Richard Quinn Shares His Artistic Influences

From #11 Art Issue, cult fashion designer Richard Quinn talks printing techniques, sharing resources and what makes the 'shape of the season'.

This article was originally published in BRICKS #11, The Art Issue. To order a copy of the issue featuring cover stars Eartheater, Tove Lo, Gab Bois and Sage Flowers, visit our shop.

ILLUSTRATION Emily Blundell Owers

Bold and colourful, Richard Quinn has stamped his signature on British fashion since his first foray onto the runway. Having won the Stella McCartney Scholarship for his MA (which was later shot by Juergen Teller to cover Modern Matter), in AW18 his debut collection was met with critical acclaim and was awarded the inaugural Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design, for which Her Late Majesty made a rare appearance on the runway.   

Richard Quinn is a master of prints. Tucked away in his Peckham studio, the native South Londoner can be found quietly perfecting his explosive prints and experimenting with super-sized scales. His most recent collections have seen his plate-scaled flora adorn ballgowns, pussy bows, hat boxes, gimp suits and even motorcycle helmets, each paired with sleek black latex and high-shine accents. 

Quinn’s unique design language lends itself to collaborations, and his list of previous prestigious partners boasts his vast versatility – Liberty, Moncler, H&M and most recently, Tommy Hilfiger. Quinn’s reputation has now reached that of red carpet royalty, with celebrity clients including Amal Clooney and Nicola Coughlan for the Met Gala, Thandiwe Newton for the BAFTAs and Cardi B for Paris Fashion Week. 

But away from the glamour and famous fans, the couture-lover spends his Sundays strolling through Brick Lane’s eclectic vintage stalls for motifs to play with and repurpose. Quinn’s sustainable sensibilities come naturally, incorporating recycled elements in his student collections and spending his H&M Design Award prize money on state-of-the-art digital printing technology to reduce waste. As well as sharing his printing space with fellow designers Charles Jeffrey and Dilara Findikoglu, Quinn opens his studio to young designers, offering digital and screen-print services as well as print and textile workshops.  

You studied Screen Printing at Central Saint Martins – what inspired you to choose this BA? Had you any prior knowledge or experience of screen printing?  

I am really interested in seeing how print can interact with volume and silhouette – for instance, a print often comes into its own when used at a large scale across a voluminous gown. It made sense for me to study Fashion Print at CSM as an opportunity to explore this idea to its fullest extent.  

You’ve previously mentioned that you enjoyed the competitive nature at CSM while you studied. Do you feel the same competitive energy in the industry now and does it still motivate you? If not, what motivates you now?  

CSM is a really unique place, and I found that its competitive nature pushed me to produce my best work. I think that his mentality has remained with me since I left – I am not so much motivated by direct competition than by a desire to always be pushing boundaries and creating something new.  

You’ve also previously mentioned that your design process begins with choosing the shape and messaging of the collection. Can you tell us more about how you use silhouette to convey the collection’s message, and what draws you to the ‘shape of the season’?  

A strong silhouette acts as a basis for the collection, and we can then begin to apply the textiles on top of this. I find that the collections really start to come together once the prints and embroideries begin to interact with the shapes of the clothes, and the messaging becomes clearer and more focused as this process unfolds.  

It is important to show my collections on a diverse range of bodies as they will ultimately be worn by a diverse range of people. I have always been engaged with pop culture and so are the audience, so including pop culture icons in my shows is a no-brainer.  

Richard Quinn

You’ve worked with a wide variety of illustrious clients and collaborators on and off the catwalk, but have repeatedly featured queer pop culture icons in your runway shows. Why is it important for you to showcase your designs on queer bodies?  

For me, it is important to show my collections on a diverse range of bodies as they will ultimately be worn by a diverse range of people. I have always been engaged with pop culture and so are the audience, so including pop culture icons in my shows is a no-brainer.  

When speaking of your work, you often refer to context, especially when seeing garments off the runway. As your work has been increasingly worn off the runway, do you now consider or feel like you need to consider the garment’s life beyond the catwalk while designing? 

When designing for our shows, we aim to create a really clear and cohesive vision, so the most important thing is for each individual garment to fit within this. However, I don’t think this prevents the garments from having a life off the runway – it can be really interesting to see how clothes can appear completely different when the context changes.  

I know this is an email interview, but I had to take this opportunity to tell you that when I was a student and interning during fashion week, I snuck into your AW18 show and it is, to this day, one of my favourite fashion memories. Do you have a memory or experience from your early career that still holds significance for you?  

A real highlight of my early career was the Queen attending my AW18 show. It was such a memorable experience and it was lovely meeting her – she has a really great sense of humour.  

When designing for our shows, we aim to create a really clear and cohesive vision, so the most important thing is for each individual garment to fit within this.

Richard Quinn

Looking ahead, the future of the fashion industry is being shaped, in part, by new experimental technology, and it feels like we’re waiting to see what sticks and what becomes a brief fad – from technical machinery like 3D printing to AI models and VR runway shows. Have there been any recent tech advancements, perhaps for screen printing or elsewhere, that you have come to utilise in your practice?  

We are always interested to see how the fashion industry is changing and evolving, and we are constantly keeping an eye out for new fabrications. On the flip side, we also use a lot of traditional handcrafted techniques within our collections – perhaps there is potential for something interesting to happen where these two ideas collide.  

It’s been an undeniably difficult past few years for the creative industry, especially for emerging and recently graduated designers. How can the existing fashion industry best support the next generation of creative talent?  

The fashion industry has always been really supportive, especially within London – the BFC is great for initiatives aimed specifically at emerging designers. Meanwhile, more established designers are more often than not happy to offer advice based on their own experiences.  

Can you tell us more about your collaboration with Pret and what inspired your scarf design?  

We were really keen to partner with the Pret Foundation – it is such a great cause, helping those most in need. Our design was inspired by the Tamari & Ginger Aubergine Salad Bowl, spotlighting the fresh and colourful ingredients that Pret are so well known for. 

Over the last 25 years, the Pret Foundation Charity Commission has supported charities and projects working to alleviate homelessness, poverty and hunger in communities across the UK. This summer, the foundation partnered with three stalwarts of British fashion, who have lent their unique style signatures to three exclusive scarves inspired by a suitably summery essential – Pret’s seasonal salads. The limited-edition scarves on sale exclusively via Shopify on Pret’s Instagram for £30. 

Madeline Reid
Madeline Reid

Maddy is the Digital Editor at BRICKS with an interest in the intersection of fashion, digital culture, politics and sustainability. She is endlessly inspired by emerging designers, digital innovators and sustainability activists pioneering a new future for the fashion industry in the face of the climate crisis.

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