haute so fabulous

The HSF Interview Series

Architect & Designer Gulla Jónsdóttir, The Interview

InteriorsRebecca O'ByrneComment
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In person, Gulla Jónsdóttir is as fabulous as her work is fierce and quite frankly put, a force to be reckoned with. Based in Los Angeles, California she heads up her own firm, Gulla Jónsdóttir Architecture + Design which she set up in 2009. After years of designing hotels from LA to Hong Kong, private residences in California and New York, restaurants in Paris and Mexico, a superclub in Beirut and a skyscraper in Dubai, the infamous designer has a portfolio that puts her on the map as one of the 21st centuries most skilled and sophisticated engineers of design. Growing up in Reykjavik, Iceland she left for LA where she studied architecture as an undergrad in SCI-Arc. Following in the footsteps of those who truly succeed in their trade and ultimately find their own path, upon graduating she sought out the greats and looked to learn from those who inspired her. After years of creating as part of incredible teams at Richard Meier & Partners Architects, Dodd Mitchell Design and Walt Disney Imagineering she now takes pleasure in leading her own team and continuing her work which now inspires and ignites the lives of all who enjoy her creations. I was thrilled to chat with Gulla and discuss where it all began, her inspirations and aspirations, taking in exactly why this visionary has been hailed as the new Zaha Hadid. 


Gulla, where did your love of design begin?

In Florence Italy when I was 12 years old.  I was mesmerized by the beauty of the city and the arts. Architecture and design are undoubtedly one and the same, merging aesthetics with structure, formational with the ornamental.

Was it a natural evolution for you to move away from straight architecture to what you do now?

I am still very involved in architecture and especially architecture with artistic integrity, this is my first passion and design is my second passion and indeed a very fluid transformation from architecture. There is no limitation to creativity so whether I'm designing a skyscraper, interiors or a piece of furniture, it's only a different scale and mindset to me, but it all relates to the same DNA of site-specific beauty that can complement its surrounding nature.

What was your first job in the industry and what stands out to you as some of the most important lessons from early on in your career?

I was very lucky with my first job and grateful to land a job right out of architecture school at Richard Meier's office working on the Getty Center Museum; then the largest project in California. I learned so much from Richard Meier and I still appreciate his work and how peaceful it is. There is an element of elegant geometry in all of his work and since I majored in mathematics before studying Architecture this very much appealed to me.

Your work takes you around the world, what’s been your most exciting project to date?

There are many and I feel like they are all like my children, just living in different cities. I like working in Mexico and my recent project there, Comal at the Chileno Bay Resort and Residences in Cabo, is very close to my heart. So is the Macau Roosevelt in Macau China, which is the first ground-up hotel I designed under my own company name; a 368 room lifestyle resort which just got an award as the Best Resort Design 2017 from Interior Design magazine.

When working on projects abroad, how important is it to bring about contextual elements to your creations?

It's very important to me! It's the first concept I start working on with each location. I like to walk around the site, scope for natural elements that can influence the design and always prefer to use local materials and handcrafted local furniture whenever possible. 

The new Kimpton La Peer hotel in L.A is your latest gift to the world. Could please explain the creative process involved in such a huge work of art..

This project is particularly dear to me as it is the same location as the studio I started in 2009. We have taken it step by step for the last few years through careful consideration of the neighborhood, and fellow artists and artisans are installing a piece of their energy and soul in the project and in the end I feel like we have succeeded in our tempt of creating a symphony of the arts for the neighborhood in a very comfortable setting that can feel like your home.

How do you balance consistency in your work as a designer while never letting your ideas become repetitive?

I follow my heart and I believe that design comes from within. The exciting challenge derives from creating something new for each project and this is what drives me. Always.

I hear you’re working on a jewellery line too, can you tell us a little about it?

The jewellery line came organically as looking at a 3D model of a facade I previously designed but didn't get built. Rotating it around I thought it could look like an interesting ring. We test printed it in 3D and gold plated it and it feels good so this is the beginning of something more brewing that we will launch later this year.

You have a great sense of style and are always dressed so beautifully, has fashion had an impact on your story thus far?

I believe high fashion is an art form so yes sometimes it does inspire me. I can see a flowy fabric and imagine it in a solid concrete shape and so forth.

