These images capture the young Irish designer Richard Malone in the final flurry of activity in the lead-up to his Autumn/Winter 2018 show, dedicated to Hollywood – not the Californian cinematic touchstone, but rather the market village historically known as Killinkeyvin in County Wicklow, in east Ireland. (Incidentally, it does have its own sign, measuring 1.8 metres high and 14 metres long). It was also dedicated to Hollywood heroines – again, not of the Dietrich and Monroe variety, but rather the matriarchs of Irish families, “who are 80 or 90, but in full Joan Collins make-up,” the women Malone recall seeing in his childhood. “People don’t realise the amount of shit they have to deal with behind closed doors,” he comments, barbedly.
Notably, Malone is surrounded by women in all these images – models, stylists, assistants of all types. Despite its many male protagonists, fashion is a predominantly feminine sphere, a woman’s world, as the designer Raf Simons once described it to me, “one a man cannot really enter into.”
“I don’t think there is much to clothes, until people are in them” – Richard Malone
Women are important to Malone – they not only wear his work, but inspire it. And indeed, for him, his clothes only really come to life at the end of the creative process, when they end up on women’s bodies. “I don’t think there is much to clothes, until people are in them,” Malone says, softly, describing the final 24 hours before his show as a “massive brainstorm, refining, refining, refining,” listening to women’s comments about the clothes before finally presenting them to the public.
Malone is speaking on the phone, as he is on the way to Ireland for the referendum to repeal Ireland’s eighth amendment – a constitutional ban on abortion – taking place today, Friday 25 May 2018. For him, it’s part of that “shit” they have to deal with behind closed doors, and is something Malone is passionate and, more pointedly, vocal about. “I’ve worked with loads of women, who wear my clothes, having conversations about their bodies,” he says. “I’ve always felt protective of the women in my family, but this is bigger than that.” There is also a reflection of that in his clothes, which free women, rather than restrict them. Even Malone’s trademark extreme pieces – the sculptural creations which feature in his catwalk collections, recently also acquired for the collection of the Museum of Modern Art – reflect these egalitarian beliefs. They abstract around the body but never hamper it.
The designer himself was raised amongst an array of strong women, including his 85-year-old grandmother, Nellie, who often inspires his work. “We’re not conservative… I grew up with those conversations that people weren’t having,” he recalls. “I still don’t think a lot of people outside Ireland knew that [abortion laws] were so restrictive.” A sense of his Irish roots is important to Malone’s work – this Autumn/Winter collection featured Irish checked tweeds, and a subtle colour palette evocative of the country’s landscapes and traditional craft textiles. There’s also a sense of his childhood, a make-do-and-mend idea of using disparate textiles and materials to achieve a certain look. In this instance, a sustainable cloth woven from yarn derived from coloured waste plastic. “It stems from having to make stuff from nothing,” he says. That also frames his reaction to the eighth amendment repeal, which for Malone is couched in socio-economic terms as much as morality. “You read so many stories – that if you don’t have €3,000 [to fly to the UK], you don’t have an option,” says Malone. “It’s about the poverty cycle… only 50% have a choice.” He’s just one of the many hoping to change that, today.