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The Interview: Richard Quinn, fashion designer

Tom Shearsmith
20 November 2021

Before becoming a household name and dressing many iconic celebrities, Richard Quinn came from quite humble beginnings. Born in Lewisham and raised in south east London, Quinn is the youngest of five children. He secured a place on the BA Fashion Print course at Central Saint Martins, impressing many tutors during his studies.

After graduating in 2014, Quinn enrolled onto the MA Fashion course where he was awarded the Stella McCartney Scholarship, graduating once more in February 2016.

Quinn talks to about his education and career highlights, his signature aesthetic, how drag can be a source of inspiration for mainstream fashion, why he’s chosen to collaborate with a whisky brand, his new SS22 collection, and what's next for his eponymous brand.

Richard, hello! How are you doing?

"I'm doing great, as busy as ever, but I'm really looking forward speaking with you about my designs, career, Spring/Summer 2022 and my new collaboration!"

Before we talk about everything from SS22, to your screen-printing workshop and your new collaboration with Royal Salute, I'd like to take your mind back to your university days. Pre-2016, what would I need to know to be an expert on your life and career?

"I grew up in London, as you'll know. I went to Central Saint Martins in where I studied Fashion Print - it's a course where you make all the clothes but also design all the prints and, uh, surface design that goes with the garments. I was there for quite a long time actually. I did my foundation, then my BA, then I went onto the MA. Um, and then once I graduated in 2016 I left and opened a print studio in London so we could print for other people. Slowly I started to work on and build my own collections and it kind of took off from there really! It happened quite suddenly actually, looking back."

As I've mentioned, you got the Stella McCartney Scholarship for your Masters degree, did that help you decide to stay on at Central Saint Martins?

"To be honest, I'd really enjoyed my time at Saint Martins. I enjoyed the atmosphere and the facilities related to my screen-printing was incredible. There was a professional atmosphere and I enjoyed the competitive nature of the place. I already had a place on the Masters course and Stella saw my work and offered me a scholarship based on what she'd seen. I was thrilled!"

And then you go from meeting Stella McCartney to The Queen - you've done so much in such a short space of time. You've been a massive influence the screen-print fashion world in the last five years, your London Fashion Week show was one of the most anticipated...and yet it seems you don't fully realise your own impact or influence! 

"I probably don't. I just really enjoy what I do and it's kind of a rare thing where I'll actually do exactly what I studied in a way. I struggle to sometimes think about how my work exists outside of my studio. I do fashion screen-printing every day and it's a testament to how strong my university course is.

"I think in terms of my career so far and my business it has been quite fast in terms of the ascent. In another way it feels like quite a long time coming - you probably get less time in jail for doing many things than I have spent studying! It all started as a print company before I started working separately on the womenswear. I was always intending to do that, but it has kind of been, um, a whirlwind!"

If I look at some of the people you have dressed, there are so incredible names - Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez, Billy Porter, Amal Clooney. It must be a delight to see someone of that scale look at your own work and find a connection with it. What is it like working with these kinds of celebrities from conception to that final reveal?

"I really enjoy it. I like to see my work in a different context, it's always enjoyable to see how it goes from a very strict vision like on a catwalk to how it looks on a red carpet. When some of my pieces are on the runway it's styled to the extreme with leather and latex that deliberately clash against the beautiful silhouettes.

"It's nice to kind of see when it's a real person wearing it and the kind of the context that they put it in. It definitely brings it to the whole new audience and a different life, which I also enjoy. And that's kind of why we do those really special pieces in the collections."

Richard Quinn SS22

When you present your collections on a runway, I would argue it definitely takes inspiration from the queer community whilst also giving joy back to it. You take that powerfulness that sometimes isn't looked at in society and almost turn it on its head and go 'this is something that we should be comfortable with'. Is there a reason why you choose this strong aesthetic on the runway?

"I like fashion to be an experience. Last season we couldn't do a runway due to COVID-19, so we made a video to give something that's really artistic and almost like a cultural moment, rather than just showing clothes up and down. I think the world that we're trying to create has all these different characters, subcultures and all these kind of more traditionally taboo things woven in to everyday looks.

"A private client will for example buy a really beautiful embroidered gown that we've done and in the context of different hair and makeup it's really interesting to see what they do. They sometimes will show us an image of maybe something like a gimp mask or someone wearing latex and they're like "I want exactly this". I think people are just drawn to that kind of aesthetic. Even when I studied at Saint Martins in the first year, it was adjacent to Soho and it's only natural to be inspired by it.

"It was really interesting seeing that kind of dynamic of London, how places like Soho are a real destination that you can explore, understand and see all these different things. I think it's interesting to mix these two sides."

Can you talk me through your production process - from design, to production, to catwalk?

"I'm currently sat amongst a load of fabric and prints from my next collection so I can tell you exactly how that works! I'll find an old fitting photo and sketch on top of it, trying and work out what the shape of the season is going to be for us and what the messaging is going to be.

"Simultaneously as we work on the silhouettes we also work on fabric development. A lot of our work is print-based so we'll be doing lots of research and buy old fabrics and photos to get inspiration. We'll draw from those prints on the tablets or will sketch and scan in the drawing. It's quite an old fashioned way of making prints, I love that kind of craft. Each print is quite technical, once we're happy we make them into repeat tiles and then print them in-house on our machines that we have."

Examples of the LFW Catwalk from Richard Quinn can be seen below:

Spring/Summer 2022, how would you describe it?

"I've got a new streamlined silhouette this season, and I'm again catering for everyone - men, women and anyone who identifies otherwise. Last season I had some of the talent from RuPaul's Drag Race and I've been working with them again to help include these groups that are seen as 'alternative' in society."

You've also got your collaboration with Royal Salute, which we reported about earlier this year, tell me a bit more about this. It's such a fun and creative way to showcase fashion and screen-printing!

"Yeah, it's the first in a collection and is described as cutting edge by Royal Salute. I think it's really fascinating, but I suppose people don't usually know me as a person, they know me as a designer. I'm quite a lover of whisky to be honest, so it's one of those things that dropped in my inbox that peaked my interest on a personal interest first. And then when I got thinking about it I thought it would actually be really interesting to see our work in that context.

"I think it kind of mirrors exactly what we do in our shows. We take for example something that's considered kind of like sixties and couture, and we clash it with something really underground like Soho. So it's nice to see two worlds collide."

Richard Quinn

Have you tried some, I'd presume so?

"Yeah, we had someone working on the specific notes of the whisky and got sent lots of different bottles to taste and give feedback about. It was really about trying to match the design to the taste. We worked on the design and looked at the history of the brand and the flagon they have - it's this really amazing handmade object that the whiskey comes in. We looked at different ways it could be printed or if it was like a surface application and I was really interested in the idea of this kind of like 'dipping print'. We created multiple versions and we both liked the same one, which made things easy!"

The Royal Salute Couture Collection 21 Year Old Richard Quinn Edition is available in limited quantities at select luxury retailers worldwide for £180.

Looking at the future for Richard Quinn, what's next?

"We're moving from Peckham to a much bigger space, which is very exciting. Every season our fashion show seems to get bigger and bigger. I'd love to explore film a little more like we did during lockdown and see if there's a way to present that fashion show atmosphere to a bigger audience. We're also looking at different product categories, such as the bridal market. Once we're in that bigger space we'll look further at expansion!"

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