At just 32 years old, Richard Malone has already garnered more acclaim than many artists do in a lifetime. Since leaving Central Saint Martins in 2014, Malone’s accolade-laden journey has seen all sorts; transitioning from a womenswear designer in the more conventional sense to a multi-faceted practitioner, incorporating sculpture, poetry, performance and more, the artist has gained recognition from some of the world’s most revered institutions in fashion and art – from LVMH and the British Fashion Council, to the Royal Academy and New York’s iconic MoMA. On top of this success at institutional level, Malone has built close relationships with a select few personal clients – prioritising artistic connection over mass production or clout chasing.  
Interview tak­en from METAL Magazine issue 49. Adapted for the online version. Order your copy here.
Given the figurative scale of Malone’s achievements, as well as the physical scale of recent works such as poem in the dark about sadness, his South London studio is more modest than one might expect. Overlooking the tube station, the unassuming space in many ways reflects Richard’s ethos as an artist. The relatively small space, in which Richard spends most days in solitude, is punctuated almost exclusively with the work itself: outfits from an upcoming Björk film hang from a rafter, sketches of previous works are sprawled across a wall, and an ominous shawl cloaks a confidential upcoming project. The sentiment that this room emanates, which Richard goes on to explicitly corroborate, is fairly simple – it’s all about the work. No big brand collabs, no hype, no commerce, just an unfaltering focus on the practices and processes behind the work itself. In a contemporary fashion-art landscape where substance can be increasingly hard to find under layers of marketing and click harvesting, Richard’s work prioritises craft over capital, and to tremendous effect. 
Richard’s attitude as a creative very much reflects his stance on this issue’s theme of guilty pleasures. For an artist who pursues fulfilment in their craft and refuses to sell out or compromise, guilty pleasures simply do not exist. But if he’s pushed for a response on what indulgences he loves best that could be defined as guilty pleasures Richard lists: I would say skinny dipping, poetry, dogs, pastries of the elaborate kind, all things Barry’s tea and Irish cheddar and or butter, oh and cheese toasties. An eclectic and very human list of treats that many of us can identify with. Guilt and pleasure are two separate entities. Pleasure need not be punished; it is deserved, and its pursuit ought to be an obligation rather than a guilt trip. 
Instalation at The Royan Academy. Photography by Richard Malone.
Richard, as we speak, images of your sculpture poem in the dark about sadness / filiocht faoi bhron, as an dorchadas are inescapable across London. The piece which adorned the Royal Academy’s Central Hall has been remarkably well-received in its position as the flagship work of the gallery’s historic annual Summer Exhibition. Could you tell us how it came to be included in the show?
I was on a residency on a regenerative farm in Wexford, where I’m from, and David Remfry RA, the coordinator of this year’s show, called me up. His wife had been to my show at the National Gallery of Ireland last year and they’d been following my work for a while. We’d been to some art view dinner-y things together. And in March he called me up saying, “We have a space that we’d like you to be the centre of; the Central Hall.” And I was like, oh, fuck. I still think I’m far too young to have done that space. But I trust him a lot, and if it hadn’t been him I might have put it off until next year. Because we only actually had six weeks to make that piece. I don’t like any bullshit or PR-ing of myself around the place, and David was a good barrier from all that. You have to go through a number of procedures where you install the work, and then the Royal Academicians have to come and sign it off the Monday before the opening. He was very good with that, as were all of this year’s RAs. The install was really positive too. I don’t really run a ship where we stay late or do nights; we’re in at nine and finished by five. It's such a wide demographic of people. About 270,000 people see it every month – and in person: it’s not just some social media thing. It’s also probably the biggest space that I will have taken over. But it was really easy and conversational. I came to see the space and asked if we could have natural light. They said that that would be fine. And then I just sent them the sketches and said, this is what I’m going to do. Don’t email me until we’re installing it. And they didn’t. They were very good with that. It was a tight ship.  
And was the idea developed as a response to the space itself?
