Creator of ‘cracked couture,’ and teller of frayed fairytales: the screen printing of Fashion Print graduate Richard Quinn would undoubtedly make it onto the big screens. The young designer – who interned at Dior and Savile Row – talks with us about cringe factors, Daily Mail ‘sack the stylist’ spreads and wanting to go out on a high after a difficult year. We weren’t the only ones who got excited, seeing his gorgeous models strut down the runway – our friends were immediately on board to organize a shoot to showcase these gems.
Very pretty dresses, with frayed raw edges: why?
I wanted the look of everything to be hand painted and drawn on canvas and paper. I was obsessed with getting everything bright (paper) white. My helpers thought I was nuts. I would hold up two or three samples of white I had painted on canvas and they would look at me blankly and I would not get they didn’t see the difference (for the record, Dulux ‘Brilliant White’ is in fact cream). In hindsight, I would’ve thought I was nuts too, but they just weren’t white enough. I wanted things to look quite spontaneous and free, so I decided to have some hems finishes and some frayed. I needed to balance the finishings so it didn’t look sloppy or unintentional. The same with the prints, in fact, balancing precise screen printing with free hand painted flowers on top helped create that contrast. I wanted people to know that all the dresses were canvas and not actual fabric and I had painted them like you would a painting.
We sense a ‘duality’ (perhaps a very modern identity crisis: wanting best of two garments in one) in your work – what are you hinting at?
The starting point of the collection was things that rip or tear. I never intended to rip the clothes themselves, however to have the print ripping across a black silhouette to eventually end up with a completely covered final look. This then developed into collages of different prints and varying textures to highlight where a section of the garment had been removed/ripped, to expose the underneath layer. This became a bit stale and after a while I got really bored, in fact I was bored because the collection at that time was boring in terms of shape and how I was going to present the idea of ripping.
There are so many different techniques you’ve used in your garments. There are stones, glitter and paint, different kinds of flowers and furs, there’s an interesting use in pattern cutting and dressmaking and you’ve even made an array of gloves and shoes that go perfectly with the clothes!
What part of the process did you love doing/making most?
The point where I had the dress made in canvas and I started to colour them in effectively was the most fun. It really turned into something I could then understand and have control over. If I wanted a huge print on the jacket I would just pin it down and print camouflage across it. I think the only look to be printed before it was sewn up was the blue stripe and red rose shirt dress. The rest were all made in calico and fused and treated like an actual garment then I just painted them.
Which is your favourite look and why?
I think just in terms of a turning point where something actually worked and I was happy with was the shirt dress. A lot of things had gone wrong up until this point and this was the moment where I thought, fuck we just made this in two days I might be able to get a collection done. Granted everything was painted and stuck but it looked good so I couldn’t care less.
What caused you the most trouble?
It’s no secret that I hate to pattern cut. I really just find it a frustrating process as my skill level of pattern cutting is surpassed by my design expectation. The amount of days I said I hated calico I never would’ve thought 95% of my collection would be made in it. It’s one of those things that I just dreaded each day; nothing seemed to work or look how I wanted and I just couldn’t work out how to fix it. All the dresses have corsets and underskirts holding the shape, so even before you make the shell you have to make all the shit that holds the bloody thing out. It’s a nightmare, especially when you have two contrasting sides to a dress, it means you also have to make the underneath corset change! Fucking nightmare.
How did you start the collection?
It’s actually from my second year tailoring project, but interpreted in a completely different way. This is far more elegant. My tailoring was quite trashy to some extent. I started to look at defacing old couture imagery. I ripped lots of L’official photocopies in half to create new dresses. It became a bit of a piss take on couture but then turned into something a lot more interesting and beautiful I think. I wanted it to have integrity in design and print but still be quite different.
What previous ideas have you ditched?
I think my collection has changed a lot. When I say ‘changed,’ it completely changed. It was all black into colour at one point, then sportswear mixed with dresses (my CSM – crazy sportswear moment) and tunics as well, there was a lot. But in fact, it actually resided back to original collages and sketches I did in the early stages of 2014. It’s great that it did keep changing as the end product was worth it, but I just think if I was to do it again I would just go with my gut and just listen to a select few.
Can you walk us through your final year and stages of your collection – especially your last 2 weeks before the show.
The design stages were fine before Christmas, but when it came to pattern cutting in February that’s probably where I lost my marbles for a bit, thankfully I’ve found them now. It became a collection with so many variations and I wanted to explore all of them like everything it became a mess. So I went back to the drawing board and looked at the best designs and had a meeting with the tutors to decide the best way forward. Before this point I wanted to do really intricate embroidery and 10 screen prints but it was really unrealistic. So I stripped it all back but this was actually 2 weeks before the internal show. I would constantly be running to and from the print room for two weeks solid with hardly any sleep to try and get things sewn and painted, it was a living nightmare. But it was just forcing me in a way to do what comes naturally to me. Free hand painting looks spontaneous, purely because it was. It made my natural aesthetic come out and it just got done. I don’t know how or why but somehow in the internal show I had 5 Looks. It was pure adrenaline and to an extent desperation to prove that I could do it and it would get done. It had been a bit of a shit year anyway so I wanted to go out on a high. From the fitting the day before to my family cutting out hundreds of calico flowers and gluing all night to get it done. Then I was told I was in the press show and then a whole new look had to be added. Funnily enough in that week I spent touching up and making changes where it needed to go but left the last look again to the last minute on the Saturday before the show, it seemed like this was the way of getting that adrenaline to just get it done.
