Designer Richard Malone Remembers a Childhood Spent on Ireland’s Beaches

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Richard Malone
Richard Malone as a child in IrelandCourtesy of Richard Malone

The country’s isolated coastline provides a welcome counterpoint to the designer’s life in London

Richard Malone grew up in the town of Wexford, situated on the mouth of the River Slaney on Ireland’s east coast, and the memories of a childhood spent there continue to enliven the designer’s work. Most recently, his A/W18 collection found inspiration in the town’s market stalls and the hustling, bargain-hunting women who occupy them. (The clothing itself recalled the the checkered patterns of market stall bags in “supermarket” colours of Tesco blue and Sainsbury’s orange, while in an ethos of “make do and mend”, one yarn was woven from discarded plastic.)

One such woman is his 85-year-old grandmother, Nellie, whose fierce independence is omnipresent in his work (and physically present at his shows, where she can be found cheering on from the front row). In her indomitable spirit, the clothes he makes have women and the lives they live squarely in mind: “I don’t think there is much to clothes, until people are in them,” Malone told Alexander Fury in the run up to his A/W18 show in January. Later in the year, on May 25, he celebrated the repeal of the eighth amendment which had previously prevented women from having access to abortion in Ireland. In an open letter posted on his Instagram, he dedicated his activism to the women in his life: “resilient, strong, nurturing, intelligent and complex”.

Here, in the first of a series of reminiscences from British designers on memorable summers, Malone recalls afternoons spent with his family on the beaches close to where he grew up – isolated stretches of unspoiled coastline which continue to provide a welcome escape for Malone if ever life in London gets too much.

“I have a very close relationship with the place because it is totally untouched. We would spend every summer there, with our grandmother – I have very early memories of it, I’ve been going there since I was literally a baby. As I got older, you can get on a train that goes along the coast and drink cans on the train and then, you know… I think my relationship changed as I got older, which was nice.

“I remember one summer they filmed Saving Private Ryan on the beach and all of the fish got killed because of the pollution of the fake bombs and dust. All these fish were laid up on the sand among these weird props. It’s a surreal thing to see in that situation because the beaches aren’t like that in England. It’s isolated coastline, basically. It’s not like you have the seafront, and the shops…

“I go back there a lot; I was back two weeks ago because I had to renew my driver’s licence, and I was running in the forest and that was amazing. Anytime I go I see my grandmother – she collects rocks and stones from there and paints them, making these figurines and sells them to randomers going to the beach. We used to do it when we were little. It’s super, super nostalgic.

“I get quite weird if I haven’t been to the sea for a while, I think that’s because I’m so used to being near the water. Where we live there’s just fields on fields on fields. It’s quite a weird place, when you move to London you become really aware of the contrast. You feel so lucky to come back here, and have that, because it’s so unique. It’s a different relationship that it gives you to the world.”