Yeah, that’s usually what I do. It’s rare that institutions like that would give you a response to the space. Often, they want work that you’re known for. For that level of institution to say they trust you with the space and they’ll just accept whatever you want to put in it, a lot of logistics come with that. But with the RA, once you’re in the door you can almost do whatever you want. I was driving the cherry picker around and things like that. They were quite lax with certain restrictions but that’s what I needed. 
How seamless was your foray from haute couture into the art world? Given your studies in sculpture before heading to Central Saint Martins, has a breaking down of barriers between fashion and fine art been something that you’ve always envisioned for yourself?
There’s a huge barrier between the two things. It depends if you have a practice or not. I’ve always thought of myself as having a practice whereas a lot of fashion designers don’t, they just have commerce. You have more in-depth conversations in contemporary art than you would in fashion because fashion’s so fleeting. Especially post-pandemic, everyone was like, surely we won’t go back to the way it was before? And we absolutely have. It’s been a while since anything’s moved people in the fashion space. I can’t think of the last time that happened. So, I had to find a space elsewhere. I don’t think a lot of other fashion designers have that transition; it’s quite rare. But you have to have the research to back it up. Part of my practice is writing essays and being quite in depth about how things are made, and their cultural relevance to where I’m from. Because of those aspects the transition hasn’t been difficult.
You’ve always affirmed the importance of your rural working-class upbringing in Wexford, Ireland as a key component of your work’s identity, in both womenswear and fine art. Staying with your educational history, how did find adapting to CSM’s famously hyper-competitive environment after having come from this background?
I was quite shocked. And I still am quite shocked by what it is now. I go back as a lecturer for the MA and sometimes the BA, and there isn’t really diversity in terms of class or where people are from. It always surprised me because I thought London was meant to represent this idea of diversity, I mean, it was literally built by immigrants. But that imperial mindset really permeates those institutions. But having said that, if you do get in, then everyone is accepted and celebrated and encouraged to be in depth about what their research is and where they’re from. It’s the barriers to actually getting in which is where the problem lies with the big institutions. The BFC (British Fashion Council) just released this report about trying to diversify the industry and it completely misses the mark on class. And that tells you a lot about the sort of people who are deciding what’s put in those reports.
When I was at Saint Martins, there were people who didn’t even realise that Ireland was a separate country or that there was a civil war in our lifetime. Now I understand British education from the other side and it all makes a bit more sense. The further you go up in the art world the less opinions you hear from different places. They have the same education or the same family ties. I did like Saint Martins; I didn’t find it that stressful and it was all very funny to me. And we had the last great year as it was known. We had Grace Wales-Bonner, Charles Jeffrey, Matty Bovan, Kiko Kostadinov, myself, Richard Quinn. We were all there during the same time period and we didn’t all get along, but it was fun.
On the topic of your upbringing on the so-called Emerald Isle, METAL has reason to believe you’ve been back home working on something special over the summer. Could you shed any light on this project?
I’ve got a lot of shows coming up. We’ve been working on a book. But I’ve seen the first photos and I don’t like them. I don’t think that will be out when it’s supposed to be. Then we’ve got a big installation at The Dock, this big museum in the middle of Ireland. I’m working on a film about where I’m from in Ireland.
And is that separate to the Björk film?
Oh yes, the Björk film is all about Björk. I’ve known her for a while, and we’ve just been planning little funny sorts of things. There’s probably only about three performers that I actually like to work with, and Björk’s one of them; so I’ll bend over for her. Again, I’m just very attracted to people who have a practice, and when it’s really about the work. Not about doing an ad for H&M or something – she’s never compromised, and it’s good to surround yourself with people like that. We’ve got common interests in language and spoken word and matriarchal societies. There was this group of Irish women in the Viking period who were the first settlers in Ireland, and they were the first people to have a civil democracy. They were one of few societies to have matriarchal lineage, where women pass on power to women. And when they emigrated, they left their weapons but brought their libraries. There’s just a lot of overlap in interests with her, her album, her tour, and now this film.
The relationship between your native Ireland and the city you now call home is one that cannot be discussed without acknowledging the legacy of British colonialism. Institutions that you’ve worked with such as the RA and the V&A have strong historical ties to colonialism; however, they have both made conscious efforts to actively engage with their pasts. How do you feel as a queer Irish artist working with these institutions?
