The King of Rock Style John Richmond meets the young aspiring designers of AFOL Moda fashion school



There are unforgettable moments in the fashion design student’s life at school. One is surely the opportunity to meet a famous designer like JOHN RICHMOND, a real legend of fashion, who kindly shared his experience with the young students of AFOL Moda, telling a fascinating story about the evolution of his Rock style and answering to many questions in a long interview.


150 pairs of big hopeful eyes were watching a slight but powerful figure entering in the conference hall of the Enzo Tortora Auditorium for the meeting organized by AFOL Moda. A way to enhance the prestige of this very interesting public school in Milan involving the students into amazing experiences, like this which took place on 30th November. A meeting with John Richmond, a real legend among fashion designers and a very nice person, always smiling and with shining eyes that speak about all his passion for his job, music and life.  

John Richmond looking the works of AFOL Moda students after the meeting (photo credits: Davide Canella)


John Richmond is a fashion icon, not only a simple designer. With his style he changed fashion creating a meeting point between design and music world. He dressed an incredible number of Rock stars, names like Mick Jagger, Freddie Mercury, David Bowie, who became his friends and about whom he speaks with a natural spontaneity. Despite his long career and the incredible success he reached, John appeared genuinely happy to be there with us.


John Richmond with students and teachers of AFOL Moda and me (photo credits: Davide Canella)


I’d really like to thank AFOL Moda fashion school to invite me at this important event. It was like to jump right into John Richmond’s youth, made of exciting experiences, a lot of fun and hard work. A past seen without nostalgia, but as a kaleidoscope of pleasant memories to drawn from, to find the new inspiration for a better future.

This is the John Richmond’s story heard from his own voice, followed by a long interview with students and mine questions to which he kindly answered to satiate our curiosity.



JOHN’S LIFE

This is a little bit of my history, when I started, where I started. I was born in Manchester, where grow up in until I was 19. In the 70s it was a very great postindustrial place, like Milan in the 60s, but the industry had gone, so it was very depressed. The great thing about it was the music, the clubs and going out. For a teenager it was a fantastic place where to be. 


My generation live for music, it was the most important thing to us. I grow up with Glam Rock, David Bowie, Roxy Music and Punk that started in 1976. So I was in the Punk and in the New Wave clubs with Joy Division and other groups. Our life was oriented by music, that was our inspiration. I didn’t know about fashion from magazines, I never seen Vogue until I was 18 years old. My knowledge of fashion was from watching programs on tv like “Top of the Pops” and from the newspaper “New Musical Express”.



I learned fashion from what David Bowie was wearing, what Roxy Music were wearing and from Punk. So my adolescence was influenced by street and subcultures. I never learned about fashion from Paris or Milan fashion shows or the world of fashion in general, cause I didn’t know existing. I think it’s difficult for you to understand, but the world was a big place before, instead is a very small place now. I mean what now happens in Los Angeles you know about it immediately. What happened to Dolce & Gabbana in China, you know immediately. This speed did not exist, to have information in the 70s, we we had to wait three months. So the world was very big, different and so much more interesting.



"God save Margaret Tatcher", poster by Jamie Reid


My knowledge of fashion came then when I went to school. I did a foundation course, a 1-year course that you can do at 18 to decide what you want to do, but I didn’t decide to do fashion. When I was 19 I move to London. I went to Kingston Fashion School, which is very famous. We have two main schools in London, Saint Martins and Kingston, the first was very free and mine was very organized. I’m a quite organized person, so Kingston suited more to me. It was 1979 and I remember very well the day of my interview, because it was the day when Margaret Tatcher went to power. 


Blitz Magazine


So I moved to London in 79 and I was lucky because there was a big change happening. There wasn’t a magazine for teenagers, or all the informations you have now. In the 1980 started three magazines, “The Face”, “The Blitz” and “I-D”, staffed by young people and focused on young people. So subcultures now had their information channel and a movement that really started in the early 80s.


