Twenty-eight-year old designer Richard Quinn can pretty much take his pick of career-defining moments.
This past spring and summer, for example, he brought his signature acidic floral prints to collaborations with Liberty London and Debenhams and dressed Amal Clooney for the Met Gala. And just last week, Naomi Watts wore a drop-waist, Swarovski crystal-embellished dress from his Spring-Summer 2019 collection to the Fashion Awards (the Oscars of the British fashion industry), where he took home the award for British Emerging Talent Womenswear.
But it was in February, when Queen Elizabeth II sat front row at his Autumn-Winter 2018 show at London Fashion Week – her first fashion show, in fact – and presented him with the inaugural Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design that the world suddenly all took note of him.
“In terms of media value, you couldn’t really buy that sort of coverage,” fashion writer and blogger Susie Lau said in a phone interview. “That was the moment that propelled him. And then his name was everywhere in industry circles.”
His name has circulated among celebrity circles, too: Thandie Newton stepped out in an Autumn-Winter 2018 design at the BAFTA Television Awards earlier this year; and Quinn counts Lady Gaga and model Adwoa Aboah among his supporters.
Of course, having the Queen attend your show makes for quite the surreal experience. “Obviously, it was going to be a big deal, but you just can’t predict (what will happen) because it’s never happened (before),” recalled the designer, who naively thought her appearance was going to be more akin to a school visit, garnering only local headlines as opposed to those worldwide.
“But then, obviously, it was the perfect storm. So many positive things came out of it,” he says. Not least a doubling of his stockists and some fast-tracking through the fashion industry, which is notoriously hard for young designers to crack.
It’s the week before the Fashion Awards I met Quinn at his studio under the railway arches of Peckham in south London. Every now and then, the sparse split-level studio shuddered as the trains whizz by above us.
A couple of eye-catching embellished designs hung behind his desk. Quinn, by contrast, was simply dressed in a hoodie and cap.
“He’s someone who was very specific about what he wanted to do from the beginning,” said Lau, who has been a fan of Quinn since he presented his MA collection at Central Saint Martins in 2016, describing his work as “quite maximal, print-centric” and “a little bit kinky and dark.” (The designer often obscures models’ faces with patterned gimp masks on the runway.) In an email, Watts, who praised the color, comfort and statement-making design of her Fashion Awards dress, said: “I think his designs seem really edgy and modern but with a classic feel.”
Quinn’s own buzzwords include “unafraid” and “personal.” But he’s about more than just floral dresses. When we met, he came across as focused, ambitious and pragmatic.
“I think I have a different outlook. I see fashion as a business. I think it can be super creative, but I think favors will only last so long,” he says. Which is why upon winning the H&M Design Award in 2017, he used the money to buy second-hand printing equipment to set up a print facility at his studio, running it alongside his eponymous label.
Sarah Mower, chief runway critic at Vogue, as well as the British Fashion Council’s ambassador for emerging talent and chair of the NEWGEN support scheme of which Quinn is a part, remembers when he first pitched her the idea.
“He came ‘round to my house as he wanted to talk to me about an idea he had. He realized the print studios were very overcrowded at CSM. The students had to go outside to other print studios to get their work done and it was costing them a lot, so he thought he would set up his own resource. And I thought ‘Oh bless’,” she recalled in a phone interview. “Lo and behold, six months later he had set up the print works!”
In the time since, big-name brands like Burberry, JW Anderson and Ports 1961, as well as fellow emerging designers Charles Jeffrey Loverboy, Mimi Wade and Dilara Findikoglu have made use of his printing services.
It’s this kind of very practical thinking, coupled with those lucrative but considered collaborations, that Quinn hopes will one day put his brand in league with the likes of Dior and Balenciaga.
“I see success as someone who shows and then you see someone wearing (their clothes), and then (they’re) hiring people. That, to me, is success. It isn’t (when) you’re ‘hot new London’ and you’re penniless in east London,” he said.
“Whether it happens or not, I’m going to fight my hardest to get there. What I’m trying to do now is think what’s next?”
And for that we’ll have to wait until 2019.