It’s something you always carry. I’m very aware of it – and I don’t think many people in London are. It’s still a massive thing in Ireland; it’s the reason that it took so long to get legal abortions; it’s the reason there’s a devolved government in Northern Ireland; it’s the reason there’s a border in Northern Ireland; it’s the reason we’ve lost so much of our language. So, it’s something you have to be really mindful of. But also, there’s lots of people within those institutions doing a lot of research studies to accommodate other belief systems. London at that time was really the birth of capitalism, and that goes hand in hand with the birth of Christianity, and the spreading of that. In my work I’m always trying to figure out what we would have had if we had kept hold of some of our language or some of our crafts. Most of the projects I do will have that embedded into them. They’re things that incorporate different belief systems; they’re very seasonal, which is why I’m very interested in regenerative agriculture. In agriculture the Irish language has a lot more words for things, because it accommodates a lot more spiritual beliefs about looking after soil, looking after plants, and it feels like Britain hasn’t had that for a long time.
Ancient Irish culture shares a lot of words and beliefs with Yoruba culture in Nigeria and Sanskrit culture in India, and it interests me that imperialism and colonialism sought to eradicate those cultures specifically. Those are the ones which were much more anti-capitalist to begin with, much more communal. And Ireland’s had a very interesting last 30 odd years, where it’s voted for all of these changes. It’s a very different collective consciousness if you actually vote for something, as opposed to just getting told to do something. We’ve got a very important history of rebellion too, and it’s mad to me when I’m in London and I see this insane government but there’s very rarely any disruption about it. I mean, look at the French – just set fire to some shit! Even in Ireland when they overpaid a TV presenter, everyone just immediately stopped paying their TV license. Or they tried to introduce border charges, and everyone just said, “No.” You know, it’s a democracy: we get to speak upwards as well as downwards. There’s a lot of rethinking to be done. And that can be learnt from cultures who had previously been colonised but now actually inhabit London and have this huge presence. There’s a lot to be learnt.
The theme of this issue is Guilty Pleasures. You’ve told METAL that some of your guilty pleasures include skinny dipping, elaborate pastries, and Irish cheddar. How do these indulgences coexist with your lifestyle as an artist? Do they provide sources of inspiration from your work? Or are they instead a relief from the labours of the creative process?
Well, I don’t think pleasure should be guilty. And I don’t really need a relief. I’ve set up my life in a way that means I don’t have to answer to anyone and I can’t just say no to things all of the time. So, I’m not really looking for relief. The only time I get stressed is if I’ve taken on too many huge projects. I don’t ever want a big team around me; I like to work alone most of the time. I just don’t like having those sorts of conversations you might have in offices. I think it makes you a bit brain dead. Like small talk, I don’t want to do it. I don’t really care. I try and keep a sense of just having one life. You can’t compromise even once because it’s a slippery slope. It’s like if I did a collaboration with adidas or a car company or something. I see all these allegedly sustainable brands or artists who are socially engaged doing collaborations with essentially colonial brands that profit from people in other countries making clothes for cheap. It doesn’t make any sense to me. Just say no. It’s so easy. That’s literally what you say in an email. No. 
Curiously, you also referred to poetry as one of your guilty pleasures; why is it that you consider such a revered artform as a source of guilt? Is it a particular low brow form of poetry which you indulge in (like limericks perhaps)? Or were you referring to poetry as a whole?
Again, I just don’t know if pleasure should be guilty. People seek pleasure for a reason and its purpose is just pleasure, there doesn’t need to be anything guilty about it. It reminds me of those Trinny and Susannah programmes – telling people not to indulge in anything and just being agents of the patriarchy. Nothing should really be a guilty pleasure, except maybe some drug taking if it makes you sway away from what you want to be doing or what you should be doing.
