them forward for it.
What do you look for in young designers wishing to make their own mark?
Honesty and integrity, you also need to work fucking hard, like more-than-you-can-imagine hard. Designers are the most critiqued people in the whole industry, there's thousands of fashion graduates every year and hardly any jobs, like close to zero with the big houses. There are tonnes of rich privileged kids ready to intern for free so you better be doing something right to get your foot in the door. Have a point of view also, I’ve come across so many students who want to work at Celine or Dior, so they make a collection that looks like Celine or Dior and thats completely the wrong way to go about it, they already have teams of people to create that, what they need is a new voice and a new perspective.
I understand the winner of the competition, Kate McGowan will enjoy a stint of work experience with you in your studio in London, how did internships add to your own personal growth as a designer and what do you wish to give back to those who will in turn learn from you?
Yes they did, I helped out a lot of young labels and friends at CSM too. Internships are super important in understanding how this bizarre industry works and also finding your place within it, not everyone is a designer - in fact it's a very rare trait. I hope that they have fun in my studio, enjoy it enough to work hard at it and are committed to seeing it through - there is nothing worse than someone not wanting to be there, you usually end up doing them a favour and asking them to leave. It is important also to surround yourself with people who are passionate and excited about what there doing.
If you weren’t a world-famous designer, what do you think would fill your days?
Sculpting or painting, and walking and entertaining several dogs. I also read like crazy, so I would probably read even more.