fashion

Richard Quinn: The budding designer who lured the Queen to fashion week

Published 18th December 2018
LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 18:  (EDITORS NOTE: Multiple exposures were combined in camera to produce this image.) Models walk the runway at the Richard Quinn show during London Fashion Week September 2018 on September 18, 2018 in London, England.  (Photo by Tim Whitby/BFC/Getty Images)
Credit: Tim Whitby/BFC/Getty Images Europe/Getty Images
Richard Quinn: The budding designer who lured the Queen to fashion week
Written by Jessica Bompus, CNN
Twenty-eight-year old designer Richard Quinn can pretty much take his pick of career-defining moments.
This past spring and summer, for example, he brought his signature acidic floral prints to collaborations with Liberty London and Debenhams and dressed Amal Clooney for the Met Gala. And just last week, Naomi Watts wore a drop-waist, Swarovski crystal-embellished dress from his Spring-Summer 2019 collection to the Fashion Awards (the Oscars of the British fashion industry), where he took home the award for British Emerging Talent Womenswear.
But it was in February, when Queen Elizabeth II sat front row at his Autumn-Winter 2018 show at London Fashion Week -- her first fashion show, in fact -- and presented him with the inaugural Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design that the world suddenly all took note of him.
"In terms of media value, you couldn't really buy that sort of coverage," fashion writer and blogger Susie Lau said in a phone interview. "That was the moment that propelled him. And then his name was everywhere in industry circles."
Queen Elizabeth II (sat here with Vogue editor Anna Wintour) attended Richard Quinn's runway show in February before presenting him with the inaugural Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design.
Queen Elizabeth II (sat here with Vogue editor Anna Wintour) attended Richard Quinn's runway show in February before presenting him with the inaugural Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design. Credit: YUI MOK/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
His name has circulated among celebrity circles, too: Thandie Newton stepped out in an Autumn-Winter 2018 design at the BAFTA Television Awards earlier this year; and Quinn counts Lady Gaga and model Adwoa Aboah among his supporters.
Of course, having the Queen attend your show makes for quite the surreal experience. "Obviously, it was going to be a big deal, but you just can't predict (what will happen) because it's never happened (before)," recalled the designer, who naively thought her appearance was going to be more akin to a school visit, garnering only local headlines as opposed to those worldwide.
"But then, obviously, it was the perfect storm. So many positive things came out of it," he says. Not least a doubling of his stockists and some fast-tracking through the fashion industry, which is notoriously hard for young designers to crack.
"I think his designs seem really edgy and modern but with a classic feel," actress Naomi Watts said of Quinn, who designed the dress she wore to the 2018 Fashion Awards.
"I think his designs seem really edgy and modern but with a classic feel," actress Naomi Watts said of Quinn, who designed the dress she wore to the 2018 Fashion Awards. Credit: Mike Marsland/BFC/Getty Images Europe/Mike Marsland/Getty Images
It's the week before the Fashion Awards I met Quinn at his studio under the railway arches of Peckham in south London. Every now and then, the sparse split-level studio shuddered as the trains whizz by above us.
A couple of eye-catching embellished designs hung behind his desk. Quinn, by contrast, was simply dressed in a hoodie and cap.
"He's someone who was very specific about what he wanted to do from the beginning," said Lau, who has been a fan of Quinn since he presented his MA collection at Central Saint Martins in 2016, describing his work as "quite maximal, print-centric" and "a little bit kinky and dark." (The designer often obscures models' faces with patterned gimp masks on the runway.) In an email, Watts, who praised the color, comfort and statement-making design of her Fashion Awards dress, said: "I think his designs seem really edgy and modern but with a classic feel."
In May, Amal Clooney brought Richard Quinn to the world stage when she wore one of his designs to the Met Gala.
In May, Amal Clooney brought Richard Quinn to the world stage when she wore one of his designs to the Met Gala. Credit: Noam Galai/Getty Images North America/Getty Images for New York Magazi
Quinn's own buzzwords include "unafraid" and "personal." But he's about more than just floral dresses. When we met, he came across as focused, ambitious and pragmatic.
"I think I have a different outlook. I see fashion as a business. I think it can be super creative, but I think favors will only last so long," he says. Which is why upon winning the H&M Design Award in 2017, he used the money to buy second-hand printing equipment to set up a print facility at his studio, running it alongside his eponymous label.
Covering model's faces in fabric -- as he did at his Autumn-Winter 2018 show -- is a signature move of Quinn's.
Covering model's faces in fabric -- as he did at his Autumn-Winter 2018 show -- is a signature move of Quinn's. Credit: NurPhoto/NurPhoto/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Sarah Mower, chief runway critic at Vogue, as well as the British Fashion Council's ambassador for emerging talent and chair of the NEWGEN support scheme of which Quinn is a part, remembers when he first pitched her the idea.
"He came 'round to my house as he wanted to talk to me about an idea he had. He realized the print studios were very overcrowded at CSM. The students had to go outside to other print studios to get their work done and it was costing them a lot, so he thought he would set up his own resource. And I thought 'Oh bless'," she recalled in a phone interview. "Lo and behold, six months later he had set up the print works!"
In the time since, big-name brands like Burberry, JW Anderson and Ports 1961, as well as fellow emerging designers Charles Jeffrey Loverboy, Mimi Wade and Dilara Findikoglu have made use of his printing services.
On Dec. 10, Quinn accepted the British Emerging Talent Womenswear award from model Karen Elson and The 1975 frontman Matthew Healy.
On Dec. 10, Quinn accepted the British Emerging Talent Womenswear award from model Karen Elson and The 1975 frontman Matthew Healy. Credit: Joe Maher/BFC/Getty Images Europe/Getty Images
It's this kind of very practical thinking, coupled with those lucrative but considered collaborations, that Quinn hopes will one day put his brand in league with the likes of Dior and Balenciaga.
"I see success as someone who shows and then you see someone wearing (their clothes), and then (they're) hiring people. That, to me, is success. It isn't (when) you're 'hot new London' and you're penniless in east London," he said.
"Whether it happens or not, I'm going to fight my hardest to get there. What I'm trying to do now is think what's next?"
And for that we'll have to wait until 2019.