A holy communion in Ireland could be likened to a wedding. It’s a day when the whole family gets dressed up, the special focus being on the boy or girl making their communion. The day entails a morning mass, a school breakfast, visiting extended family members, late lunch with the family, and an evening—if you’re lucky—with a bouncing castle for the kids and an array of alcohol for the adults. It ends with a deflated bouncing castle, inebriated adults and a looming hangover. Of course, there are memories from during the day that stick with a child forever. For example, Wexford-born designer Richard Malone’s memory is of his aunt, Anne, arriving to the communion dressed in a skintight lycra, zebra print dress, a shaved head and exposed Celtic tattoos. Unforgettable. That very woman inspired his Fall 2016 collection, which was shown as part of Fashion East (his second season with sponsorship).
There were other flavourings of his Irish heritage suffused in the collection such as the caravan parties of his youth. The soundtrack of the show: a mix of rappers E-40 and Big Punisher—the soundtrack of his youth. Teenagers nowadays have to mark their identities in “a really narrow part of society”, by wearing colourful eyelash extensions, using ‘go-faster’ stripes, etc. Malone called upon those stamps from his time in Wexford. The images become more vivid the more he’s in London. He’s constantly reminded of the way things are back home and how lucky he is to be in London, where things are “much less homogenised”.
The majority of Irish women would probably shy away from these brilliantly crafted clothing, on grounds of them being “too daring”. Examining the collection reveals that most of them are highly practical. Thick-knit sweaters, a work-uniform shirt, jackets and dresses. They’re all uniquely made, to add volume and character to generally dull, everyday items. His puffer jacket was curved to accentuate the waist before moving out into a flared shape—real innovation.
Sexual politics in Wexford was also referenced. Oyster season in Ireland (which is apparently a big deal, I was unaware of it until I was researching for this review) is an interesting area of sexual politics in modern day Ireland. Men swim out to sea to harvest oysters, meanwhile women watch on. (The colours arose from this reference point—“ordinary blue” and the yellow of a high-vis jacket were used; also seen were mariner’s stripes). Gender roles in Ireland, still backward. Thankfully, Malone is using his art form to call them out.
Like a true poet, Richard Malone draws upon his personal experiences and his upbringing to bring a sense of himself and his identity to each of his collections—it humanises them. In some cases, you see the pride in his working class background radiate, and elsewhere you see what and why he tried to ‘escape’ the confines Wexford. It speaks volumes about modern day Ireland. A creative had to escape.
Photo Credit: voguerunway.com & dazeddigital.com