From growing up in south London to being presented his award at London Fashion Week by the Queen, Richard Quinn is a fashion star on the ascendance. But true to his roots, he wants his designs available to all.
When Richard Quinn made UK fashion history in February – the Queen made her first ever visit to London Fashion week expressly to give him an award designed by her own long-time personal designer Angela Kelly, some expected him to stay exclusively at the couture end of the market. Especially as Amal Clooney, who contacted him shortly afterwards, ditched at the last minute the established fashion giant Tom Ford to wear a Quinn creation for the Met Gala in New York.
Instead, the Peckham designer went an altogether much more democratic route, the high street and Debenhams.
Since the beginning of this month his gorgeous floral prints have been available in a twelve-piece range of items whose prices range from £65 to £149. His own label retails from £350 upwards at atchesfashion.com and in Liberty and his other celebrity clients include Thandie Newton, whom he dressed for the BAFTAs, and model Adwoa Aboah.
It has been a rapid ascent in just a couple of years for the 28-year old who only launched his label in 2016, after doing both a BA and then an MA at Central St Martin’s, having interned at both Dior and Richard James on Savile Row.
He specialises in textile and fabric innovation and until this year seemed to be perpetually bound for those ‘Ones to Watch’ lists, along the way working with Liberty and winning H&M’s 2017 Design Award. His studio in Peckham, where he uses Epson printers, is open access for students and other designers so they can access resources at a reasonable price.
That award he got at London Fashion Week was the first ever Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design. The recipient must be an emerging new British designer who contributes to the community and/or has strong sustainable policies.
He recently recalled how he learned there might be someone special might be at his show in February: “I knew something was happening. I was told that there was going to be a VIP and then a few days before I was told it was the Queen (who was seated by the ‘Queen’ of fashion with Anna Wintour) and I was to receive an award.
“I just thought it was going to be someone really famous like another designer from London.
“It’s kind of crazy and surreal but it’s really positive, it really puts me on the map. She’s so nice. I thought I was just going to go up, get a trophy then walk off but no, she started speaking to me, she said she really liked the collection, in particular how nice the flowers and all the foils were. She’s really switched on.”
Richard’s interest in fashion began at 16, developing from an original love of art, after watching graduate shows from Central Saint Martins on YouTube.
“My sisters shop at Debenhams. I want everyone to have an access point to my clothes,” he said of his Debenhams launch.
“I want to see girls who I grew up with wearing these dresses at a wedding.
“I think fashion should be aspirational but I don’t think it should cut people off. One of the best moments I’ve ever had is seeing someone walking down Oxford Street wearing my H&M stuff,” he says.
After completing his undergraduate degree at St Martin’s he got a place on its MA programme but couldn’t afford the tuition fees. A Stella McCartney talent scout spotted his work and the label sponsored his studies. He interned at Dior, won the H&M Design Award, for whom he created a sell-out capsule and used the £45,000 prize money, to set up his studio in a railway arch in Peckham from which he has no intention of moving.
“I was born in Lewisham, brought up in Eltham, my Dad’s got a scaffolding company a few arches up from mine,” he tells interviewers.
Indeed, his dad has been there since 1996. For those who are sceptical that celebrities would go to Peckham he says, simply: “Amal came to the studio for all her fittings.”
“People who are rude, who have delusions of grandeur, I won’t work with them,” he says.
He singles out his tutor at Central St Martins, Natalie Gibson, as the key to the success he is now enjoying: “She was a really big print designer in the 1960s and 1970s and her sense of colours is bang on, and she’s a really nice lady. She taught me everything I know about print.”
So how did he get to dress one of the most admired women of the day, human rights barrister Amal Clooney, who is married to the actor, producer and activist George Clooney?
“Anna Wintour came to my show and said to Amal ‘You should ask Richard’. After a phone call, Amal came to Peckham to do the fittings. She was so nice. We’re all about nice people.”
“She was just really normal and relaxed. We get lots of questions like, how long did it take you? How many people slaved over it? But it wasn’t like that. We just made it, in like three or four days. It wasn’t like we all died over it. I don’t think it should be like that.”
The theme of the Met Gala was Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination for which he designed a floor-sweeping mullet train skirt over-trousers in a print of roses and lilies – chosen for their religious connotations – and foiled to give a stained-glass effect.
After Thandie Newton’s BAFTAs appearance, he received a torrent of messages on Twitter asking where to buy his label: “Now I can answer Debenhams. That to me is success. That’s a brand.