In a recent Instagram caption, you said, “Stick to your guns, don’t sell it off, resist capitalising it, keep at it, don’t collaborate with shitty brands.” To me it feels like this line largely encapsulates the spirit behind your oeuvre as both an artist and designer. However, continuing in the spirit of Guilty Pleasures, are there any so-called ‘shitty brands’ which you secretly have a soft spot for? Or do you think this kind of sentiment risks overly humanising big corporations, à la Barbie and Mattel for example.
Barbie freaks me out. That is fundamentally a bad film. Why did they make Barbie’s whole movie about her boyfriend? Excuse me. Problem one. And why are all the gays in it just jokes? Come on, that’s your whole audience. To answer the question: no. I don’t like shitty brands. Or even in-between brands. I hate those brands between high street and luxury because they’re just expensive high street. There’s some big brands that I like because of the craft that they’ve managed to keep. I’ve always liked Hermès, which is a real diversion for me. But just because of their retraining of people and the craft that they’ve held onto. I don’t like all the Instagrammy shit that they’ve fallen into. But fundamentally in the shop, the craft that goes into each individual item is amazing. They have this Petit H thing where they recycle everything into these amazing objects, and I think that’s a really good lesson for a lot of the smaller brands who like to sew stuff together. But generally, no. I find the idea of even buying something new a bit strange.
Whirr, 2023. Photography by Richard Malone.
During the early stages of your career as a designer, your unapologetic prioritisation of sustainable practices was something that really made you stand out. However, in the current climate there is no way that any individual or organisation in the public eye can sustain themselves (pardon the pun) without, at the very least, presenting a green image. Do you think this newfound trendiness of climate activism and sustainability offers a glimmer of hope in terms of shifting attitudes from powerful organisations, or is it just more greenwashing from the fickle fashion world and beyond?
Well, I just don’t think making polyester tracksuits in a factory in Turkey, say, is ever going to be sustainable. Definitely not en masse. And I see friends of mine who are designers do ads for fucking Lexus or BMW, and I just want to make it make sense. Because it’s worked for some people, brands feel like they need to lean in and do something, but the system is much worse than, even pre-pandemic, and definitely twenty years ago. We’re at the worst point. I mean, Naomi Campbell is doing Pretty Little Thing. Someone needs to stop her. That’s not okay. There’s so much about Naomi which is amazing, but they [Pretty Little Thing] are making clothes in factories which extract from Black and Brown bodies, and those people don’t get paid their wages.
The only place that I think is doing quite good work is Allbirds. They’ve made carbon neutral trainers, and they’ve done stuff with regeneratively farmed wool. They’re very transparent about their production and that makes them a good example, but because of their example they can’t do things like gifting which makes it harder to have the same footfall as, say, adidas. It’s worrying how little is spoken about the system, my biggest worry is that it’s not legislated. As a designer, if I wanted to show four collections a year, I wouldn’t be taxed more because of the environmental impact. Whereas if you taxed the big brands a lot more they’d think twice. Even just the resources involved in changing a creative director are astronomical, to rebuild the stores and so on. For what reason? I don’t think anyone’s getting an enriching experience. A lot of the work needs to happen behind the scenes. No one talking about it is a labourer. It’s all just white influencers telling people to be more sustainable. What does that mean? No one is speaking to a factory worker in Bangladesh, or someone in Kenya where all of the old clothes are being dumped. These people need to be front and centre of the conversation because their experience is really important. It blows my mind that hasn’t happened yet.
I think the BFC have a responsibility to trace clothing. Even if I made everything out of completely regenerative farmed wool, it wouldn’t stop everything else being made. There’s no legislation to stop that. I’ve been a vegetarian for years but I still use leather because it gets made. I get it from Mulberry because they have an excess. I don’t know if you should just be allowed to do collaboration after collaboration without considering the impact. Be transparent about the impact on air pollution or people’s rights. The scary thing is that we’re not all on the same page. No one else really gives a shit. Things were moving along a bit about five or six years ago but then the nineties and noughties became cool again. Then suddenly we had these emaciated bodies wearing tiny bras and really shear clothing. Are we that dumb that we’re repeating those images again? Cause they were a problem the first time around. Just because it’s female designers doing it now, that doesn’t lessen the impact on young girls. We have to be very mindful of the twenty-year cycle. The tabloid celebrities of that time, your Lindsays and Britneys, were all wearing these polyester clothes, but their spaces were also being invaded. That was a very problematic time for pop culture. It’s frustrating that there’s not enough writing about it. It wouldn’t be a takedown; it would just be transparency. It’s a strange time. But it’s possible to change things again.
