It's week four of self-isolation in his flat in Clapton, east London, and Irish designer Richard Malone is painting arcs of colours freehand. The 29-year-old is making a rainbow flag to hang out the window to thank the NHS staff who pass underneath on their way to work in the local hospital.
A sense of community is big in this neighbourhood close to Hackney Marshes and the open space is important to the Ardcavan man who grew up beside the natural beauty of the Wexford Wildfowl Reserve.
The celebrations around Richard's well-received London Fashion Week AW20 collection in February, which was followed three days later by his International Woolmark Prize win, seem like a lifetime ago.
However, the Irish creative, who started off his artistic journey working in his garden shed, is using his lockdown time productively. The designer, who has an unwavering commitment to sustainability and is strongly against the concept of mass production, is indulging his love of making tapestries and sculptural, abstract pieces. It's a hobby he does all year round, it's just we haven't seen them before.
"I am quite reserved about what I put out there, I don't like to overshare," Richard explains.
Ironically, we were just about to get the first glimpse of this very personal work before the Covid-19 crisis hit. The big reveal was due to happen at Dublin's Irish Museum of Modern Art on March 21 but it has been postponed for now and will take place later this year.
Meanwhile, in London, Malone, the dexterous maker and problem-solver, has been very productive and tells me he has been cooking lots. A friend from college is a pastry chef so he's been taking time to bake breads and do handstands and yoga.
It can't have been easy arriving into the renowned London fashion college Central St Martins as a working-class lad from Ireland whose dad, James, was a painter decorator and mum, Helen, worked in Argos.
"I do think we are lucky in the art world in Ireland, things are quite democratic. Artists can be a part of the conversation if they are not part of the upper classes but I was literally the only one from a working-class background who hadn't been to private school," Richard recalls.
The other students in his class all came from the same places. "The same streets in Notting Hill but it didn't faze me to be honest. I never tried to be friends with people for who they are, I really just wanted to make good work and to learn.
"London is a very elitist place and the longer I'm there, the more I realise that. The fees for my BA degree were £3,000, which was the maximum loan I could get from the credit union. If I had gone the following year, the fees would have been £9,000. Now I'm a senior lecturer at St Martins on womenswear and the MA course, and I do my best to make sure there are scholarships and ways we can outwardly find places for students who cannot afford fees. You need it to have an artistic conversation or dialogue. You need people that are from different backgrounds."
If Malone felt an outsider arriving in London, he quickly made his presence felt. During his second year at Central St Martins, he was offered an internship at Louis Vuitton in Paris and his eyes were opened to the sheer amount of waste in the world of couture. He returned to London fired up about the need for sustainability in an industry which leans on over consumption without taking responsibility for the consequences of mass production.
While at college, Richard scooped the Louis Vuitton Grand Prix Scholarship and then the Deutsche Bank Award in Fashion Design, which enabled him to start his own label in 2015. He got support from the British Fashion Council's NewGen scheme and joined the London Fashion Week schedule, where he is now one of the highlights each season.
"The reason I won all of those awards really was because I have a different perspective because of where I am from. I just stuck with what I knew and applied hard work and that's all it was, really," he says.
Malone now dresses men and women drawn from the creatives sphere, media, entertainment and professional women. They value his skills at pattern cutting and extrapolated tailoring, his use of colours, like his SS2016 collection inspired by uniforms - including his mother's blue and orange one at Argos. And then there are his sculptural skills, the splicing, strapping and belting, beautifully executed in his recent AW20 collection (pictured right) in which evening gowns were introduced into his arsenal for the first time. Prices start at £110 for printed jersey pieces and £180 for a shirt bought directly from the studio while the limited-edition sculptural pieces can cost several thousands of pounds. His new patchwork leather pieces were upcycled from last season's offcuts and production was limited to just six pieces for each style.
A private sale at the Groucho Club in Soho meant that orders were in before the studio began a scheduled three-week break after the busy madness of London Fashion Week. And then Covid-19 hit.
Malone makes no secret of his desire to change our approach to design, sustainability, transparency and luxury. He has been outspoken about processes and prejudices and desperately wants sustainability to be the norm.
He could have taken a six-figure salary when the Paris fashion houses came calling after his graduate collection but the painter and decorator's son had a very different trajectory in mind.
And then, of course, there was Nellie Malone.
His paternal grandmother, Nellie, has been a major influence on him pursuing his dreams. She was a regular visitor to his catwalk shows in London and was even known to take out her harmonica and play at post-show parties. Sadly, Nellie passed away last June and three months later, Malone dedicated his SS20 show to her, exploring the themes of grief, honesty and change.
Nellie may have taught her grandson sewing and embroidery but he believes it was her mantra of "sticking to your guns" that was key for him.
"She was very important in insisting that you plough through. You keep on working on it. There isn't really room to let your guard down. You keep trying, you keep working.
"We used to do cross-stitch with her when we were young so I always had a very tactile way of working. I really like working with my hands and a lot of that comes from a combination of working with Nellie and working with my dad on building sites. The two are very different ways of work with your hands," he says.
Malone's recycling passion sees him using everything from off-cuts to old fishing nets and recycled dog beds. Many of his design ideas start out on a body - his own. And in the process, he often sews pieces on himself.
"They are very compulsive," he explains. "I would never sketch or do a fashion drawing. It's one of those things, I have to be in the zone to make. I just start to build it and I might build parts of it on my own body and stitch around it, and then towards the end, you have structure and a shape that is quite abstract. Then you almost put the body into it last."
Seeing the beautiful shades of wool and the sculptural pieces in his last collection was a special treat for the designer.