Where do you feel the world’s of art and fashion collide? Do you consider them to be one and the same?

The real haute couture in terms of artists such as Yves Saint Laurent, Alexander McQueen and others in that calibre is in many ways equal to fine art, the only difference is that it is wearable for your body and other art is sometimes a social and or political statement or for its pure beauty and storytelling. What they have in common is beautifying the world with creative energy.

That is such a beautiful way of explaining it. Wow. What does a day in the life of Gulla Jonsdottir look like?

I wake up around 8 am and make an espresso, shower and answer emails at home, although my New Years resolution is always to start with meditation instead of looking at my phone.. ( one day.. ! ). I arrive at my studio around 9:30 am and catch up with my team and clients and walk down the street to get a delicious almond milk cappuccino. Late morning I visit my nearby projects that are under construction in West Hollywood and downtown LA.

Twice a week at lunch, I work out with my trainer at the park and usually eat a healthy lunch like a salad with salmon or chicken at my desk. In the afternoon I have conference calls and continue on designing, sketching new and ongoing projects and thankfully no day is the same when you work in a creative environment. Right now we are working on our first atelier which will be inside one of the hotels I'm designing so this is a new exciting challenge for us and a new business that I will invite other artists to participate in.

Late afternoon I call my mom in Iceland before she goes to sleep, text with a few friends and by 7 pm its time to grab a glass of wine with friends or colleagues and some snacks at the bar and then I go home and pick up my suitcase that I half hazardly packed late last night, and catch my midnight flight to Hong Kong or anywhere the projects take me.

I make sure to set up dinner with friends in that city when I land and happily turn off my phone because I refuse to believe there is wifi on planes and this is my time to do absolutely nothing. I love it.

Is there a fundamental rule you live by, personally and professionally?

To be true to my heart, genuine, loyal and honest. I sleep very well at night because I live an honest & peaceful yet adventurous life filled with very good people around me both in my personal and professional life and for them, I'm very grateful.

How do you navigate between the public's view of you and your own private life?

I'm always the same, I don't have a poker face and I treat everyone the same; with kindness. 

What are up-and-coming architects catching your attention right now?

The architects in China are doing some fantastic things right now. I see a big growth in Asia in pushing the boundaries and exploring new forms and materials in a very interesting way.

What was the last book you read?

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami.

Who or what is your greatest inspiration?

Nature, always nature.

Is there something you dream of designing?

A museum, a skyscraper and an Olympic stadium. 

..and what building do you wish you had designed?

Anything by Santiago Calatrava 

What are your unfulfilled ambitions? 

Learning more languages fluently. I speak a few but I need to find the time to fulfil this ambition.

If you weren’t a world-renowned designer, where would we find you and what would you be doing with your days?

Interesting thought, wow. I think I would be a Sherlock Holmes or James Bond sort of a woman solving mysteries and travelling and then would retreat to my villa in Tuscany painting paintings and drinking red wine from my vineyard.


Photographed below is Gulla's latest project, Kimpton La Peer Hotel which recently opened in West Hollywood, LA.

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Read more about Gulla's career on Haute So Fabulous here. 

 

Gearoid O'Dea, The Interview

LifeRebecca O'ByrneComment

As one of Ireland’s most impressive emerging artists, Gearoid O'Dea is one incredibly sharp and beautifully raw individuals. His work to date has seen him win awards globally and alongside his egoless approach to his work and the creative world in general it’s no wonder his place in Ireland’s art scene has been firmly and unquestionably established. Here I chat to Gag - as he is more well know - about his journey to date and his take on the contemporary art world in which he finds himself carving out a career that is sure to stand the test of time

Petria Lenehan, The Interview

StyleRebecca O'ByrneComment

Petria Lenehan is a woman with perpetual beauty on her mind. Designing clothes that stand the test of time and trends, the designer bases herself in Upstate New York's Hudson Valley, where she lives with her family and heads up her own fashion company. The Irish native is no stranger to her field having studied her trade in Florence, Italy before setting up her own retail store in her hometown of Dublin. Narrowing in on her passions however, she now designs with, as she describes herself, “notions of authenticity, nature, craftsmanship and tradition”. Uncomplicated, effortless and continuous in their delicate authority her collections create a loyal and retuning customer who knows that no matter the seasons runway flings, a lovingly-made staple by Petria Lenehan is always a good idea.

