Richard Quinn is the only designer who had the late Queen sit in the front row of his show. Now, he salutes her with a ‘royal’ collection, the first of a brilliant two-parter that closed London Fashion Week
In 2018, something unthinkable in London happened. At the Richard Quinn autumn/winter presentation in February that year (only his second exhibition), the late Queen Elizabeth, at 91, attended her first very fashion show. The Monarch, in a fetching baby blue tweed suit, was accompanied by Anna Wintour in the front row, but she was not there to enjoy a fashion event the way the Vogue editor might or even to pick a dress (did Mr Quinn’s mad but magical mélange of prints overwhelm her?); she was there to give out the first Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design, and Mr Quinn was the first recipient—an affirmative nod for British fashion. It is not immoderate to assume that the meeting of the Sovereign left more than an indelible impression on the novice designer.
Four years later, Mr Quinn honours the Queen in return with one-half of a collection that leaves no doubt to its royal inspiration. Rather than cancel his show or add a token dress to salute Her Majesty, he conceived 22 all-black looks as effluence of emotion, respect and creativity to preface the show that he had originally planned. Mr Quinn admitted that he and his team had poured the “emotions of mourning into it (the first part)”. The raven gowns illustrate that even without colours or a riot of prints—the “ditzy florals”, Mr Quinn is masterful at assembling sumptuousness. The textural delicacy within almost traditional shapes could have been Christian Dior in partnership with Balenciaga—if collaborations could be coaxed out of the old masters—reimagined on a character from the past, such as Anna of Austria, Queen Consort of Spain. And then mantillas and floor-length face veils (rather than gimp masks) remind us that it is Mr Quinn who loves obscuring faces. There is much to enjoy in what could be mourning clothes.
Once the regal beauty ends, we are back to familiar, flower-packed, colour-saturated territory. This is indeed spring. Apart from the recognisable floral swing coats, tented dresses, bell-shaped capes, and oversized bows, there are now strange bodysuits in egg shapes from the waist up, some with the raised bumps reaching the ears—their forms no doubt would have baffled the award-bearing Queen of 2018. Were these Fabergé-eggs-turned-bodices given a floral makeover? Heaving chests in placed of augmented bustiness! These are, naturally, in keeping with Mr Quinn’s predilection for exaggerated shapes, or reimagining the line of the shoulder, as he did last season, confounding viewers with the question: Where does it begin or end? Or, are these for the potential mates of Elihas Starr, Marvel’s villainous Egghead?
However unconventional or conventional Mr Quinn’s shifting silhouettes are, they are pivoted to some place more grounded—haute couture at its height in the ’50s. This stands him in good stead against others in his home city who are inclined to go full-hog outré for the sake of affirming the capital’s standing as the rebel among fashion weeks. And for that, Mr Quinn’s clothes truly stand out and beckon inspection, as well as admiration. Even when allusions to the Queen may one day not matter any more at Richard Quinn, the label will continue to create thoughtful and romantic clothes that will, perhaps, sooner rather than later, draw the attention of some couture house across the English Channel, where Mr Quinn will bring out the best of the petit mains.