At the other end of the scale from this cynicism, it is great to see the likes of Björk and Róisín Murphy wearing your designs. Do you think that these artists have sought out your work because of perceived shared values and ethics? Or have these collaborations simply come about through aesthetic and artistic similarities?
Both of those things! They don’t tour en masse or produce en masse. We have similar interests and good conversations. I always liked the conversations around specifically making clothes for someone. Even if I was a sculptor or contemporary visual artist at heart, I like the interaction – I think it’s really human and really refreshing. Doing that with someone like Björk or Róisín, whose music I love, is great. My first favourite song was Björk’s Oh So Quiet, I was like three, but it was so good. It’s funny how those things circulate, and you end up working with those people. Because you get a lot of opportunities to work with people but it’s just not right, you know. And some people take offence to that. There is this issue that when you make the clothes you are owed something. When stylists, for example, will post about a shoot they’ve done and not tag any of the clothes – the clothes make the shoot whether you like it or not. But there’s never a conversation. Whereas with Björk and Róisín we can work on something that’s more like a sketch or a gesture. I can be like ‘I’ve made this thing. Do you want it?’ And they’ll have it. No one has to see it. There’s not stylists or agents involved. I’ll text Björk and I’ll text Róisín about their tours. Or they’ll text me. When Björk’s in London she stays very close to me. So, it’s easy to meet up and it’s just a nice thing to do. I’ve not got a big interest in sending off big packages. We’ve never gifted anything. Sometimes people think that’s me being a bit difficult, but I think it’s the opposite. Why would you give away your labour for free? No fakery or fuckery.
As well as having clothed these two marvellous musicians, in a recent performance piece at the Hayward Gallery’s Dear Earth exhibition you recited a poem in conjunction with music and dance. Was this poem always intended to be performed over music? And has music long been an artform that you’ve incorporated into your creative process?
It’s part of the process for sure. Writing is a really important part of it. I started to take it more seriously when we did the letter for repeal [of the Irish constitution’s eight amendment, which restricted abortion in almost all cases]. And then when I did the show with Eileen Gray in France, I wrote an essay to really solidify why we were doing the show. Because I felt quite strange being asked to put on a show in such a legendary and iconic space. The Hayward came about when Rachel Thomas, the curator, who’s actually written a long form essay about my work recently, asked me to be a part of the Dear Earth exhibition, and it ended up being a performance thing. I worked with Paul from Clod Ensemble on the score because I’m not musically trained. Although I have worked on music before, I wrote the music for the last big show we did at the V&A. I wanted this to be something less formal, because I’ve done a lot of exhibitions at big institutions in the last year which have been very formal. Rachel let us have that outside space and we set it up so there could be live instruments and spoken word and they could be activated differently each time so it would change. Because the whole nature of that show was thinking about how time moves in this circular fashion, and everything’s connected. That was Rachel’s intention with the show, and I think she did it incredibly successfully. I don’t think there’s an institution that would take a risk like she has done with her first show, and so I just really wanted to be a part of it. I only had a week and a half to do that performance and pick the performers, who I’d known from doing movement workshops with Clod. This exhibition was the first time I’d seen someone, that’s Rachel, go to the Amazon, Southern Thailand, Nigeria and bring in people who aren’t considered visual artists, and give them complete control. But they actually are artists. They’re the ones engaging with deforestation, engaging with ancient cultures. Seeing how everything was done so respectfully, that’ll make a change how shows are done in London.
Whilst your queer working-class Irish background undoubtedly inspires much of your creative output, there have been several occasions where you’ve been vocal about the resisting the ‘fetishisation of identity’. Throughout your journey as an artist, have you ever found yourself unintentionally veering towards any stereotypes or expectations regarding your identity? 
