Joe Richards, the young designer who eschewed a formal fashion education in favour of first-hand experience in the studios of Paris's haute couture houses, is one of fashion's fastest rising stars.
At the age of 21, having already completed internships at Alexander McQueen and Burberry Prorsum as well as two years of a fashion degree at the University of Westminster, Richards took himself off to Paris. Here, inspiring placements with trend forecaster Li Edelkoort and artist and photographer Katerina Jebb preceded a long-running internship with Dior Haute Couture and then Lanvin, eventually leading to a permanent role with Phoebe Philo as an assistant designer in her newly minted team at Céline in London. After just one season, Richards decided that his unconventional fashion education was finally complete and went onto launch his own eponymous label in 2013.
Building upon these impressive foundations, the Bath-based designer's subsequent collections have won him praise from all corners of the industry notably from British Vogue who last year named him as 'an exciting new talent' praising his 'eye for colour' and 'instinct for of-the-moment design'.
For his S/S 2016 collection – his sixth to date – Richards set himself a new and extraordinary design challenge when he approached 154-year-old heritage brand Morris & Co with the idea of featuring the prints of the legendary William Morris on his catwalk creations.
'William Morris has been a constant inspiration since childhood,' says Richards, who spent months exploring the 'space ship-like' Morris & Co archives, to which he was given full and exclusive access. 'I went in thinking that I was going to be inspired to create something full of colour and very ornate, but to my surprise it was his minimalist prints with very few but very specific colours inspired by South Africa and Japan that I was drawn to,' recalls Richards, shedding light on the collection's title 'Minimal Morris'.
'Visiting the archive is a revelation,' he continues, 'his techniques, references, colour combinations are shocking in their beauty, they are both poetic and volatile - they are strangely a perfect reflection for today.'
Using a combination of state-of-the-art and traditional techniques, Richards has silk screen printed bold blocks of Morris' leafy patterns, including some never-before-seen, in chalky pink, taupe and olive green onto free flowing smock dresses and blouses at his studio. Lightweight wool twill pyjama sets and wrap dresses covered in Morris' distinctive designs were printed at Standfast & Barracks in Lancaster, one of the few remaining mills in the UK that are printing at a high-end level for interiors and fashion. 'I asked the printers to keep the imperfections and irregularities of the original samples,' explains Richard, 'keeping the pieces handmade and hand finished is important to me.'
Presented in September at the 'Society of Antiquaries of London' (fittingly, the society also owns Kelmscott Manor - the last resting place of William Morris) the collection was paraded down a grand hallway, which was transformed into a Morris-inspired Pre-Raphaelite garden by rising gardening star James Lee Horner. Echoing the entwining stems and tendrils that delicately creep across the fabrics, the foliage-filled set provided the perfect backdrop for Richards' vision.
'I loved the idea of working with someone so interested in nature because the whole collection is inspired by dappled summer light,' says Richards who gave Horner free reign – a simple drawing of trees by Lucian Freud was the only reference point needed. 'I tend not to over process things,' he laughs, 'I like to work with passionate people and let them get on with it.'
Photography: Phillip Suddick
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