"If I was buying something for myself, I'd have to make sure it was something very special. The way things are happening now, I think it's about the work, the cut, the form, the shape and colour. It's about questioning."
The International Woolmark Prize, which is worth €124,000, is, Malone admits, an important accolade.
"I think it's quite a huge recognition and also, when you think about the people who won it before, like Karl Lagerfeld and Yves Saint Laurent, and how it was a pivotal point in their careers," says Malone, who points out that his work is "outside the wholesale model" which involves selling large orders to stores or online. "A lot of what I do is private clients and commissions. It's not the traditional cycle so I'm kind of the first one to win this prize that has not worked in the same way.
"I think timing-wise, it feels important because Woolmark are supporting a business that isn't absorbed in the machine of producing loads and loads of clothes. I think maybe it kind of represents a shift in the industry, looking at more sustainable business and smaller scale businesses and a designer who is choosing to work outside of the system so, for that reason, it was really exciting to win and a huge surprise, too," he says.
Going forward, the Irish designer is eager to share his growing knowledge and very personal research into sustainability.
His brand ethos centres around beautifully made garments that minimise harm to the environment and work towards creating a circular fashion system which preserves tradition and respect for all involved in the collection's creation. For the last few years, the young Wexford designer has been working with a society of skilled weavers in Tamil Nadu in southern India with the aim of eliminating traditional chemicals and providing a natural, less intensive method of dyeing.
"We've always worked with sustainable materials and finding solutions from recycled jersey made from discarded fishing nets to fully-biodegradable, plant-based woven wool.
"I have been working with farms in India and with weavers. As part of this we used natural, plant-based dye, everything from madur and indigo and there are all these very ancient farming processes like the colour is held with things like sour milk or mango leaves and lime leaves. Because the dye is plant-based, the water can then be re-used so we are not actually wasting water and the land can be replenished. The plan is to expand that and work it on a larger scale on bigger farms and bigger production."
Kim Jones from Dior was on the judging panel for the Woolmark Prize and Malone says he "would be happy to share some of the knowledge I have with Dior in the hope that bigger brands can come in and adapt some of the processes that we have developed".
The coveted prize is more than just money. "It means we can continue working with this supply chain and share our learning with other brands and designers. It also opens up the dialogue of fashion so more people can be part of it."
The intention in this season's collection was to redirect codes and unchain old ideas. Malone concedes that he is very lucky as a company because they do not work in ways that they are reliant on big orders from stores and online. With their business model of crafting limited edition pieces for clients who like to collect one or two special pieces per season, and curate them, he is fortunate to be in a far better position than a lot of fashion operations not knowing how they will exit this Covid-19 crisis.
In terms of fashion consumption going forward, Malone says it is "really important" to shift the conversation from about just buying things and look at what has value. Is value about how much it costs or the people who enjoy making it and wearing it?
He also welcomes the British Fashion Council's decision to take London Fashion Week (LFW) events for the next 12 months, starting in June, back to being co-ed.
"It always made much more sense to me, no one shops by gender anymore and I never have; I've always worn women's clothes," says Malone, who describes his style as "a total mishmash".
As LFW in June is aimed at men's and pre-collection, Malone says he won't be showing a collection. "I've never agreed with showing four collections a year, for huge brands you could just do a showroom if your business depended on it, but it feels unnecessary. Watching huge conglomerates fly journalists around the world always felt like a disgusting, tone-deaf flexing of muscles - the worst kind of excessive capitalism and a really straightforward way of bribing journalists".
Growing up in Ardcavan, Co Wexford, with one brother, John, Malone says he learned a lot about mixing paint colours working with his dad. "I have a really sensitive way of working with colour. I respond very quickly to them and I definitely think that sensitivity to nature when I was growing up has been extremely helpful."
Speaking of colour, the designer's 'barnet' is constantly evolving in both colour and hair styles, from the heavy-fringed pudding bowl to the shorter, slicked-back bob. His friend's mum gave him his first highlights and now Malone cuts it himself. "My hair grows poker straight so I usually cut it in the studio when it gets in the way."
After lockdown, he is looking forward to catching up with family and friends and people like diversity activist Sinéad Burke from Navan who he has known since 2014 when the PhD student interviewed him for her blog.
"We are both from very random places in the middle of nowhere in Ireland and we had to work very hard I think to get heard," says Malone, who was delighted they were both featured in British Vogue's 'Forces of Change' issue - Sinéad on the cover; Richard on an inside page.
"We were both so shocked that there was this a portal for change and we were both in it. Sinéad is so genuine, she is really changing the conversation."
Malone himself was very vocal during the campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment.
Two years later, he tells me he is still proud of the country. "I am most proud of the people of Ireland demanding change and making informed decisions."
Despite his success so early in his career, he confesses that he's never really had a life plan. "I think it's always been that I wanted to do what I enjoyed and I was set up very early to understand that the kind of value in what I do isn't necessarily that I make loads of money but that I get to do what I like every day.
"My business has always operated outside of this system, making made-to-order clothes for women and men and showing twice a year - but I could always show once a year or less and be just as happy. I dedicate a huge amount of time to researching and creating sustainable solution. Showing too many times would distract from this and I have to make this a priority, I truly believe the only way to be a contemporary, modern designer is to solve problems, not just create them."
When fashion month kicked off in New York in February, critics cried that the city was facing an existential crisis. Tom Ford, chairman of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, elected to stage his show in Los Angeles, to coincide with the Oscars date being moved forward this year. Tommy Hilfiger upped sticks to London, while Ralph Lauren decided to show his collection in April, and Jeremy Scott postponed his to July. Some of New York's most exciting young brands, such as Pyer Moss and Telfar, were missing from the schedule too.