London in the Swinging Sixties, who doesn’t dream of going back in time? The post-war era gave birth to a period of revolutionary change, as young creatives in the British capital embraced the radically new. This was a time of Mary Quant and The Beatles, where everything was permitted – short hair and shorter hems, psychedelic music and independent style.
In this time of huge flux and energy, designer Richard Allan brought a passion for colour and avant-garde patterns to the simplest and most elegant of platforms: the silk scarf. First studying silk in Lyon, the hype around Allan grew throughout his 10 years as Design Director at Jacqmar, the ‘it’ silk scarf brand of the time. In 1962, aged only 30, he decided to launch his own business. Allan’s independent vision was one that transcended time, while being distinctly of it. The designer produced rich decadent colours and energetic patterns, offering creative urgency within the perfectly poised and refined boundaries of a silk square. From the moment they debuted, Richard Allan’s scarves were a smash hit. His work gained avid devotees across generations and the cultural landscape, from bohemian hippies through to the royal family, and leading French couturiers such as Saint Laurent and Schiaparelli.
Re-launching the brand in 2014, his daughter Cate Allan has continued to champion and evolve the legacy of her father, bringing a passion for vivacious and flamboyant style to a new generation. Through the collaboration with H&M, Richard Allan’s signature prints and colours make the leap beyond the square to a whole new collection. We caught up with Cate to discuss the eternal power of the 1960s, the beauty of colour, and the eternally versatile medium of the silk scarf.
What do you think makes the 1960s so fascinating and powerful, even today?
“The 1960s offered this opportunity for new innovative ideas in fashion, and it broke the mould in terms of pre-war perception. London became a hotbed of radical thinking, where the future was a new land, not a shadow of the past. Where so much had been destroyed, there was a blank canvas on which to paint a better future. It was an explosion of ideas, of colour, design. I do think that’s why it resonates, why it was so powerful.”
How did your father find his way to scarves as the medium to investigate prints and patterns, and bring that energy to his audience?
“He always worked in silk, his training was in silk, and then at Jacqmar he specialised in scarves. In that period, silk scarves were very popular. With dad’s, they’re artworks in themselves. They add a flash of inspiration to an otherwise plain background. Silk is not only lovely to wear, but it takes dye easily, so it gives colour a kind of lustre which is not as achievable on flatter surfaces. If you look at silk, and you look at colour on silk, it refracts and moves light.”
So they become much more like artworks than accessories?
“Absolutely. There are a multitude of ways in which a scarf can be worn and tied, it’s an object that’s very adaptable to creative use. You can wear it in a simple form, but it’s perfect for carrying colourful design, allowing for a range of expressions. It’s wearable art.”
The colours and the patterns of Richard Allan’s work are so distinctive, where did he look for inspiration?
“His inspiration was in whatever caught his eye. One design that we have, ‘Elegance’, is a scribble pattern that holds itself into the corners. That was the way ribbons on ballet shoes could cascade onto the floor as they’re unbound. You can imagine the ribbons. Things just like the abstract falling of autumnal leaves. One that H&M uses is a pattern called ‘Piccadilly’ which is really those neon displays of the period. He saw lines and designs in the forefront of his vision, in terms of what he was looking at. If he saw the lines of a sports car or the architecture of a building or a detail of a painting, he was really enthralled by the subject. Whether it was the avant-garde, the contemporary, or the historic.”
What was his favourite colour?
“He always said it was ginger. That would range. Ginger nut like the biscuit, that was the favourite. But there was a range from dark spice, which he quite often paired with black and white, and then that would go through to a burnt orange, which maybe he’d pair with deeper reds and pinks. A bit more, gorgeous together. And for a classic look, he’d do a bitter orange with a very very dark navy.”
Did he dress very colourfully?
“He wasn’t flamboyant at all. He was very beautifully dressed. He took care. So with suits he’d be classically dressed and he would wear beautiful ties. There was a menswear designer called Mr Fish and he used to like Mr Fish ties.”
This collection feels timely, given the recent obsession with colour again.
“There is an absolute joy of being in incredible colour, and merging different colours – the not so obvious combinations. It really gives a buzz.”
What are you most excited about with this collection?
”Not only does it allow for a creative reimagining of Richard Allan prints and colours to be taken off a square and created in clothing form, allowing the designs to be used in new and fresh ways, but it’s also bringing Richard Allan to a totally new audience. H&M have kept a lot of the original colourations. While these colours fit with the current fashion palette, they also resonate from the sixties, which enhances the sense of the period. At the same time, it’s reinventing the patterns to create a totally new and fresh collection. I love what they’ve done.”
What would you like audiences to take away from the collection?
“Enjoyment. Richard Allan designs are created to inject a sense of pattern, colour and pleasure into life. We all need that. For this collection, we went through hundreds of pieces. Looking at all archive prints, and lots of archive colours as well. H&M loved the whole package, and that was so much part of my father’s approach. It wasn’t just the design, it was the colour too.”
And in terms of the best way to wear a Richard Allan design?
“One way – with style!”
The Richard Allen x H&M collection is available in stores and online from 22 August.