Why did you decide that the first look should be the first look? What’s the thought process behind making a running order?
The running order came about as I made them. I always knew I wanted the shirt dress first. Just as I knew it would get the message of the collection across straight away. At the fitting the day before the internal show two dresses were still completely plain, I had no clue what they would look like once I had painted them. I was told it was too late to show toiles, some people didn’t realize the garments already finished started in the same way. I ended up just going for it and a ‘kind of’ running order was made at that point and it actually worked when they were made so I kept it.
What has your work been like in previous years at college – have you gone through radical changes to find your own aesthetic the past four years?
When I was in first year, it was just about experimentation. The final year seems years away and you just do what you like. When I was in first and second year, I just remember if I would shock the tutors or show them something bold or different they would be really happy and you would just push it further. I really developed my print and colour skills then and I think they have stuck. I think in terms of shape it has always changed, which a good thing. I think my previous work still fits my overall intended look but it is still completely different, which I’m happy about.
What did the internships you’ve done teach you that was useful for making your final garment?
In my year out I worked at Dior in Paris and Richard James on Savile Row. Dior really showed me how things work in the industry and had amazing mentors whilst there. The day to day running of the stusios and how the design team work was fantastic. It really showed me how things actually are done. Richard James was a lot of fun. My boss – now close friend – Salma taught me a lot. She always pushed the design forward and made all the projects really interesting. Salma was actually amazing on my final year giving me perspective and giving me great advice, and sometime even help, painting shoes half hour before the show!
Has fashion always been the obvious choice? What influences did you have around you?
Not really, I came to CSM to do Fine Art or Graphics to be honest. I then got in my head there’s no money in Fine Art so I’ll do Graphics. It was after the Foundation year that I had an internship doing prints for London Fashion Week; I really saw how exciting and actually obtainable becoming a designer can be. My only experience on the CSM foundation of fashion was doing really cringe exercises. It had a real feel of elitism and desperation – a weird mix but I’m sure people would get what I mean. A lot of dramatic people worshiping Susie Bubble: the cringe factor was too much to take. So the break and touch of reality did me well. I applied and got in, so it all worked out for the best.
My dad actually owns a scaffolding company in London, so many days growing up have been spent ‘learning a trade’ on the sites of London. I have learned a lot from the scaffolder’s and their wise words from the ‘university of life’ some better than others. I wouldn’t change it as I know what hard graft is and respect my father no end to see how hard he works for his family. I am one of five and my mother is a health professional. They work extremely hard and I definitely aspire to be like them.
Are you afraid you’ll have to tone down and be more commercial in order to sell in the future?
I think this is a great opportunity to do what ever we want. At points in the year I would get worried and pair everything back down. The tutors would just keep pushing to make it better and bigger and I really see why now. Not that necessarily everything has to be big to be considered good but from my designs they really wanted the strongest line up to come to life. I would love to have my own brand or print studio but it’s early days. Perhaps the MA, but for now I think I’m going to work in a studio to further develop my skills. I think it’s the best option.
Why did you decide to choose the soundtrack you played during the show? Was it a difficult search for you to find the music to accompany the garments or did you have this in mind for a long time?
I wanted to grab peoples attention with the music. I hate classical or slow music at fashion shows I find it so self indulgent and boring. I wanted it to represent me as a person and give that edge to the collection it needed. It was ‘Move your Body by DJ Madd’. It reminds me of a great friend that put it on my i-pod. When ever I would go to buy paint or something all these tunes would come on he put there and it would remind me of all the funny times. He was a massive part of my life for a long time so even if he didn’t see the collection or turn up for the show he would be part of it in some way or another. It was a toss up between 4 or 5 songs for a long time but this fitted well and had the feel I wanted.
What’s the most hilarious catchphrase somebody has coined about your collection?
‘Cracked Couture’ was probably the nicest by Willie Walters, although I’m sure there have been worse descriptions.
If somebody would decide to make a film that’s based on your collection, what would the narrative be?
I would probably say a classic story directed by some one like Baz Luhrmann, with a modern quite surreal take on the story. By far his imagery, style and execution is my favorite.
Do you think red carpet events are ready for your dresses?
I think the ones that have contrasting prints but are full dresses could perhaps pass, but the ones that are ripped in half are a bit too far at this point in time. It’s a guaranteed ‘wtf were you thinking’ or ‘sack the stylist’ spread in the Daily Mail, I’m sure of it. Although, I would frame that.