The Queen of England. Anna Wintour. Adwoa Aboah. Amal Clooney. When your biggest fans are strong women like these, inspiration is boundless. The young and loved London-based fashion designer Richard Quinn has brought pattern and passion to the runway with digital designs printed in-house on Epson printers, creating unique designs with non-stop imagination. Quinn’s bold eye has awarded him even more than celebrity clientele – the designer has also won the Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design, only 2 years after launching his brand!
We caught up with the thriving designer after a talk at W London – Leicester Square, getting real about the inspiration behind his Met Gala dress for Amal Clooney, his love of patterns, and the process behind printing his inspirations with Epson.
What was your relationship with clothing and fashion as a kid? Was there a piece of clothing or accessory you were obsessed with?
Richard Quinn: I was more interested in creating fashion than wearing it as a child. You would have seen me in Adidas sportswear most of the time!
When you are designing do you have a specific person in mind? How do you bring the vision to life?
RQ: I design for strong, independent women so there are no barriers to what can be created. I take a subversive take on the familiar, putting textile designs into lots of different contexts.
A good example is designing the Met Gala dress for Amal Clooney. Amal is recognized for her work in international law and human rights, so it was important to us that her look made a statement and reinforced the amazing work that she does. She wanted to include roses and lilies in the print because of their religious iconographies. The rose is an icon of veneration in the pre-Christian era and was used in ancient Rome to symbolize devotion to the goddess Venus. It was important to Amal that the print subtly referenced religion, so we used heavy brush marks to mimic the look of a stain glass window on a beautifully detailed print which was applied to the foil using an Epson digital printer.
Her decision to wear trousers was her way of depicting female empowerment and modern religion by referencing the stringent oppression that women faced. We loved working with her to create such a significant outfit which spoke a million words on her intelligence and active role she plays in making a change in the world.
In your most recent collection, you played a lot with clashing patterns and unexpected textures. Where did you get the inspiration from?
RQ: The 1960s artist Paul Harris who upholstered figures in floral fabric inspired my first collection and I extended that still further in my latest collection. I love photographer Tim Walker’s work, which is unsettling and surreal. The political mood currently is making my generation vocal and active for change, but it’s coupled with humor and optimism. All these influences are ingredients that fuel my designs.
The covering of models faces in many ways has been a big trend on the runway this year. What was your thought process behind using the scarves to cover the faces of your models?
RQ: My Central St. Martins’ graduate collection in 2016 featured full head to toe body coverings, so it’s not new for me. It evolved this year with decorated motorbike helmets. When I learned that the Queen was coming to see my latest collection at London Fashion Week at the last minute, I added the ‘Balmoral’ segment in honor of her Scottish retreat and inspired by the silk scarf that she regularly wears when she stays there. Head to toe silk scarves with a Quinn twist!
Can you talk about your process of printing on fabric? How does it allow you more freedom with creating your own designs?
RQ: My textile print studio in Peckham has two Epson digital dye-sublimation printers, an Epson wallpaper printer, and screen printing lines. Here I research and develop prints, experiment with fabrics and new substrates, print textiles, create patterns and produce finished pieces – all in-house. It’s great being able to create a textile design, print it and create an outfit all on site within hours.
For high-volume orders, I work with a couple of London-based fabrication companies that take my printed textiles and finishes them. The ability to produce unique high-impact colorways for all my outfits using my Epson printers means I can offer each retailer highly customized textile designs. Each can choose an exclusive textile design composition for each piece which is very exciting for them and their customers. No other stockist will carry the same design. That’s the power of digital printing – I have total flexibility to customize designs and produce the exact quantity, without any waste.
When you were designing this collection, what was the biggest obstacle you faced using the printing method?
RQ: No obstacles at all – in fact, the digital printing process liberates me to experiment with designs, effects, and fabrics in a fraction of the time compared to traditional methods.
How does London inspire your designs?
RQ: It’s a city of great energy and diversity that can’t fail to inspire.
What are 3 things to do in London if you love fashion?
RQ: Dover Street to shop, Peckham to party, and London Fashion Week to see the great style on and off the catwalk.
How did you feel when you saw the Queen and Anna Wintour in the front row of your show?
RQ: It was totally surreal and a great moment.
As a young designer, what advice do you have for those looking to make a mark in the fashion world?
RQ: Feed your passion for fashion and don’t get diverted by what others say. If you think you have something to say, then say it. Learn about the business side of fashion. It’s not enough to create great designs, you need to make good business decisions too.