Image from the the book "Fashion and style: the best from 20 years of I-D", edited by Taschen


In 1982, when I came out of university, there were lots of young designers on the scene and we had an explosion in London, not only of young designers, but also music and subculture journalism.  There was an amazing club where I used to go, the Blitz Club, that was the home of dressing-up and of subculture, with Boy George, Steve Strange who are friends of mine. 


It was a fantastic period, full of creative people, maybe 100 or 150 people. What was created was a situation in which we were all in competition with each other, a friendly competition. We were not driven by doing things for money, but to outcompete each other, to do something to be noticed, something creative moving forward. 

 
John Richmond's diffusion line "Destroy" (photo credits: Dazed Digital)

I started my own small company from my very cold small apartment, without heating. I was lucky. In that period you could do that, you could live in London for a very little, find someone who bought my clothes. I had only a sewing machine and a big table to make patterns. I don’t know how I became bigger and bigger, but I did, for some reason. When I was 22 I had 4 people working for me. 

Looking back when I started in my own apartment with my small company I remember I wake up at 5:40 am, I cutted the patterns and the fabrics, sewn the samples, then I had a meeting and then came back to the sketches of the samples, going bed at 1‘o clock and then again wake up at 6 ‘o clock, and this was 7-days-a-week. There is no substitute for hard work. Every time I teach in a university my advice is look at preparation timing, being in the right place in the right time. I think some people forget that and they expecting something come to them. If you want something, you have to go and get it.

 
Richmond-Cornejo 1986 (photo by Christopher Moore)


Then I started working for an Italian company in Mantua as a freelance, they saw what I did and said they want to produce my collection. It sounded interesting. They wanted to license John Richmond label, but I had a girlfriend who just left university and I wanted to do a collection together, so they accepted the double name with Richmond-Cornejo. When we started the first collection was an immediate success, selling to the best shops in London and all over the world. I remember 20 clients that were probably the top clients in the world. In the first season we had 150 clients and we started to negotiate with a Japanese company for 15 Richmond-Cornejo shops in Japan. 

Like in all the relationships, with my girlfriend it ended just after three years, having to tell to our 15 shops in Japan and the 200 clients worldwide we had to take two separate ways. She walked her way and I walked my way. So I decided I didn’t want to work in Japan, but I preferred moving between London and Italy. 

 
John Richmond (photo credits: designer's official website)


So I settled my own factory. I don’t know why I did it, because having a factory is a hard work, but I learned a lot. When you follow the whole process from the beginning to end, not only choosing the fabrics, but also how to finance the fabrics, you have to speak with the banks, then have to made all the patterns, and follow how the clothes were made. 

Now I really know how to follow the process being involved in the business. I understood all the sides of the process, spending 10 years doing this. But I found myself being a factory owner than a designer. After other 7 years I decided to make a change. It was an easy decision. I had a lot of success, even if not in an international sense, that came later, but in Uk I dressed lots of musicians. 

John Richmond's adv campaign fall/winter 2003 celebrating David Bowie (photo credits: designer's official website)

I had a small shop in Soho and at the end of the 80s and in the early 90s every moment stylists arriving, taking clothes for the music video clips, because musicians like what I do. Probably because I have this empathy with them. My inspiration comes from music. I worked close to many of them, they became very close friends, like Mick Jagger for who I made all his clothes for concerts, or David Stewart of the Eurythmics, who asked me also to direct a video. It was nice to do different things. 

 
Mick Jagger wearing John Richmond in 1996 (photo credits: designer's official Facebook page)


In 1995 I decided I wanted to be an international designer, not only famous in London. I started finding a partnership. This was really the start of the brand John Richmond. With my Italian partner, we started to really push in the shows. In 2001-02 I did the jeans with “Rich” on the back and they really stroke the imagination, becoming a phenomenon especially in Italy, more successful than you can think. It was a kind of walking advertising of the brand for up three years. I was very lucky in my life, but there was a lot of hard work behind. 