I don’t think so. I’m very aware of these stereotypes because we’re surrounded by them. And they’re often leaned into to sell things. I’m very conscious of not just selling everything you have. Like at London Pride, everything is just for sale and full of corporate sponsors. In London, I’ve been introduced in very strange ways. Once, a fashion creative director asked me if  I knew how to make a nail bomb because I was Irish. Fucking wow. And then all the British people were laughing at it. And editors have introduced me as an Irish person who loves to drink. I don’t like to drink, and I don’t know you. I’d never go for a drink with you, you’re shit craic. There’s just little things like that, and what people’s expectations are. In terms of Irishness, there’s this part of history that people can’t seem to get past where everything just looks like a little Victorian baby. And again, that’s a really colonial language. I never wanted to be making communion dresses or just workwear uniforms or that sort of thing. That does happen with other Irish artists, and I just wonder why. Often, they’ll be from a very privileged place, and I think you can see that because there’s such a difference in that kind of work. There isn’t one way to be Irish or one way to be queer; you can use all of those things to make your own language, and that’s something which takes a long time to cultivate. I’m not even a long game person, but I’m just in my early thirties and you shouldn’t be ready to really find yourself until you’re at the end of your life. That’s always been my mentality.
You can work with certain stereotypes but that doesn’t mean they’re mine. I wouldn’t go around lecturing people about the Troubles in Northern Ireland because that’s my parents’ experience, not mine. There’s a difference with me because I’m the immigrant. A lot of people lean into their family history of migration, but your experience is very different if you’ve had a British education. I don’t like the idea that in order to be in a room with excellent art or excellent design you have to have ticked a number of boxes, which is a problem we’re leaning into now. It’s like, Who’s queer? Who’s an immigrant? Who’s from this background? Let it be a bit freer. But then we have a bit of work to do so that the conversations are more inclusive. There’s different kinds of inclusivity.
I find the Irish stereotypes thing funny. But it’s a very different culture, which is something people don’t realise. And I wouldn’t want to sell that culture. In England when people are confronted with the class system, they think, oh, this is a working-class person. They should talk a certain way. They should talk about their family and any struggle they’ve had. No that’s not it. You’ve proven yourself. Yourself is enough. I wouldn’t want to be listing out these traumas. That can be a pressure sometimes from people who are a bit more established, who’d love you to talk about this or that. You don’t need to brag about it either. The MoMA, the RA – they speak for themselves. I’m not there because I’m a working-class queer person. I’m there because of the work. Those are the sorts of conversations I’ve had with the curators from these institutions. It’s the work. I just quietly do it. You know what I mean? 
Conversely, have you ever had labels or identities thrust upon you that you haven’t appreciated or have found limiting?
All the time. It’s not the labels that are the problem. It is queer and working-class and Irish. All those things are true. It’s the expectations that it’s supposed to look a certain way. I’ve seen a lot of Irish artists who are much richer than me, or often from Anglo-Irish backgrounds and they lean into it a lot more. They think it’s appropriate to take photos of the pony boys or the Irish traveller community. You shouldn’t be objectifying that. It shouldn’t be in your work at all. Just because it’s Irish doesn’t mean it’s yours. You shouldn’t be glorifying it for a wealthy international audience unless you’re going to give back to that community directly or engage with them directly. There’s a real problem with that in photography where people think they can just go somewhere and take pictures of people and leave. A very famous photographer wanted to do a project in Wexford with me, shooting working-class people in the local community. And I just thought, In what world? What the photographer gets from it is that they’ve done this touching human project. And then they get to go and do a Primark campaign for a hundred grand a day. You have to be careful with that. It takes someone from that background to call it out. But not a lot of people in London are from that background, so not a lot of people are saying no. They think it’s cool or whatever. I came across it all the time at Saint Martins. Looking at some riots or something and wanting to make the clothes from the riots because it was cool and interesting. And I’d think, is it? It’s problematic for someone to think that they just have license to that kind of image. It’s an ongoing debate. 