Javier Martin, The Interview

LifeRebecca O'Byrne1 Comment
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Javier Martin, a multi-disciplinary contemporary artist, is on a mission to break boundaries and have us question, as a society, who we are and what we believe in. Politically and ethically charged, his deeper meaning approach to art and each of his collections to date was born of a life-long devotion to his passion which has seen him grow from is first exhibition at the tender age of eight back in Spain where he grew up, to showing at galleries an museums around the world. As a true artist, his limitless attitude sees him continuously evolve on his personal journey, which he allows be defined by one thing only: the message he wishes to bring to life. 

Javier has been working on his current collection 'Blindness' for a collective 10 years. It is here he tests the limits we place on ourselves in terms of defining beauty and what is has come to mean in a world that tolerates nothing less than perfect. Here we speak to Javier about his discovery of art, the importance of expression and his devotion to eliciting a more curious culture that seeks answers instead of following conventional standards. 


Javier, tell us a little about your journey into the art world...

I began painting in oil colors when I was seven years old, and my first show was for the CAJA Madrid Young Artist Award at nine. I have always worked in a creative way because art is my passion.

At what point did your passion, that clearly started so young, turn to something you were making a living from?

I never made a conscious decision to become a professional artist. Everything progressed in a very natural way. I have always lived for my art, and one day you wake up and realize this has turned into a career. This did not happen overnight though; I have been making art for over 20 years. For me, art is something that lives inside of you. Art is my whole life.

Your current collection, 'Blindness’ is captivating not only for it’s beauty but it’s deeper meaning.. can you share what this collection is about?

For ten years, I have analyzed society’s actions, explored superficial perceptions of what is beautiful and valuable, and questioned the theory of genuine beauty and truth. I transform and deconstruct this idea of manufactured perfection used in advertising to explore the warped notions of beauty and value. In my work, I always conceal the eyes. Eliminating one’s most compelling and expressive tool to me is representative of how society’s triviality blinds us and takes us further from what is truly important.

Do you feel being untrained - in the traditional sense of having studied art at college - has allowed you express yourself more freely as an adult artist, and in fact allowed you to remain uninhibited and limitless as the writer of your own story?

I do. I don’t subscribe to one specific style or medium. My focus is on communicating a message. My first contact with art was when I was seven and began painting in oil colors. In that class, my instructor gave me the freedom to experiment. I never painted to recreate an image like the rest of the students but painted what I saw in my mind or my emotions. From the moment I discovered art.

That was my only formal art training, as I did not have the opportunity to study art as I began working at a young age and I now apply the skills I’ve acquired to creating art. Travelling, visiting museums, meeting people around the world was my education. And still is. I believe art is synonymous with freedom. Art isn't above anyone or anything. That's the beautiful thing about art because it allows people to see things from different perspectives.

 As an artist, how do you bridge the gap between the freedom of creativity and the restraints of consumerism?

I don’t feel those restraints on my freedom of creativity. I focus on making what I want and, if anything, consumerism is a source of inspiration for me. I base my art on my observations of society, what I create invites the viewer to think critically and reflect on the issues I believe are especially prevalent. Everything from consumerism, immigration, war, the game of politics and everything in between. I don’t criticize anything but merely put two realities together, and people can form their own opinion. Art has a purpose and should not just be beautiful. As an artist, I have responsibilities. I have the mission to say something meaningful.

 ‘Lies and Light’, one of your performance art pieces was revived with high regard, take us through the process of bringing such a performance together..

For many years I have been attracted to the idea of fully immersing myself into my work, creating something where I am completely present. With performance art it's interesting because it's art created at that moment and then it disappears forever, only the people present with you at that time get to keep a piece of the art. It’s something incredibly intimate and changed how I approach my work.

When I had the opportunity to do something like this, I decided to take all of my personal experiences and battles and transform them into a performance, connecting them to my Blindness concept and my work with lights. I felt very vulnerable when performing the piece, but I also a strange sense of power and release.

Can you tell us about your studio and take us through your creative processes there?

