Richard Quinn is one of the fastest rising stars of British fashion. Since his celebrated MA fashion collection brought genuinely groundbreaking florals to the catwalk at Central Saint Martins in 2016, major milestones have continued to roll in. After winning the H&M Design Award in 2017, Richard created a celebrated capsule collection for the high street store. The actual queen made her first ever front row appearance (flanked by Anna Wintour) at his London Fashion Week show in February. And Amal Clooney selected one of his foiled creations – with a five-metre train – for the Met Gala, an event often described as the ‘fashion Oscars’.
Fortunately for us, the team at Debenhams were also paying close attention to Richard’s inexorable rise, and his new collection for the British department store launches this week. There are the big floral prints we know and love, with yellow blooms picked out with royal blue on a flute-sleeved midi dress, painterly pink roses on a navy Bardot neck jumpsuit, white and blue blooms on a full-skirted prom dress, evening gowns in velvet and chiffon, and a very chic drop-waist LBD.
At a breakfast launch hidden among the foliage at Petersham Nurseries’ outpost in Covent Garden, Refinery29 caught up with Richard to get the inside scoop on what HRH said to him at fashion week, what Amal Clooney was like at her Met Gala fittings, and how he wants you to feel in his first collection for Debenhams.
Hi Richard! How are you feeling this morning, launching the collection?
I'm really proud of it, I think it looks great. I know it’s already selling kind of well. It [feels] good to show something that has got a good response, and is so intrinsically linked to the brand.
Why did you want to collaborate with Debenhams?
It’s nice to not be so exclusive with things. It’s nice to give the essence [of the brand], and prints that come from my studio, to a different part of the market. If someone is a fan at 16, and sees the show, why can't she wear it to prom? Why can't she have a Richard Quinn [dress]? I read an article this morning that mentioned how there's so much inspiration that comes from the runway to the high street; so why not allow that person – who’s actually a fan – to get a Richard Quinn label piece from [a high street] shop?
It goes back to when I was like 15 or 16, and I got really interested in designs of the moment. Even seeing Lily Allen doing New Look, or Christopher Kane doing Topshop. I used to work in Topman. To me, that’s very aspirational, and Debenhams has a huge reach. When we did an H&M collection, I was getting images from friends saying, "Oh my god, someone’s wearing it at [Central] Saint Martins," or "someone’s wearing it on Oxford Street", and that's a really nice part of it as well. I think you can show at fashion week and you can be stocked at Matches and Net-A-Porter, but it’s also very nice to have different entry points as well.
Some of the techniques you use for your catwalk collections would likely be too expensive to use here. What were the challenges of making fashion at this price point?
I sent some patterns over to Debenhams, being like, this is our version of this pattern, feel free to adapt it. If you flare something too much then that adds a few more metres [of fabric]. So you still have the essence of it but maybe not 10, 15 metres in one jacket, maybe just 2.5, but you still get the effect of it, at a great price point.
And you didn't feel precious about doing that?
I don't think so. You have to adapt. I don't think it's a very real way of working to go there and say, "I want a dress with a five-metre train because Amal Clooney wore it." You have to think: that will sell, that will look really nice, that’s actually a really desirable piece.
Tell me about Amal! That was HUGE – she looked amazing, congratulations! How did it come about?
Through the grapevine – Anna Wintour came to the show and she was co-chair [of the Met Gala] and suggested me. Then her assistant got my number and she phoned me. [Amal’s] super intelligent, really nice, really down to earth. We had a back and forth about what she liked of my stuff previously, and I said just come down for a fitting and actually see what it looks like in real life. I did two or three fittings with her and then made it. So it was a very calm, easy process. She’s super nice. Her mum came to a fitting at one point as well and that’s always a good sign, when someone is close to their family.
How did it feel when you saw it at the Met?
I was meant to go, but it’s just not really my thing. I'm not really a celeb type of guy. So I watched it from home. It was on E! Live news, the fashion TV thing, and my mum was there. I found that to be more of a nice moment to be like, "Oh, that thing that was in a box two days ago is now there".
You could have gone?
Yeah. I didn’t know tickets were 30k when I turned it down – I would have went! It’s just maybe I'm not at that stage where I want to be on a red carpet.
Fair enough. But also, you might not be on a red carpet, but when the queen came to your show, you were certainly, suddenly on a world stage. How did it feel sending models out to be watched by the queen?
I think the funniest part of it, like the most enjoyable part, was actually the models lining up and not knowing what's happening, and seeing their faces as they were coming back in. I think there are a few photos of the models being like, [mouths] "What the fuck!" Stuff like that is really great. No one knew. I think only four or five people knew about it until the last hour basically, when the blue cushion went down.
Did the queen say anything to you?
I was pretty much expecting to go up and get [the award], and be like, "Woo! Let’s go", and then off I pop, but then she started speaking to me and I was like, oh! It wasn't even on my register that it was actually going to be a conversation; I thought she’d just be ushered away. But no, she’s like, really down to earth, really nice.
What did she say?
It's a bit of a blur really. Something like "Congratulations" and then she was talking about the trophy – that it was appropriate, because it had flowers on it. She liked the foil stuff. I think because the trophy with the flower on it was very foil-like, metallic, I think [she] was just like, "Oh that’s quite funny isn't it".
That is amazing. Love the queen. I wondered, are you a monarchist?
We didn't grow up with Diana plates in our house or anything, but we’d always watch the queen’s speech. Our family was very much like, "It’s a great thing we have a royal family". It is really nice, but yeah, never like diehard. No Charles mugs.
When the queen is no longer with us, do you reckon we should still have a royal family?
Yeah I think so, I don’t see why not. I think there’s a bigger world, rather than just them being in a house on their own. It generates so much tourism. I like history as well, I think it’s quite nice to have some sort of formality. And they do so much for charity. I think it’s really exciting when you see Harry, William, Kate and Meghan, the new gal.
Who did not wear your dress.
No, she didn't.
I had a bet on that in the office. That would have been incredible: The queen, Amal and Meghan.
Exactly. Were you upset that after getting on so well with the queen they didn’t ask you?
I think I’d find it more weird if they did ask me, because that’s a massive step away from where I’m at – I think?
What would you have made if they had asked you?
My sister asked me that. I don't know, you’d probably have to meet somebody. It’s like Amal – if somebody had asked me what I’d make her, I would’ve said something different than what actually came out. It depends on what they’re comfortable with and what actually they want.
Like, a motorbike helmet for a veil?
And how do you want this collection to make the women who buy it in Debenhams feel?
Last night, I did an influencer event, and a lot of them turned up and they were like, "What do you think I should get?" As long as you’re comfortable in it and you feel great in it, and you think you look great in it, go for it!