You’ve mentioned previously that some of your pieces are created by contorting the materials around your own body to try and create original and unconventional forms. Do you have specific ideas of how the pieces are going to look before this process? Or do you improvise and adapt to the reactions of the materials themselves?
No, I have an idea in my head of the space that they’re going to live in. We don’t have rollers here and you have to bend the metal on something, and it’s usually imprints of my own body. I suppose there’s an overlap with that process and all the dance and performance work that I do. But no, it’s very time consuming. The nicest thing about the RA is that the craft in the middle of that space is welding and stitching, and that has not happened before. So, I think that’s a really nice relation to the labour of the people where I come from, and the labour that I grew up with. It felt important for that craft to be given a space, so that people can recognise that an important piece of visual art has come from that place. But it doesn’t look how we expected and that’s good. It should challenge people’s expectations.
You’ve credited various family members such as your grandmother and your father in helping you to develop the skills and labour practices involved in your creative process. Do your family still play an important role in the development of your artworks? 
Yeah, I’d say so. I feel I’m very sensitive to colour, and I learnt that from being a painter and decorator with my dad. And the welding is definitely from him. But they’re from a generation that experienced Ireland as an extremely poor country. So they never had space for any aspiration to add anything artistic or nuanced to the crafts. That was reserved for British people who lived in Ireland. It’s quite rewarding for them to see their crafts on an amazing scale. My dad is involved; he’s an amazing maker because he’s been making things since he was a young teenager. And it’s the same with my grandmother, she was a labourer. She stopped her education when she was about seven, which was quite normal for Ireland then. She was working from then. They just have life skills, which will always play a part because they formed the language that I had before I went to art school, and even when I was in art school, that was the language that I kept. I was never in the library or photocopying old fashion magazines saying, I want to make this. I was just experimenting with what I already had. It was just an extension of being a teenager in Ireland. I never wanted to just copy shit for the sake of it.
In interviews from earlier in your career as a designer, you stressed the importance of functionality in womenswear, something which historically has often been absent. However, much of your work now could be considered to fall into the category of fine art, a medium almost defined by its very lack of functionality – art to be appreciated, but with no clear stated purpose. Do you find there is a tension between these two seemingly conflicting ethoses? Or do you deny such a definition of fine art as functionless?
Yeah, fine art has no functionality. They’re just different parts of my brain. Having a contemporary art practice is not the same as making fashion. Fashion is for a human body to inhabit and live their life in, and mine was always in response to real people: made to order things, stuff that I would wear, stuff that would be on the runway. Art’s function is getting people to think and reflect on things. Otherwise, we’d all just be labourers working for capitalism. Things that are more ethereal or have more nuanced ideas within them have to take centre stage as well. That’s a very human thing. And there’s nothing more human than making a piece of art without the pressure of commerce. Fashion is just a completely different mindset, thinking about linings and pockets. And womenswear is its own thing. There was a period where everyone really jumped on gender neutral clothes, which is fine. But women don’t need to be lectured about buying men’s clothes and vice versa, people should just fucking do it. It depends on what suits your body and what you’re comfortable wearing. One person will buy things from me that are extremely tailored because that makes them who they are. Whereas Björk will want something that really speaks to her creativity. They’re just very different things. Fashion endlessly takes away the individual to try and make people a certain sort of way, and that’s how trends develop. You can judge someone in the street as on-trend because we know what trends are, and that’s quite inhuman. You’re serving a cycle of trend making. I only like fashion when it has some sort of function. But then in contemporary art one can talk about more abstract and human things. You can abstract a poem or lean into certain gestures or incorporate dance and music that make people feel something different. You can do that sometimes with fashion, but rarely.  
You have previously produced collections and projects in response to figures such as the Irish architect and furniture designer Eileen Gray and the pioneering Swiss sculptor Alberto Giacometti. Are there any other figures, artists, designers or otherwise, who you think have particularly informed your visual language or creative process?
