Fashion

The Queen Elizabeth-Approved Designer Taking Over London

by Christopher Barnard

Ditzy is the word Richard Quinn uses most when describing his signature floral prints: "eccentrically silly, giddy, or inane" as defined by Merriam-Webster. The word conjures a kind of unseriousness, however, that couldn't be further from the spirit of his clothes and the milestones the designer has checked off in the last year. After a headline-grabbing audience with Her Majesty The Queen at his Fall 2018 show during London Fashion Week last February and a category-defying look (corset, trouser, plus dramatic train) in his trademark foil floral worn by red carpet queen Amal Clooney at The Met Ball, it's hard to describe Quinn as anything but deadly serious. So how does a young designer literally anointed after his first major collection decide what's next and keep the recent avalanche of momentum going without being buried in buzz?

Ditzy is the word Richard Quinn uses most when describing his signature floral prints: "eccentrically silly, giddy, or inane" as defined by Merriam-Webster. The word conjures a kind of unseriousness, however, that couldn't be further from the spirit of his clothes and the milestones the designer has checked off in the last year. After a headline-grabbing audience with Her Majesty The Queen at his Fall 2018 show during London Fashion Week last February and a category-defying look (corset, trouser, plus dramatic train) in his trademark foil floral worn by red carpet queen Amal Clooney at The Met Ball, it's hard to describe Quinn as anything but deadly serious. So how does a young designer literally anointed after his first major collection decide what's next and keep the recent avalanche of momentum going without being buried in buzz?

Quinn, born and raised in South East London, is arguably the platonic ideal of a Central Saint Martins grad. After completing his bachelor's degree at the illustrious school, whose alumni include John Galliano and the late Alexander McQueen, he won a grant from the Stella McCartney Foundation to continue directly on with an MA degree there. It was that MA collection, presented for Fall 2016, that made the fashion world take keen interest in the new designer who had an equally subversive love of acid florals and gimp masks. Quinn cited American artist Paul Harris as an inspiration for the uncanny head-to-toe looks while critics saw a direct line to Leigh Bowery, the artist, nightlife fixture, and spiritual godfather of much of London fashion. But it didn't much matter in the end where exactly Quinn was coming from -- the message was clear and exquisitely disturbing.

After a mouthwatering collaboration with beloved London boutique Liberty in 2017 — he took the store's famous calico florals and blew them up to Quinn-sized proportions — Quinn was ready for the big stage of London Fashion Week. But the 28-year-old designer, less than two years out of school, could hardly have anticipated what was to happen next. "I knew something big was going to happen about a month before but they didn't tell me what. They would tell me little bits and pieces. And then the show... obviously you saw, " Quinn recalls over the phone from his Peckham studio this past July. He is referring to the now iconic picture of the Queen and Anna Wintour, chatting and at turns giggling like two pals just catching up between shows, in the front row of Quinn's Fall 2018 collection. The Queen was officially there to present him with the inaugural Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design bestowed to a designer "who shows talent and originality, whilst demonstrating value to the community and/or sustainable policies."

"I didn't know that kind of photo moment was going to happen. Even though I knew it was slightly going to happen, I had no idea how big it was going to become." Within minutes — seconds really — the image was on screens and front pages across the globe; any fashion-follower's Instagram feed was flooded with the same image repeated. "People were saying they were Photoshopped and stuff, them next to each other. It was quite fun to see it all unravel," he recalls. But the moment was very real and the attention on Quinn was immense.

Instead of dwelling on it, or "rinsin' it" for all it's worth as Quinn says in his earthy lilt, he has made an effort, and wisely, to move on from the high wattage role of royal favorite. Despite being asked, he chose not to dress any guests for the royal wedding this summer. "It's more like we've moved on... that [moment] was great, but this is what else we're known for. That's why the Met was really good," he explains, referencing his red carpet coup of dressing Clooney, one of the evening's co-hosts, at the annual gala.

"Her assistant called me, and we basically had a few texts from Amal [Clooney] and she just came down to the studio and it looked really nice. It wasn't really an intense experience it was more chill really. Two or three fittings," he demures. The notoriously catty and risk-averse Daily Mail called the look a "showstopper" and, Stateside, Harper's Bazaar described it as "incredible"(though for good measure New York Magazine's The Cut website named her trousers the evening's Most Polarizing Pants). Which is all to say it was a bona fide fashion moment and another out-of-the-park publicity win for Quinn.

Runway looks from Quinn's Fall 2018 ready-to-wear collection

His serenity about such high stakes moments — and the gleeful risks he takes when it matters most — speaks to his preternaturally chill attitude and also the rather nimble operation in his Peckham studio. Quinn has about 3 or 4 regular employees (his sister Grace does sales). "It's nice working like that. Sometimes more people equals more problems. We try and not have like loads of interns and a lot of carry-on. Just slick!"

But despite his small team, chez Quinn is often filled with designers from other brands making good use of the Richard Quinn Print Studio, an open-access textile studio that Quinn established in partnership with Epson. Burberry and Ralph & Russo design teams will book it out for days at a time to experiment and create new fabric designs. "I knew that I was going to need a print studio and this was more of a modern way of working. You have control over color, form, and everything like that. And it's kind of a revenue stream as well," he says. The printing operation is a winning example of London's tight-knit fashion network at work.

Given all of the attention in the last nine months, Quinn's inclination for his much-anticipated Spring 2019 collection this September is to break new ground design-wise: perhaps more tailoring since he's known for dresses, new product categories, etc. "I think it's more interesting when you keep pushing it forward. To be known for lots of different things other than just one. Otherwise, in a years time you'll be talking about the same bullshit which is boring." There is no question we'll be talking about Quinn in a year, and even less of a chance any of it will be boring.

Subscribe to Get More