When the Queen and Anna Wintour sit front row at your London Fashion Week debut, how do you approach the next season? What message do you send with your following collection, given the fanfare surrounding your first? Such was the pressure on Richard Quinn, who presented his SS19 collection yesterday to an industry anticipating great things from the Central Saint Martins graduate. Thankfully, those expectations were met, solidifying the London-born designer not only as a rising star but also as a real contender in the art of the spectacle.
This season, instead of the two HRHs – of England and of Vogue – Quinn’s front row audience was made up of GCSE and A-level art students from the London state school he attended, and print students from Central Saint Martins. "At a time when real damage is occurring to arts education, I want to point to how substantially its creative power lights the path to our future," Quinn explained in the show notes. "Celebrating the community I come from is important to me, and thanking British art education for the fact that I am business today."
Citing the upsetting statistic that there has been a 34% drop in arts GCSE entries between 2010 and 2018, he said: "This year’s exam statistics show how seriously arts subjects are under threat in secondary schools in England, yet they are a foundation of our £32 billion fashion industry." And it’s not just the arts in higher and further education that are suffering; the arts have been hit with millions of pounds worth of local funding cuts over the past few years, meaning that those seeking creative pursuits outside of the education system are being failed, too. How does this bode for the future of fashion and the careers of our bright young things?
Quinn’s show perfectly captured the sombre tone, with a midnight-blue thunderstorm projected onto the wall, while in a London Fashion Week first, the London Philharmonic Orchestra performed two short works. The first, Rossini’s "The Storm" – "a gripping excerpt which builds from nothing to a crashing and dramatic musical deluge" – soundtracked Quinn’s first looks. Both breathtaking and haunting, show-goers were taken aback by models whose faces were covered with black velvet, huge tulle skirts protruding from under black satin coats.
What started as a funeral for the arts – huge vases of flowers at the foot of the catwalk brought to mind a decorative eulogy – moved into a sinister sort of glamour. Up first was a ‘20s Gatsby-esque glamour, all embellishment and feathered hems – fitting, as the second piece of music featured in Baz Luhrmann’s 2013 adaptation of the novel. This wasn’t frivolous glamour though, but a dark take on the decadence of the time; models wore milky grey contact lenses, dark shadow in the corners of their eyes, and rubber gloves reaching beyond the elbow. Daisy Buchanan meets Miss Havisham, perhaps?
Next came printed bouquets of vivid botanicals on drop-waisted and ruffle-hemmed dresses, the showstopping prints and fabrications with which Quinn has become synonymous. Away from that, there were '70s palm print kaftans and sequin Hawaiian shirts, '80s polka dot and watercolour puffball dresses that would have made Madonna and Cyndi Lauper proud, and graphic ballgowns fit for a debutante. Quinn’s move into animal print was less convincing, but something we’re sure to see strengthen over his next few collections.
With a list of fans including Beyoncé and Amal Clooney, the Queen and Anna Wintour, the pressure was on for Quinn this season. Yet with this collection, the rising star has proven he is no one-hit wonder. We can’t wait to see where his vision will take him (and us) next.