Toogood, two sisters, two brilliant minds brought together. Such is the power of a family name that has given birth to a sculptural, unisex and mind-bending brand.
Based in London, Faye and Erica Toogood focused their interest on the piece itself, from the very beginning. Stripped from fashion’s usual frontiers, these timeless and revolutionary garments fit every gender, every style, every age, and yet, very much like the siblings behind them, manages to maintain a mind and an identity of its own. All eyes on them.
L: Toogood is your actual name! Growing up must have been interesting…
Yes, it was! Toogood is our family name, it’s the name of our father and of our grandfather, and a very old English name. I think it’s now proving to be quite useful – people remember it, although they probably think we’re quite bigheaded, calling ourselves « too good »… But as children, it was a very difficult name to adjust to. Teachers and students came up with nicknames, you know, ‘too bad’, ‘too good to be true’, ‘goody two shoes’: it was the subject of lots of jokes and bullying… We had to turn it into something good, into something positive!
L: Have you always collaborated?
TG: As an initial project, Toogood started for us three years ago. We’re sisters, and we wanted to work together. Erica’s background is pattern-cutting, she’d been working for couture and bespoke and theatre, while I’d been working in furniture, objects, in space and interiors. We decided we really wanted to work on a project together, connecting my sculptural brain and her pattern-cutting brain, and got to the subject of coats and the importance of coats to us. We love that coats are passed on between generations, that they’re meaningful, something in your wardrobe that you hold onto. We still have our grandparent’s coats, even. So we chose coats as our initial subject and project, and made eight of them in our first collection, almost like a series of uniforms, based on trades… We came up with the ‘photographer coat’, the ‘explorer coat’, the ‘doorman’, embracing those trades within the garments as well.
Erica: We’re both very passionate about manufacturing. Our starting point was workwear, doing workwear in a non-pastiche way. Sculptural and exciting… that was important to us. Finding a library of patterns started with coats.
L: How did you connect with LECLAIREUR?
TG: For our initial season, they were one of the first people to come and find us. Since then, LECLAIREUR has always kept an eye on our work. Every time they came to visit, something happened in the gallery… I’d knock coffee over or dress them in the wrong size, someone would trip them or someone would fall over! It almost became this private, terrible joke. We so wanted to work with them, that some calamity would invariable take place! We were very excited when everything happened so very smoothly last season, it was lovely.
L: So how do you work together as sisters and as collaborators, what’s the process, what’s the dynamic?
TG: Working together is actually quite a silent partnership. As siblings, you know how the other one is feeling. We also respect each other’s areas very strongly. Faye is the concept and design, I’m the technical and practical side. So we will come to log heads at certain points from our own areas but in a matter of minutes, we come up with a better solution. We’re able to glide through things very quickly because there’s a loyalty, a trust…
L: What’s the most important step you’ve taken as a team, in the past year?
TG: My background is not in fashion and Erica’s is not in ‘ready to wear’. We knew that we had to approach this business, essentially, in the only way that we know how. We make objects and we make clothing and we take it to market, like farmers. It’s a simple formula. We have a catalogue of pieces that stays, so the continuity is very important to us. The biggest issue in fashion at the moment, we think, is to come up with something that is sustainable, that allows designers to survive. I think we’re finding our way to survive by keeping with our patterns and maintaining a sense of self. Whatever we do, we try to approach it in our own way, with our own attitude.
L: Toogood garments look and feel like soft sculptures. Is it the fabric? The process?
TGMaterials go in tandem with the pattern, they’re as important as the pattern, and that’s at the heart of what we do. We like to find and re-appropriate materials that are not normally used for apparel. Our first season was entirely based on canvas, cotton canvas, we did industrial rubbering, we hand-painted on the coats… It’s about finding a new way of looking at certain materials, finding the precious or the industrial or the raw is something that interests us: seeking beauty in tin, not just gold, calico, not just silk. We embrace many different types of fabrics. We’ve worked with cling film, we’ve worked with gaffer tape. Right now, we’re working with stainless steel usually found in industrial filters.
But at the same time we work with British cashmere, from the only two mills left in England. That’s very important to us. Sometimes it’s very straightforward, in terms of the materialisation and other times, it can be extremely labor intensive. At the moment, we’ve got this coat, made of rope. It’s taking a week and a half to sew all the pieces of rope on… It’s on the level of couture because of the time and labour that goes into it, but we’re using really honest cotton rope, to elevate the raw, the mundane, the simplicity. What can you do with a roll of rope? As a young designer, you don’t have access to thousands of metres of crystals. Yes, we did everything we could on this very basic base, and that’s where it stemmed from and now we get the opportunity to divulge further and experiment more.
L: And what about color? Or lack thereof?
TG: Color is a big debate. I am ‘Mrs White’ and she is ‘Mrs Black’, Erica’s the black witch and I’m the white witch! We know that color is important. It’s something we are going to embrace next season.
Our concentration has been on shape and sculpture. The silhouette is a strong silhouette, it certainly pushes quite a lot of boundaries: the width of trousers, the sizes of pockets – we’ve always experimented. To take that in and absorb it, you need some time.
L: One of the greatest characteristics of your work is its unisex concept. How did that come about?
TG: Unisex is probably one of the most important things about Toogood. We’ve been working on this for two and a half years, and it’s interesting that it’s now very much at the forefront of people’s conversation. We did a big project with Selfridges in London that embraced unisex in retail, how retailers are going to combine men’s and women’s clothes and whether can they be combined. Will men wear women’s clothes? Will women wear men’s clothes? The audience is ready for it: is it cut on a man? Is it cut on a woman? It doesn’t really matter. Is that size a man’s size or a woman’s size? It’s irrelevant now. We now know that gender specific clothing is irrelevant for this generation. We also feel very strongly that it’s not about an androgynous look, which it has been in the past… It’s not about looking like your boyfriend… It’s not about completely chopping off your hair (laughs) and looking like a boy as a woman. Women can look incredibly feminine and men can look incredibly masculine. We also discard age gaps. Women in their seventies just look absolutely incredible in the same coat as a guy in his twenties wearing his Nike trainers… Neutrality is not just about gender, it’s about age and it’s also about whether you want to wear something oversized or fitted. Mostly, it’s about having the choice. So we make clothes but we don’t specify how you are going to wear it, how you’re going to style it. They are clothes. Essentially, how you turn them into fashion is up to you.
That’s the main thing.
Creative Direction: La Frenchy (Mary-Noelle Dana & Michael Hadida) for LECLAIREUR
Images: George Dragan
Edit: Aurélie Cauchy
Music: For All Intents and Purposes by Falling For Frankie (SuperPitch)
Additional images courtesy of Toogood