John Richmond's "Rich Jeans" photographed by Bryan Adams for the 2001 adv campaign (photo credits: Bryan Adam's official Facebook page)


The business really started to emerge in the early 2000s, with licenses for parfums, sunglasses, childrenswear, expanding into a global brand. I recently ended the relationship with this old partner, so I had a big change in the company three years ago. Everything can end, not always well, but it was like starting again. All the work I made before, all that experience, knowing the whole process from the beginning to end, really helped later. I became a designer who was creative and complete also in the economic side. I took 20 years to learn this, it’s not something that you can learn in a college.

For students my advice is not try to be commercial, you have to be creative, you have to spend three years just trying to find yourself, your own style, because when you’ll get out in business it’s very difficult to be creative, you have to do it and to enjoy it now. You’ll learn the business side later. 


John Richmond speaking with students of AFOL Moda (photo credits: Davide Canella)

THE CURIOSITY OF STUDENTS

Someone was very excited, someone else tried to demonstrate a certain self-confidence. Everyone was curious to investigate more on John’s life and find out the secret of his success. These are the questions made by the AFOL Moda fashion design students.

You said that there are not rules in fashion, but only interesting mistakes. About your career, what are the most interesting mistakes you made?

I never looked to life as up and down, but as a road, even when three years ago the business stopped. I can’t see it as a negative thing. Tomorrow will be more interesting, a different day. I think it’s so because I’m a Capricorn man. I see a hill and over its top there’s a landscape. I never really looked back, because it isn’t really interesting. Which is interesting is what I’m going to do.

 
John Richmond fall 2001-02 collection (photo credits: fashionencyclopedia.com)

What kind of advice you can give to us?

First of all, you have to develop an attitude to hard working, there’s no substitute for that. I never gave up, I had to win. That’s my personal character, being very competitive, even when I went to university I wanted to be the best. I think you should be very focused on this attitude. If you want to try something, just do it. Don’t wait for it to happen. In the 70s we wanted to win everything. 

I remember the first time I went to New York in 1982. I was 23 years old, with only 120 dollars, arriving I didn’t have a hotel to stay for 5 days. I was there for a big fashion show with all the young English fashion designers, like Rifat Ozbek or Stephen Jones, callen “New London in New York”. I went to the Chelsea hotel and they give me a room for 26 dollars, next door to Sid Vicious and Nancy and I thought I was in a famous place, but in reality it was disgusting. I didn’t really eat for the five days I was there, but I called every shops, even Bloomingdale’s, saying them “I’m here from London, I have my own collection, I want to come and show you”. So I wasn’t afraid of that, I made a phone call. We took an appointment, I show them what I did and they really like, ordering the next falling season. 

 
Richmond-Cornejo on I-D magazine, August 1986

 
How can you manage strategy and creativity? 

I think that a designer should be like a sponge, because you can’ t design starting at 9 o’clock and finishing at 4 o’clock. It’s something that possesses you for all the time. Everything I look going to an exhibition, seeing something on Vogue or Instagram, is in me and at some point, when I have time, I can squeeze the sponge and see what comes out, that’s my inspiration. As a designer I’m very quick, I design many things, passing from one sketch to another and so on. But there are no rules to design. Some day I look to my works thinking I worked well, some day I think I made a shit, I’m very self-critical. I think you have to be.

 
John Richmond  menswear fashion show backstage, fall/winter 2013-14 (photo credits: thewardrobe.it)

 
Surely your life and your experience developed in circumstances quite different from our, especially the fact that fashion has having a huge impact in the environment. What’s your thoughts about this new reality?

The world you are growing up, the fashion world, is a very difficult one. I was very lucky, because mine was much more funny. Instagram is killing design, it’s really sad. You can see Chiara Ferragni, with all the respect for her, who’s more successful than many designers, being able to create a business, but this is not creative, it’s just marketing. Fashion world is just turning into marketing. I was very lucky to grow up in a period in which people appreciated bold designers. Today it’s a problem for me as well, I’m in this world and I cant’ change it, I have a different criteria and attitude and I can’t change it. 


