Richard Malone On The Power Of Celebrating Local Craft

For AW22, Richard Malone opted to show his collection via lookbook. His previous outing took the red-headed designer to the halls of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, where his collection was walked among priceless Renaissance tapestries the Raphael Cartoons. “There must have been 150 people backstage,” says Malone, who is sitting across from me in his Seven Sisters studio. He’s in the process of moving his miniature team to a bigger workspace in south London: swathes of lemon yellow, dusty blue and crimson fabric are stuffed into boxes, while a gaggle of the designer’s signature sculptural pieces, hanging from a rail, shadow his frame.

His grand showing at the V&A last year enticed the museum to house Malone’s work within its permanent collections. It also ushered in the designer’s remixed versions of Mulberry Icon bags, made as part of the heritage brand’s 50th anniversary celebrations.

“I’m picky when it comes to saying yes to things,” he says. The designer has been approached on numerous occasions about big brand team-ups but he has feared disrupting his well-oiled, intimate business model.

Malone doesn’t do wholesale. Instead, he creates on a made-to-order basis, connecting directly with his trusted clientele via email and WhatsApp groups, and holding fittings and consultations at this studio. “It’s quite interesting because we’ve shown things [on the catwalk] that have already been sold to customers,” he says of an approach that uses recycled jersey and deadstock wools and leathers to fashion his ruched and draped frocks, handmade knits and sharp tailoring.

Richard Malone AW22

When Mulberry came knocking, Malone asked about the brand’s sustainability credentials and was rather taken aback about how impressive its manifesto truly was.

Many of Mulberry’s core brand values, from producing within the UK and sourcing leathers ethically to paying its workers a proper wage, align with the designer’s. Malone has long been a champion of local craft, with a textile factory in Newry, Northern Ireland, making his handwoven wools and working with weavers in his native Wexford, in Ireland, who specialise in Irish linens. Everyone who works in the Richard Malone supply chain is paid above the London Living Wage and the brand’s collections are all made using pre-existing fabrics, upcycled from past collections and projects, or deadstock.

One of Malone’s strong suits is his eye for colour. “I am really fussy with colour,” he says. Working with a lot of existing fabrics and deadstock materials, he has to be tactical in how he responds to different hues: “We don’t tend to mix lots of new colours or make lots of new shades. It’s very intuitive and varies from season to season.”

Portrait by Jason Lloyd-Evans

AW22’s rusted oranges, plums, grass greens and bubblegum pinks are all informed by the Catholic iconography that surrounded Malone through his adolescence. Yet when put together, the designer admits the looks resemble that of a Cadbury’s selection box, a playful juxtaposition that he finds hilarious.

He’s also a master of proportion, with his silhouettes often informed by the women he grew up around. He’s particularly fascinated by uniforms; clothes with a purpose. His grandmother was a seamstress who made hospital scrubs. “There’s a real performance of femininity in a space where people are sewing or weaving,” he adds. “A uniform is supposed to be a utilitarian thing that anyone can wear, but it’s actually extremely gendered in terms of its language.”

In past collections, he’s introduced detachable pannier-hip aprons to trousers, cut coats with the ease and sophistication of medical gear and, despite the grandeur of some of his hero pieces, their jersey construction allows for easy movement.

Since June 2021, Malone has also been touring his visual art exhibition Making and Momentum: In Conversation with Eileen Gray. Inspired by the work of the influential bisexual multidisciplinary artist the exhibition’s named after, Malone has curated a show that highlights the work of Irish craftspeople, from fine art through to textiles. The show’s final stop was in Wexford, befitting as it’s the home of both Malone and Gray.

Featuring works from the likes of sculptor Niamh O’Malley, painter Mainie Jellett and artisanal rug-makers Ceadogán, the exhibition was also bookended by a bursary programme.

Richard Malone AW22

These artist prizes were set up to award eight Irish students – who could apply without any formal art education – with €1,250 (£1,080) to be put towards an art project either in early development or nearing completion. “I think because a lot of prizes are so specific they can isolate people,” adds Malone. “We’re making sure that everyone can be involved. Changing the snobbery.”

Through his own collections and the work he does in the arts world, Malone is connecting Irish history with a new generation of artisans, and uplifting and amplifying craftspeople on a global stage.

Taken from Issue 69 of 10 Magazine – PEACE, COURAGE, FREEDOM – out now. Purchase here.

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