Irish female poets Manchán Magan and Doireann Ní Ghríofa’s works, written in Gaeilge, provided a new way for the Woolmark Prize-winning designer Richard Malone to look into female and queer empowerment with his latest collection.
“I think it’s nice to acknowledge them and the importance of them,” Malone said over a Zoom preview. “Historically, in the Irish language the energy of creativity is very much this female thing and that’s what it stands for. When Ireland was colonized and male scholars came in, they erased a lot of female languages and spaces.”
This history reminded him of how the fashion industry, in general, has also looked down on women, and systemically categorized craftspeople, most of whom are female or queer, as “low-skilled” and who are “never really elevated or spoken about properly.”
Therefore, Malone’s new collection continues his female empowerment narrative with his signature ruched jersey dresses with court dress-inspired details, geometric sweaters, deconstructed coats, abstract blazers with ceremonial collar details, and sculpted pieces that resemble armor from the Middle Ages. The collection is also fully produced by women, from sewing and styling, to casting and shooting.
“I don’t think gender is a really important thing. I wanted to redefine what people consider stereotypes or boxes, like what masculine clothes look like, or what female clothes look like and also making a space for this diversity of female wearers of my clothes and what people deem empowering,” he added.
Having moved away from the traditional seasonal showcase and wholesale, Malone names his collections with the dates that they’re released. Some 75 percent of his business now comes from made-to-order or commission work.
“Everything that leaves the studio comes with special labels that have photographs in them. They are also editioned and numbered, and we don’t make more than that once it’s complete. Sometimes the made-to-order stuff would have an embroidered signature of the person who’s going to buy it inside it, and information about where the fabric is from, where it is made and how many days go into it,” Malone explained.
For him, a collection is “a suggestion of the development,” and the brand also releases private campaigns and books for clients a few times a year to communicate with them directly.
“That dialogue is what forms the basis of everything that we do. There’s always a variety of characters with each customer and they buy very different things. Sometimes people want a beautiful, interesting tailored wool suit and then the next season they want a sculptured, regenerated nylon piece. There’s really no way of predicting it, but I think it almost feels like an exciting way for them to shop and to engage with the designer, and feel how empowering or interesting it can be,” he said.
Asked whether he will move his showcase to Paris in future since his practice is more commonly seen in couture houses, Malone said he had that thought before, but at the moment, he will focus on his customers in London, and his brand would enjoy more freedom outside that “old French European structure.”