I look at my studio as my temple. Sometimes, I will just go there and walk around, clean things, move things around as if in a trance. Other times I will go with a clear idea and work until it’s complete. But usually, I am working on multiple projects.

Do you ever struggle with creative blocks?

I usually don’t because my mind is continually working and thinking. I have a book where I keep all of my ideas. Typically when I have an idea in my mind, I take out my book and write it all down. The problem is the battle of when I have the energy and the time to make the idea a reality.

Where do you find yourself most inspired? And by whom?

Every moment I live and experience is essential, but it’s interesting because I am often the inspired when I am by myself either immersed in nature or lost in my studio amongst my materials. It’s in those moments that I don’t have anything to distract me, I can reflect, and regain my balance. I grew up in Marbella next to Malaga the city where Picasso was born. He was one of the first artists I connected with when I was very young. Another artist who inspires me is Maurizio Cattelan as his art carries strong messages meant to revolutionize society. But everyday people and our culture inspire me the most because it’s the basis for so much of my work.

 To what do you attribute your success thus far?

Three words. Consistency, time, and passion. Over the years, I have never lost focus, passion or my ideas. No one is going to fight for you or pave the way for you. You need to find your truth because that’s the only weapon you have to fight. I believe and trust in myself.

What exhibitions are currently catching your attention in terms of contemporary art?

The Michelangelo Pistoletto’s retrospective at Blenheim Palace.
Ai Weiwei’s latest city-wide public art installation ‘Good Fences Make Good Neighbors’ with Public Art Fund.
Daniel Arsham’s first solo show in Russia ‘Architecture in Motion’, at the VDNH's "Karelia" Pavilion.

What is it that you want people to take from your work?

I want people to take a minute and just think. We often do not not wish to see our reality and are blinded by so many different things within our society, there is nothing more dangerous than to lose the window to your interior and only focus on the superficial. Self-reflect and find who we truly are inside and what we really want from this life.

 How does your art play a part in social change do you think and in essence pave the way forward for greater expression and less insecurity?

My focus is always on sending a message, the important thing for me is to make people think and reflect on where we are now as a society. I love the idea of changing the standards of beauty. I believe we still have a lot of work to do before we start to embrace everyone, not for their similarities but for their differences. I hope that the message in my art can help at least one person discover their light and the freedom that comes with it. As an artist I have responsibilities, I believe through my art I can change the world.

There a recurring thread of personal philosophy to each of your creations..

Yes, I want to express something powerful and meaningful because art has purpose and power, so it should not just be beautiful.
However, we live in a very superficial world, so I often use beautiful things to draw people in, because if it's disturbing, people tend to look the other way. My Blindness Collection is an example of this. At the end of the idea, we are all the same and dealing with many of the same challenges. Everyone possesses their own unique beauty. But what's most important is who a person is, what they think, feel, and believe.

What has been your greatest challenge to date and how have you dealt with it?

Fighting all of my life to become an artist and to be free from this system laid out by society. But believing in myself, listening to my interior and having a clear vision of the path laid out in front of me has really helped. No one is going to fight for you or pave the way for you. You need to find your truth because that is the only weapon you have to fight. I believe and trust in myself, I pick myself up every time I fall, and I always continue on my path. That is the only way to keep a dream alive.

And your proudest moment?

Seeing myself and my work in a museum for the first time. Earlier this year, I presented a video art of my first performance piece 'Lies and Light' in the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville. Interacting with the people of that city and realizing that what I do as an artist has power, through my art I can affect change and accomplish my goals. I continue to learn about myself every day and the things I am capable of doing.

If you had one more hour in your day how would you spend it?

I would spend it creating and making art.

www.javiermartinart.com

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Day Lau of Cafuné, The Interview

Style, LifeRebecca O'ByrneComment
HauteSoFabulous Cafune

Cafuné - pronounced ka.fu.nay is not just a beautiful Brazilian-Portuguese word meaning the act of playing with a lover's hair but one of the luxury market's most recently established accessories brand. Founded in 2015 by childhood friends Day Lau and Queenie Fan, the company is making it's mark on an industry that is slowly but surely finding it's worth in more niche markets and tightly directed and curated design. After a lifelong love affair with arts and culture in general and a fondness for minimalist design, the duo pay close attention to strong construction in their collections and the finer details in each piece. With Cafuné, an immense weight is also placed in craftsmanship and the materials used to bring to life modern yet timeless creations that have found themselves in the style stores of consumers around the world.

