Glass speaks to fashion designer and innovator Richard Malone

IN THE midst of these telling times, looking to those who aim to innovate can act as fuel for optimism. For Irish-born designer Richard Malone, this is a time that he hopes will “enforce people to reflect.” 

On day 10 of Malone’s time in self-isolation, we spoke over the phone from the confines of our own homes. His sweet irish voice crackled over the line, as he talked with articulation and honesty about his career so far in an industry that he believes needs some serious rethinking. 

Richard Malone Portrait

“Where I grew up is very rural, it’s not never a town, there are about seven or eight people that live there and it’s right next to a nature reserve,” Malone continues, “I think that’s why I have always had a huge connection to nature and an awareness of seasonality.” Malone’s connection to the natural world is something that has led him to feel “at odds with the system,” the fashion system that is, which he outlines as, “old fashioned and out of tune.” His work aims to challenge the “system” through the stubbornness around the way he chooses to operate. “I think that my experiences really come from somewhere completely removed and different.” he explains, “It has given me some kind of agency over questioning things.” 

Growing up on building sites, his father a painter and decorator, Malone accredits much of his inspiration and perspective to his upbringing in a southern Irish working class household. “I was always surrounded by different materials, quite industrial ones. From a young age I became very interested in sculpture.”

After attending a free university in Wales where he specialised in traditional sculpture for a year, Malone was advised by his tutors to consider applying to Central Saint Martins. “Before then I wasn’t really familiar with it at all,” he says, “I applied for womenswear and my whole portfolio was sculpture, performance and photography. I had no fashion work as such at all. But I got in and started on womenswear there and then.” 

  Richard Malone with models after receiving the International Woolmark Prize 

Whilst at the university, Malone dedicated his time to learning tailoring, a key component that remains characteristic to his work today. “I think because I come from a grafting background, my family are carpenters or builders, my grandmother was a seamstress – everyone had a craft, so I really focused on that whilst I was there.” He adds, “why certain facings or fusings go into a tailored jacket and how to construct a sleeve head, all of these different things people often take for granted.” 

Malone’s focus on cut and silhouette comes predominantly out of respect for the craft, he tells me, “the whole explosion of the industry and this mass market, image based thing has created a huge lack of respect for these craft-people and it makes them voice-less.”

Since graduating from university in 2014, his skill as a craftsman has not gone unrecognised, with his use of impeccable tailoring and subversive construction growing to become his signature – alongside his unprecedented commitment to sustainability. 

Richard Malone with models after receiving the International Woolmark Prize 

When addressing the issue of sustainability within his work, Malone also opts for complete transparency of his design and production process, sharing this information with private buyers and more recently with his audience at London Fashion Week earlier this year. “There is a lot of information that comes with buying clothes from us. There is a whole catalogue of where everything comes from,” he tells me, “from the plants and where they are grown, to how we generate the water when we dye things.” 

Malone’s most recent collection for Autumn Winter 2020, was entered as part of the International Woolmark Prize. For which designers were asked to produce a capsule collection that incorporated Merino wool as part of London Fashion Week. “The Woolmark Prize was the first time that I physically laid out everything for people that were not just private clients. It massively opened a door for me.” Eliminating the use of traditional chemical dyes and instead using completely organic plant-based alternatives, Malone’s astonishingly refined collection inspired by his home in Wexford, won him first prize.

“When bigger brands start to understand how we’ve done it and how we’ve found solutions, like recycling wool and turning it back into soil; or how we use our dyes to regenerate farms that have been damaged through mass production and consumption,” he continued, “If they implement some of those ideas even on a small scale we’ll start to see a massive change.” 

Richard Malone with models after receiving the International Woolmark Prize 

The level of agency and willingness to change that comes with Malone’s work and with Malone’s words, sets an industry wide example. One that fundamentally raises the question, if he can do it, why can’t everyone else? 

Towards the end of our conversation, Malone told me, “there is a general fatigue right now, so it’s a very interesting time to be making fashion because it is changing massively.” Proposing that, “It’s collapsing around us, which I find is in some ways the best time for creativity. When things collapse, as a generation we have the choice to rebuild how we want to.” 

Despite being immovably attached in heart and in head to his Irish hometown, Malone now resides in North East London, “right by the marshes in Hackney, funnily enough, next to another nature reserve.” Where he will be spending the rest of his time during lockdown, creating and reflecting. 

Richard Malone after receiving the International Woolmark Prize

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by Augustine Hammond