I don’t really take inspiration from people. I just make things and experiment with certain languages. When I see someone who has developed their own distinct visual language, one that evokes a response that you don’t have to sit around and talk about, they’re my main inspiration. Eileen Gray was one of them. She was told to me like a sort of story when I was a child. My grandmother told me about her because she was a queer person who developed a greatly respected practice. She did leave out the fact that she had loads of money, but it still helped me to envisage myself as someone with their own disciplinary practice. The project happened just after my grandmother died and I feel like some sort of witchy thing happened there because no one has ever been asked to show in that house [Villa E-1027] before. It just hadn’t happened. And then randomly I was asked. We made it a group thing that could really speak to Ireland, and then through Covid I ended up being director-curator of this thing. I feel like you would never get given that level of trust without some sort of witchery.
As it happened, there was a Giacometti show just down the road in Monaco whilst I was there. I hadn’t loved his work forever, he’d never been one of the beacons of contemporary art for me, but this was the first time I’d seen some of his pen drawings and I found them really interesting. Then just after that the National Gallery of Ireland called and asked me to that [Giacometti-inspired] show. It was a really weird synchronicity. Other than that, I’m not too sure. I’ve always liked Ulla von Brandenburg, a German artist living in Paris. Rose Wiley – good painter. Mary Oliver, a poet who writes about nature. But I don’t really look at them that often other than when I’m at home. There’s an endless list of artists I respect, but I’m more inspired by the people I grew up with. 
So, you’ve never had any mood boards or anything?
No, nothing I hate more than a mood board. 
Blackbird. Photography by Richard Malone.
Did they ever make you do them at CSM?
No, it would just be a hard no. They never really made me do anything. Except for one project about a designer that we liked in the library. The only one I really liked was old Armani or old Balenciaga. Not Balenciaga now. That way of working just either suits you or it doesn’t. 
Perhaps one of your most groundbreaking achievements so far was the commissioning of your piece Jumpsuit for New York’s MoMA, one of the world’s most revered and important galleries. The art world in America is incredibly capital driven, to an extent even greater than that seen in the UK, and perhaps an extent that is at odds with your anti-capitalist sentiments. On the other hand, it is a nation with a rich history of Irish immigrant heritage, as well as an incredible platform to spread one’s message as an artist. Do you have ambitions of any further stateside endeavours? Or is the American dream a beast that you’d prefer to steer clear of?
I think I actually have a show at Frieze LA in February. But I haven’t signed it off yet – I still need to see the space. The MoMA I liked because they were the first people to really take risks on contemporary art. Frank O’Hara, the Irish poet, used to work on the desk. It’s probably less problematic than the Met or something. My first ever studio visit when I was about twenty-five was Paola Antonelli, the curator of the MoMA. She flew over to my studio to look at some work, which is a fucking mad thing to happen at that age. Me and my boyfriend were living in the flat above the studio in this little shit warehouse conversion. It was a strange experience. But I don’t think I would have done it if they hadn’t had some interesting things to say about my work. It’s often the structure and funding with those sorts of museums which is problematic, but they can be the best vessel to show your work. I’m not represented by a commercial gallery, but I’ve shown at really serious institutions, and I prefer that because it’s for everyone. Usually, it’s the other way round but I’ve worked backwards in a way, and I’m grateful for that. As for the rest of America, you never know.
On that note, your career as an artist and designer so far has been one of continuing and unpredictable innovation and transformations. Do you have any concrete plans for the future? Or is the plan simply to see what offers and opportunities continue to come your way? 
I’ve never had a concrete plan in my life. Doing the work and putting good energy into the work and the conversations around it has always led to good things. And trusting my intuition has always led to good things. I’ve never had to really compromise, and I feel lucky for that. I’m intending to do more work with performers and more sculptural work. But I’ve had a lot of big projects this year so now I want a period of play in the studio, and then shows again next year. Just to make sure I have the same energy to keep putting into future projects.
Knight V (Or Soft Boy Simulation), 2021. Photography by Richard Malone.
Instalation at The Royan Academy. Photography by Richard Malone.
Knight 3 - The Move, Frantic, 2021. Photography by Richard Malone.
Figures - Orsmton House, Limerick, Ireland, 2022. Photography by Jed Niezgoda.