In such a short space of time, we've seen them grow vastly with front row presence on the arms of some of the most influential bloggers and editors in the world and are stocked in some of the most notable retailers in Asia. Here we chat to Day about realising the dram of setting up Cafuné, the challenges faced and what's next for the brand..


Day, would you kindly tell us about your career thus far and what brought you to the point of creating Cafuné?

After graduating from LSE, I moved back to Hong Kong and worked in Giant Communications, a boutique communications agency that specialises in property and architecture. They specialise in strategy, marketing and PR work for clients in the real estate sector, e.g. Swire Properties, SOM and Heatherwick Studios. During that period, I also helped with the setting up of Very Hong Kong, an independent art and culture programme with a strong community focus; and Event Horizon by Antony Gormley, the most extensive public art installation in HK. 

Around 2014, Queenie (who used to work in New York as a handbag designer) and I started to discuss the idea of creating our own brand together. When she relocated back to Hong Kong in mid 2015, we started Cafuné.

What is the philosophy behind the brand?

Cafuné’s accessories portrays the beauty of shapes and forms. Our accessories are minimal and timeless with well-considered details. Carefully crafted with Italian leather, offering superb quality that does not cost a fortune. Our brand is not trend focus, and instead we focus on the purity of design and construction; creating accessories with quiet elegance.

What roll do you play in the everyday running of the company?

As Managing Director of Cafuné, I oversee the operations, finance, sales and marketing of the company. Day to day work varies a lot, since we are still a small team, Queenie (our Creative Director) and I share all the work between ourselves. For example, I still have to pack the goods and deal with shipping and logistics! All in all though I think my biggest responsibility is to ensure that Cafuné has a solid business foundation so that Queenie can have a stress-free environment to design without worry.

How would you describe yourself professionally?

Motivated, organised and meticulous. 

When in the concept and design phase of creating a new product, what or who inspires you guys?

Queenie does all the design work, but as a brand, we are often inspired by sculptures and architecture, the play of positive and negative spaces in relation to form.

Seeing a gap in the market for a simplified but high-quality luxury accessories brand, Cafuné is really making a mark on the industry but how difficult is it in reality to break into that kind of a niche market?

I think there is opportunity for us in the luxury sector now because it has shifted focus to the mass market. To me, luxury is not just the price tag, but the design, the quality and exclusivity. Yet, many brands are now introducing second line with more ‘affordable' prices and subpar quality for a wider market, which to me, dilutes luxury. So what we are trying to do is to stay focused (it is so easy to lose sight of your own path in such a fast pace ever changing industry) on our aesthetic and quality, to slowly build a reputation and position in our targeted market.

Starting any new business is a huge risk and comes with many complications, what advice would you impart to those at the beginning of such a process?

Do research - we took a year to research and save up, before launching Cafuné. It is quite important to understand the industry and business environment you are going to be in. 

And don’t be afraid to ask questions - at the beginning there will be a thousand questions in your head because there is no rule book on how to start a new business, so we would often just ask experts in the field for advice. It is a great learning process to meet with people who have more experience than you.

The collections are minimalist in nature - endlessly elegant and empowering, how do you set yourselves apart from the masses of new brands emerging?

You are certainly right about MASSES of new brands! There are so many brands out there nowadays, and customers are exposed to new information, fresh visuals so frequently it is hard to stand out. Being able to ride out trend-based waves, and offer customers a strong modern design that speaks quietly of luxury is how we set ourselves apart.

Where are your products produced and how does the process unfold from concept to consumer?

We are produced in China, with a factory partner that has always worked with European and American contemporary labels. They have been a great partner, their team has a great sense and understanding of our brand, so our designs can be fully realised through their workmanship.

Often times our inspirations come from nature, sculptural forms, and architectural structures. It’s always a fun challenge to implement these ideas into a functional everyday product. Hence, it’s important to convey our ideas through materials, colors and details. We source from across the world (leather from Italy, trimmings from South East Asia, fabric from Europe etc), and our materials really strengthen the concept and complete the product. 

