Throwing a thoughtful spanner in the fashion works at an all-too appropriate time as it spirals into being a little bit confused is Toogood, the sister-run label from Faye and Erica Toogood. A product designer and clothes designer respectively, you’ll find them to be quiet and gentle fashion renegades. But they have a mission nonetheless.
“We were struggling to find clothes. Our wardrobes were similar to our partners; we wanted to find a uniform that wasn’t dictated by fashion, but that was practical, presentable – we didn’t want to be sucked into this cycle,” explain the pair, who launched the label nearly four years ago and hold (with this Autumn/Winter 2016 offering now) five collections under their belt.
Between them, their experience runs the gamut of pattern cutting, theatrical production (Erica), and furniture design (Faye), and so you’ll see their aesthetic lies towards an industrial, sculptural, and unisex train of thought. There’s no fluff to be found here.
And what’s interesting about the pair is that they don’t look at fashion. In fact, they try not to reference it all – which may seem an odd thing to do given the product they’re creating can’t help but fall into the “fashion” category from a very basic point of view (and they’re showing at London Fashion Week, after all). But it goes beyond that and for them it means they get to keep their focus, something which has no doubt been key in their steadily successful rise (it was the British Fashion Council that approached them to do something and show this season). Let’s not forget: slow and steady wins the race and the product they’re making – they specialize in oversized outerwear, they go up to seven sizes too big for you on purpose – is no one-hit wonder.
“We don’t want to create a pastiche of workwear. It’s about being contemporary and sculptural,” they point out. And it’s also about an appreciation of the process of the product – the people and everything that went into it. Rummage inside one of their sizeable coats (be careful not to get lost in some of them) and you’ll find each has a “garment passport” noting the initials of the pattern cutters, the seamstress, everyone involved. They work with British manufacturers and 50 per cent of it is done in London. It’s a transparency of people, the time, and effort, which is a refreshing thing to see.
“For us it’s the making of the garment that is important,” they point out. Something, it’s fair to say, that with our fast fashion nation and too many seasons to keep up with, can easily get lost. Isn’t it nice to enjoy a process, rather than do it for doing its sake? Toogood think so.
“There’s not a lot of strategy. When we have an idea, when it makes sense, we do it. We’re not reliant on the system. We create as we like,” they qualify. “We’ve watched so many designers leave and every designer longs for space and time to create.” They’re not wrong. Just look at what’s happening right now.
This standalone semi-rebellious spirit, they say, comes from growing up in the late Eighties and early Nineties when fashion voices such as Katharine Hamnett and Vivienne Westwood were dominant. These were designers who had a point of view and weren’t afraid to tell it, say it, sell it. There’s a decidedly different mood in today’s fashion air, which is why their approach stands out, seems different, and ultimately has a purity about it.
And that’s just how they went about creating the Autumn/Winter 2016 collection: inspired by Mudlarks who would roam and comb the muddy beaches of the Thames for treasures, they went gonzo to find their own bits and bobs – clay pipes, bones and stones, Elizabethan pins, and more. These then all became the start of their story-laden pieces – 400 meters of rope used per coat in some instances. “Inspiration through recirculation,” they jubilantly declared in their show statement.
Self-confessedly, they’ve been under the radar up until this point, which in some ways you can’t help but think suits them. It goes with that whole spirit, their way of life – going against the grain. Even the presentation this week required something of a treasure map to find: way up high on the roof of a Soho school, London clanking away outside while within a caged-off space a post-apocalyptic sanctuary of serenity took hold, models joined by performance artists who moved to choreographed-martial arts effects. Zen. If seeing their clothes and speaking to them hadn’t got the point across already, this did, stepping into their world with all the philosophies that underpin it there for the taking too. Who knew this was even going on? But then maybe that’s the point. It is, if you look.