John Richmond's official profile on Instagram

And about being more eco-friendly…It’s a big problem going forward in this way. We don’t have a Planet-B, we have to consider the environment, so I’m trying to work with jeans companies that use less water. Jeans are the worst items in the market, because you wash them many times, working-on using a lot of water. But there are companies that are really trying to change this, a slow change unfortunately. I want always being a designer who uses creative logos with a positive meaning that people should consider. We should start to think about the eco side of fashion, because it’s a big problem. The eco problem is more on fast fashion, for brands like Zara or H&M, which have a more massive impact on environment, but it’s something that each designer have to consider.

 
John Richmond menswear fall/winter 2014-15

You said that Instagram is not really good for fashion. But it could be a new platform for fashion designer to be noticed, an opportunity to arrive to many people, because we live in a very big world now. What’s your  thoughts? 

It’s not a bad thing in itself. But, just to make an example, there are photographers that are cancelled from the agencies profiles because had no likes. I don’t book a photographer for the number of likes, but for the quality of the work. I want to live my life surrounded by aesthetically pleasing or progressive images. We are loosing this. I know, Instagram is a very new platform, but it’s more focused on marketing than design. 


The most powerful platform 20 years ago was Italian Vogue, in which you could find only great designers. When I started my platform was I-D or other fashion magazines. That’s the difference. It’s very difficult to be in a very huge virtual world as Instagram. There are a lot of positive thing about it, but not for being creative, maybe for its socialize aspect. Don’t live the experiences through a phone, you need to go to museums, you need to see real art and real things.


Photo from the book "Fashion and Style. the best from 20 years of I-D", edited by Taschen

If you could change anything about the current fashion system, what it should be?

My experience is different from your and if I would change something I should go back in time, but life goes forward and not backward. I don’t think about it, I’m not a kind of person who think about his past, when I was young.

 
John Richmond and the students of AFOL Moda fashion school


If you think about your fashion career, which one is your more exciting experience or memories?


I was very lucky because I had a long career, with a lot of great memories. Little things, like when in my little shop in New York, Prince came to buy my clothes. He was one of my heroes. Or when I met David Bowie, who was really my hero since I was 12 years old, because my first album I bought was “Ziggy Stardust”. I remember one day Iggy Pop knocked on the door, asking me with his raspy voice to enter my office. All my life and inspirations evolved around music and meet your heroes, make things for them is great. They became closer friends. I have a lot of highlights…meeting Mick Jagger, talking about clothes, having funny comments.

"Ziggy Stardust" t-shirt by John Richmond, dedicated to David Bowie

How you managed to maintain your personal style even the fast changes of times and trends?

My DNA was very formed when I was a teenager. Music has always been the biggest inspiration of my fashion. When I was 12 years old, listening David Bowie, I had red punk style hair. My mother wasn’t very happy. Roxy Music, Punk, New Wave and then New Romantic…were all parts of my attitude for style. So music became my DNA and the sounds were a kind of vocabulary, so if you look what I did in my beginning and what I do now, there are not so many differences. You can still see that I’m always quite the same person. 

 
Boy George in John Richmond, styled by Dave Thoms for "The Voice 2016" (photo credits: designer's official Facebook page)


You told about the importance of good timing and being in the right place in the right moment. Is there any place that you can consider the best place where to start as a young designer?

Obviously there are many strong sets for fashion now. You are very lucky to be in a school in Milan because it’s a very important city. Milan, Paris. London maybe not so much anymore. It’s still a great city, but became too much expensive and this killed a lot of creativity. Honestly I don’t know how you could start today or where to start. Maybe following my own path, making clothes in your own apartments, selling them on the local market. I don’t advice you to go in a design company, or maybe as freelance, to have the freedom of being more creative.
 
John Richmond with his previous business partner Saverio Moschillo

Couple of weeks ago I read online that your going to open one store in Kiev and in China. Have you already planned how to approach the Chinese market, having as reference the last events related to Dolce & Gabbana?

