Making It New
In Conversation With Richard Quinn
OB: In your work you draw on myriad references and influences, some of which do seem to hark back to the past…
RQ: I think the main influences were the old couture houses of the 1950s and 1960s and looking at those kind of archetypes and imagery and then twisting into something more subversive. Taking an upholstered floral pattern- it’s quite a straightforward mundane thing but the way you style it, the way you cut the dresses – it’s a bit harsher, not as elegant. Depending on what you pair it with it can jar. That’s really where I was going with [my last collection], taking something which already exists, twisting it and making it something more subversive.
OB: So there’s an element of looking backwards to go forwards here? Drawing on the past and undoing it in order the make it something new?
RQ: I think so – it’s a modern approach to take something which already exists and identify things which could turn them into something new, something refreshing and make people look at it in a different way. I think that’s a nice way to think about my work, the way it looks backwards in order to move forwards.
OB: In terms of the fabrics and materials you use, they have a vintage quality to them but the anonymity and facelessness of your mannequins is really jarring. It seems like there’s symbolism there…
RQ: It was all to really get the focus away from the model, from what she looks like. I was a womenswear and textiles student, I really wanted an overload of textile so I wanted to have each look as an overload of textile or a combination of textiles so that there was no compromising. Each look would be that textile – the rose woman, the boiler suit – different looks would almost be identifiable solely by the fabric, that was the main point. I can see where people are coming from – I guess Leigh Bowery – but it’s the 50s and 60s where there was actually quite a subversive S&M scene…where Paul Harris and all these different artists had the figures with all their faces covered with S&M gear and florals everywhere. It’s interesting for me to see how that can develop through the 80s as well. Looking at the 60s upholstery fabric, keeping it true to its nature and then putting it in a new context pushes it even further forward.
OB: Some of the prints that you use seem, when you look at them at first, to have a very reassuring and familiar quality to them. In terms of femininity and women’s identities was there a deliberate message in that
RQ: I’d be lying if I said it was a feminist statement. I didn’t create a rose woman to represent the woman of the day, it wasn’t as deep as that. Perhaps subconsciously I did that, the idea of having every textile be unique and different was that every woman would be different and identifiable on the runway so I suppose you could read it that way. It’s positive that people read it as showing the different characteristics of women, but it wasn’t my thought process.
OB: What do you, as a designer starting out in the fashion industry at a time when there’s so much conversation about sustainability and high turnaround times and outputs, think about the future?
RQ: My MA was sponsored by Stella McCartney and I think what she does is amazing. As such a large brand, fighting for the future, setting an example – that’s really important. In terms of that side of things, being socially and environmentally aware is paramount. In terms of the fast paced nature of fashion, I think that depends on what your goal is. I think ‘see now buy now’ is a bit ridiculous, it breaks the whole system apart. We are now seeing [designers] showing menswear with womenswear, it doesn’t make sense. Particularly when you think about how hard people fought for menswear week. It’s become an identifiable culture and I think to mix seasons and bring in ‘see now buy now’ is odd, particularly for young designers who just can’t keep up in the way that large fashion houses can, especially when their ideas are being ripped off by big designers. The pace is detrimental but I do think you can opt to remove yourself from it.
OB: It’s interesting that you’re talking about being influenced by the 50s and the 60s…the 80s are back right now, the 90s never really went away…but there’s so much to be said for the 50s and 60s. They saw our world, our society in the West change beyond recognition – sexual liberation, gay rights, social justice – those decades were a turning point. Was this something that you considered?
RQ: It’s interesting, in light of the recent elections [here and in America], to think about groups who have come so far…it’s been put in jeopardy. You realise how fashion, art and music do really get influenced by the times, regardless of whether something was ground-breaking then it can still be ground-breaking now, especially when those freedoms that everyone has fought so hard for are under threat. Even though it’s negative, I think there is positivity – in times of need art, music and fashion will respond in an exciting way and that will spark debate, pushing the discussion forward.
OB: Finally, what do you think the future looks like?
RQ: I think in terms of creativity – more so now than over the last few years especially with the political climate, more people have an individual point of view. It’s refreshing to see. And just in general – for society – stop being aresholes to each other. Everyone needs to be a lot more tolerant and a lot less selfish. A lot of people think everything is theirs: this is our country, this is mine…but you’ve just got to live and let live.