Season by season, 'influencers' are taking their positions front row alongside high-powered editors and season after season are becoming more and more powerful in the industry, what are your thoughts on the digital age and the rise of the ‘influencer’?

There is no doubt how big a role influencers play in the fashion industry now. I think the main reason is their ‘closeness’ to ordinary customers who feel they can strongly relate to them. Brands nowadays have to be really agile, to respond to new digital trends so not to lose touch with their audience, and influencers is one such channel to stay connected to our audience now.

Where do you see you relationship as a brand sit in terms of collaborating with influencers?

As a brand, it is up to us to find creative collaborations and partnerships with influencers, to offer our customers and future customers a fresh take of our products in new contexts. 

What do you look for when teaming up? Is it all about the number of followers or the quality of content created by an individual and perhaps the direct link to your exact client?

We look for influencers’ sense of style and aesthetics, whether it aligns with our brand and if they represent our customers well. Also, we look at an influencer’s quality of content and his/her engagement rate with followers. I believe the better the engagement rate, the better the result. We would also look for individuals that have a strong regional reach, so we can tap into new audiences in places that we aren’t exposed to or stocked at.

Your pieces are stocked in both bricks-and-mortar stores in Asia and online at Shopbop and LUISAVIAROMA - are there plans to expand into Europe and North America?

Certainly, Europe is our major focus now so we go to Premiere Classe every season to showcase our collection and meet buyers. There is a lot of potential in the market despite great competition!

Do you have a personal motto that you live by?

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”

If you weren’t doing what you’re doing where might we find you?

I might still be in the property marketing field since it was actually really exciting work. I used to work on projects from scratch - from naming, to branding, strategy planning, wayfinding design, marketing angles etc. There was also chance to meet with really talented architects (e.g. Thomas Heatherwick)! 


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Frédéric Malle, The Interview

LifeRebecca O'ByrneComment

Sensually creative, Frédéric Malle is the master of his trade. Sitting at the helm of Editions de Perfumes Frédéric Malle, his journey to the top of the fragrance industry is steeped in family history and yet he stands alone as a visionary whose creations finds their way into the lives and perfume wardrobes of men and women the world over. 

Richard Malone, The Interview

Style, LifeRebecca O'ByrneComment
Richard Malone

Having graduated from Central Saint Martins just three years ago, there is something extraordinary about Richard Malone and his impeccably chic yet distinctly powerful impact on the fashion industry thus far. 

The designer, born and raised in Co. Wexford, Ireland, is a true talent and beyond having mastered pattern cutting and a flair for seriously original creations, he possess a refreshingly humble approach to his success thus far, not forgetting the pressures designers face in the ‘real world’ today. Living in a time where the designer is glorified as a celebrity in their own right, his sole aim is admirable as it is discerning and quite simply put, is to design clothes for a generation under pressure; bringing about a sense of authenticity and threading through each collection a feeling of what’s truly important. 

With a mission to change the way we look at fashion - all while remaining far from airbrushed front pages and filtered Instagram feeds - this young designer has an array of accolades under his belt including LVMH’s honourable Grand Prix scholarship, the Deutsche Bank Award for Fashion (previously won by Christopher Kane) alongside being considered one of the Best young Artists under 25 in the UK by the BBC.

His collections have been received with high regard from the influences of international press and have appeared in some of the most respected publications worldwide from LOVE and Dazed, British Vogue and WWD to AnOther and Interview. 

Malone’s collections are stocked at some of the globe’s most prolific stores including Brown Thomas in Dublin, Selfridges in London and Joyce in Hong Kong.

In conjunction with and with sincere gratitude to Kildare Village, I chatted to Richard about his path to date and his recent undertaking as judge at Kildare Village’s Racing Colours Competition. The winner, Kate McGowan has been awarded a year long internship with him at his London studio and with Richard Malone as a mentor we’re sure Kate’s name is one you’ll want to know in the very near future..


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.


Richard Malone
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Richard Malone Interview
Richard Malone Interview
Richard Malone Interview
Richard Malone Interview
Richard Malone

This publishing of this interview is with great thanks to Kildare Village.

 

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