‘The one who met the Queen’: how Richard Quinn’s flower power made history | Fashion

At first glance, Richard Quinn’s studio is just as you’d imagine. Beneath an elegantly arched roof, a long rail stuffed full of dresses and coats spans one wall, the vivid colours and floral prints overlapping and blending so the clothes look like Doctor Moreau’s been let loose in Kew Gardens. Against another wall sit two massive Epson printers, one hums as its colour jets spray a vivid flower pattern in blues and greens reminiscent of Monet on to some sort of laminated fabric. On Quinn’s neat desk sits a vase of lilies and white roses. It’s a picture of creative calm. And then the 15.33 to Beckenham Junction thunders overhead, close enough to make the water in the flower vase ripple and the clothes all shiver and shift. This is not an atelier, this is not even a garret: this is a railway arch in Peckham. And the more you learn about Quinn, the more it suits him.

Sitting behind his desk with a Cheshire Cat grin, oblivious to the thunder overhead, Quinn is currently best known as the One who met the Queen. You must have seen the photos: they were on every front page. Her majesty sat front row at Quinn’s autumn/winter 2018 show last month and beamed ear to ear in a most unregal way as his foil dresses, created from the monarch’s signature headscarves, swished past. There were even floral-patterned motorcycle helmets and patterned gimp masks on the catwalk. The masks are a key part of Quinn’s aesthetic and he didn’t consider removing them for the Queen as she was known for her sense of humour. HM then presented him with the inaugural Queen Elizabeth II award for British design. It’s just like a fairytale, but one that, like the gowns hanging on his studio walls, is the result of Quinn’s pragmatism and talent rather than magic.

He was born 28 years ago not far from this juddering railway arch. He was the youngest of five, and was into art from an early age but with no idea you could make a living from it.

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Front row royalty: Queen Elizabeth II and Vogue’s Anna Wintour at Quinn’s show during London Fashion Week in February. Photograph: Yui Mok/AFP/Getty Images

“I went to a normal state school, then for sixth form I went to one school for two hours. They wanted me to do the baccalaureate. I was meant to pay for a tie so I could be on the rugby team. I was, like, I’m out of here! So I went to the school Quentin Blake went to [Chislehurst and Sidcup Grammar] and spent the whole two years in the art department.”

His art teacher suggested Central Saint Martins after which his foundation year tutor pointed him towards a fashion textile degree. After humming and hawing and spending a year as an intern with designers Michael van der Ham and Christopher Shannon, Quinn went for it. His BA collection won him a scholarship from the Stella McCartney Foundation to study for an MA. His MA collection then won him the H&M Design Award 2017 and a €50,000 (£44,000) cash prize. And now his first collection proper has been blessed by the Queen.

Quinn is quick to undercut any rosy vision of success. “Honestly, you can be the best in the world and if your timing is wrong, it means nothing. If I’d come out five years ago when there was a big print thing going on, I’d have been a small part of that and it would have been, ‘See you later.’ Coming out now, as the minimalist Céline look is dying out, it makes sense.”

He happily admits that his award-winning MA collection, which was inspired by the work of 60s artist Paul Harris, was partly the result of bad planning. “I ran out of time, I was going to do more padded pieces, but I didn’t have time so I did the masks instead.”

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Square dancing: for his autumn/winter 2018 show Quinn put the monarch’s signature head scarves to work in dramatic fashion.

The Stella McCartney award goes to students whose work does not use fur, leather or harm animals. Quinn confesses that, although sustainability and ethics are very important to him, at the time his collection was ethical because that was all he could afford to do.

“I had no money, so the collection was just made out of canvas. I said the idea was that anyone can have a nice dress if you know how to make it for them. Having no money does make you more creative. You haggle in shops and then if you can’t afford enough material, you work out how you can print the rest of what you need.”

His outrage at the extortionate cost of printing helped him win the H&M prize, too. “Once I left CSM, which had a print room, it was so expensive to get prints done. I was, like: ‘Are you having a laugh?’ So I pitched the idea of creating a print room to H&M. And when I won, suddenly my idea happened overnight. I realised, ‘Oh shit! This is actually a thing.’ I contacted Epson and they were into the idea, so now they keep us up to date with technology. All the young designers use the print room, which makes it a nice community thing. We have all the random fashion people of London coming here to use it.” Helping the British fashion industry… yes, that helps you win the Queen Elizabeth II award.

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Blooms with a view: floral crash helmets for autumn/winter 2018.

Quinn relishes business as much as fashion – “I am not into vanity projects” – and he knows exactly where he got that from. “It’s my dad – 100%. He has a scaffolding company and I grew up in his lorry. He was so open about money. Back then it made me cringe, but now I have my own business I get it. Someone would ring him and say: ‘How are you doing?’ He’d say, ‘Financially not very good. Have you paid that invoice yet?’ He’s been a strong role model. My parents are both really hardworking. We always had what we needed as kids because they were really dedicated.”

I imagine his dad will be impressed with his plans for the future. First on his list is consolidating the print room, because no matter what goes in or out of fashion, that’s a solid business. In terms of Richard Quinn the brand, well, you’ll have to wait and see. He has a week full of meetings – “My collection used to travel more than I did, but now people want to see me” – and if the projects all come off then, “Yee-haw!” He’s already thinking about next season’s collection, too. “I don’t want people to say you always do flowers, so I’m going to mix it up. I’m going to add something unexpected. I’m going to try to shock you.” And the room starts to shake again.