A royal audience: charting the rise of British fashion designer Richard Quinn

Queen Elizabeth II has attended one of his shows and he has created wedding gowns for a Saudi princess, but the increasingly famous creator is as humble as ever

The young designer is garnering an A-lister following, courtesy of his visionary pieces. Photo: Richard Quinn
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Richard Quinn hit the jackpot when Queen Elizabeth II attended his London Fashion Week debut in February 2018.

It is believed to be the only fashion show she has ever attended; afterwards, she presented him with the inaugural Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design.

It is fitting, therefore, we should meet at the jubilee pop-up boutique he has designed to celebrate not only the queen, but British fashion, at Bicester Village, the value retail shopping destination outside Oxford in the UK.

The Creative Spot x British Fashion Council brought together leading talents in fashion and jewellery in a showcase surrounded by giant daisy-printed decor, including a daisy-covered Mini and telephone box (both idiosyncratically British) and a pair of sculpted corgis, a nod to the queen’s favourite pets.

Richard Quinn was awarded with the inaugural Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design. Photo: Richard Quinn

The amplified floral prints are a Quinn signature, as are his voluminous gowns and maximalist use of all-over colour and print — everything matching, right down to the shoes and squashy bags, and all delivered with a couture-like sensibility. His autumn collection, unveiled at London Fashion Week last February, was presented in a large, pink-draped, carpeted ballroom, with the English Chamber Orchestra playing the Adagio for Strings in the background.

Those trademark prints and that royal stamp of approval have garnered the designer immediate status in fashion circles, drawing clients such as Amal Clooney, who wore a Richard Quinn floral overskirt and cigarette pants to the Met Gala in 2018, Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez, Kendall Jenner, Billy Porter and a Saudi princess who commissioned her wedding dress from him last year.

The Creative Spot x British Fashion Council at Bicester Village. Photo: The Bicester Collection

Surprisingly, the bride’s gown was not smothered in florals. “It was completely different from what we are known for — print. It was fully gold and embroidered,” says Quinn. Unlike the prints, embroidery is a less obvious feature of his work, mostly delicate details added to give sparkle to a floral motif.

He explains how, after large social events he would receive requests from four or five other ladies who were attending, for the same look his client was wearing, or something similar. His burgeoning private customer base has brought a lucrative stream of clients from the Middle East, which is crucial for young designers establishing themselves.

“There are lots of outfits in the Middle East you would never know we had made,” Quinn admits. “I think it is because they have an affinity for things I really like, such as glamour. The things we make are quite conservative — but forward-thinking in a way, in terms of the volumes. I am not aiming to design with bespoke in mind, but it seems to come naturally to us with the luxurious silks and the feathers. And we love the kind of glamour they want to wear.”

The queen’s accolade might have helped crystallise the aura surrounding Quinn and his work, but he wears it lightly. He is humble, warm and sports a ready smile underneath his signature baseball cap and beard. Born in Lewisham, and raised in south-east London, Quinn is the youngest of five children.

He always knew he wanted to do something in art and design, and as a teenager became more interested in fashion. Any ribbing from his friends about his choice was “water off a duck’s back; I couldn’t have cared less”, he says.

A look from Richard Quinn's autumn/winter 2022 collection. Photo: Richard Quinn

He studied at Central Saint Martins, graduating in 2014 before completing a master’s degree specialising in screen printing and fashion — and was awarded the Stella McCartney Scholarship.

“I have been lucky; my teachers, people who had worked in the industry, who I looked up to and respected, were very encouraging," he says. "And, I am always open to feedback.”

He graduated in 2016 and with the money received from an H&M Design Award, worth approximately £40,000 ($49,000), opened a print studio underneath railway arches in south London, where he would screen print fabrics for other people — JW Anderson and Burberry have both been clients — while developing his own collections.

Liberty London, the fashion and lifestyle store famous for its ditsy floral-printed fabrics, spotted his talents and offered him their vintage print fabrics. He later had a debut show at the fashion house in 2017.

Aside from those exuberant English florals, sometimes in clashing combinations, his aesthetic is often drawn from 1950s couture. He cites Christian Dior as one of his inspirations, another being the avant-garde Thierry Mugler — notably his power-shouldered, cinched-waist silhouettes from the 1980s and his slick glamour.

A look from Richard Quinn's spring/summer 2022 collection. Photo: Richard Quinn

However, there is something idiosyncratically British about Quinn’s designs, from the fabric through to what he describes as the dark British humour. His use of black latex body stockings and face masks give his designs a subversive twist, but he says “it’s quite tongue-in-cheek”. That inspiration harks back to his days at Central Saint Martins, when it was still a stone’s throw from Soho.

He works with a small team of seven, including himself, and prefers it that way. He sketches a complete, fully styled look from head-to-toe, with prints and accessories, and that is what ends up on the catwalk. His shapes range from voluminous opera coats and padded jackets to bustier cocktail dresses and bodysuits with hoods.

If he wants big hats, as seen in the new autumn collection, then one of the team researches it. Sometimes a client might offer a suggestion for a design they’ve commissioned that Quinn likes so much he’ll incorporate it into a collection. The fun bit, he admits, is after the show, when he wonders who will wear a particular look, how they will take it to a new level and put it in a context he would never have thought of.

During the pandemic, he and his team converted the studio to make hospital scrubs for the NHS and, instead of runway shows, produced a couple of films of his collections. It’s an experience he enjoyed and wants to repeat.

In the five years since his debut show at Liberty London, he has produced various successful capsule collections and collaborations with brands such as Moncler Genius, as well as the costumes for Billy Porter’s performance at the Fashion Awards in London last November. He recently secured the BFC/Vogue Designer Fashion Fund, which comes with a cash prize of £200,000. He says he actually entered the competition to secure the invaluable industry mentorship that comes with it, to help him develop his e-commerce business.

A look from Richard Quinn's autumn/winter 2022 collection. Photo: Richard Quinn

Of the jubilee project with Bicester Village and the council, he says: “I think if you do collaborations, it has to be the right fit and it’s a trade off, to reach audiences who perhaps wouldn’t know us, but they see the clothes, try them on and could go on to be a customer buying at full price.”

He says the project “was a natural fit because of the queen’s award and the jubilee", adding: "I feel as though we have come full circle.”

When asked about his recollections of the day the queen sat front row, he says it still finds it surreal. “I was told a few days in advance: it was very hush-hush and so we made a few classic head scarves, which were tied on masked models, which was a bit of a nod to Balmoral [the queen’s Scottish home] for the show," he says. "The day was crazy, and the memory is one big haze now.”

However, he feels an affinity for British tradition and heritage, having been brought up in London with childhood visits to the Tower of London and Buckingham Palace, and surrounded by the pageantry of the British royals. Asked how he spent the queen’s jubilee weekend, he says: “We had a big family party.”

Updated: July 02, 2022, 6:09 AM
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