I worked in China before, 10 years ago. There were 5 John Richmond’s shops with my previous partner. I’ve been in China many times, so I understood their culture. It’s very sad to see they felt insulted. Because it involved also many people part of the business, like the suppliers and the workers. Maybe we all should be more careful and respectful. 

In Kiev we opened some weeks ago and I went there for the first time. It’s a really nice little city, just like London 30 years ago. I’ll been in China for the first three shops and probably more after that. I’ll open also in Milan another shop next year.
In your opinion what should be other relevant countries for your market in the future?

To be honest I stopped to be involved in that, I’m more interested to the design of the shops, working with the architects to have the right look. I stopped working 7-days-a-week to being involved in everything, that’s like to be possessed. I don’t want to do it anymore.


MY CURIOSITY


This was the first time I met John Richmond and I was very impressed by his genuine passion. But I’m a curious person with some specific interests, so I focused my questions of communication and on the future of fashion for young designers.


John Richmond and me during the mmeting organized by AFOL Moda fashion school (photo credits: Davide Canella)



I don’t want a comment about Dolce & Gabbana’s last experience, but I’d like to ask you a consideration about the power of communication that now seems more important even than designer’s creativity. What the lesson we should learn? How a designer should communicate his dreams, visions and thoughts?

Instagram is changing the dynamic of business, but at the moment not in a positive way. There’s always a lack of control. You can do what you want without thinking about it. With platforms like this everybody can click on, too fast. This small object is not only a phone, but actually this small thing is on millions hands and we forgot that. It has a huge power. There’s the world inside. In a few words, we forget how powerful it is. I think we should just to think, have considerations, not just write immediately. Before Instagram PR companies made statements, thinking a lot, having much more control. 

Photo from John Richmond's official Facebook page


When you started in the late 70s and then in the 80s and 90s when you reached the success, it was a long period of great creativity, experimentation and rebellion too. Now we are living in a very different moment. Is there still time or a place for a new revolution in fashion?

I think that social media and Instagram are very new and are taking one route, but we can take another route. There could be great opportunities for people to do the right things, to do more special things. And Instagram could be the tool to do that, it could turned up into something positive.

Photo from the book "Fashion and Style. the best from 20 years of I-D", edited by Taschen


How evolved the way to produce, thinking about the “See now, buy now” embraced before by Burberry, for example?

I think it responds to the way people want things, the way people see a fashion show on phone, on platforms like Vogue or WWD. They don’t want to wait anymore. This is the world we are in, they want to have it everything now, when you see in the shop next year it seems old.


So can’t we wait anymore the 6 months before having a collection?  

No, nobody wants to wait. This could be a great opportunity for designers to do smaller things, going on platforms to advertise and we sell them immediately. Small number of pieces, more creative. We are really in a crossroads, and we can go anyway.


John Richmond fall 2018-19 fashion show (photo credits: designer's official Facebook page)

You are a business-oriented designer, very creative but also focused on market. How much is important for a young designer being complete as much as possible, thinking about creativity, style, development of the business and also following not only trends, but the requests of the market?

You have to find a balance between both, you have to do what you feel, where your creativity is leading you, but you also have to work for the market. Market sounds an impersonal word, but you should think on wh what people really want to wear. You have to make clothes for real people, using your creativity for that. 

Sneaker by John Richmond (photo credits: designer's official Facebook page)


Today we are in front of many young aspiring designers, so excited and very interested to fashion. To work as self-entrepreneurs or for important brands like your, what are the best personal and technical skills they should have?

They should have open eyes, never stop thinking. Speaking about technical skill, the most important now is to know Photoshop and Illustrator. But you have to remember that the computer is just a tool, is not your hands. What’s in the computer  is what you put in, it can make great something that’s not so great, so any shit design could look ok with it. The input is important. So you still have to draw, sketching all the time, that’s really important. Sketch on a book your ideas, then finish them on computer. But you need to use Photoshop and Illustrator, but being incredibly quick. People work for me are very, very fast. And you never stop learning, even when you’ll be old like me. 


John Richmond and me during the meeting organized by AFOL Moda


Thank you John and AFOL Moda fashion school!!!!

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