From matchbox miniatures to Salone del Mobile, for WIP magazine issue 06, we spoke to the sisters behind Toogood, the London-based design studio and brand deftly traversing art, fashion,furniture and IRL experience. Words: Milly Burroughs, Images: Sirui Ma
“It's the only thing that I can do. It's like it courses through every vein I have. If I'm not doing it, I sort of crumple up and die,” says the London-based artist and designer Faye Toogood of her constant need to “make, to create, to come up with ideas.” An on the face of it vague, but very apt description of a practice driven by urgency and experimentation. Together with her sister, Erica, she runs Toogood, the multi-disciplinary studio-cum-brand which blurs the lines between fashion, art and design to create clothing and physical objects, but also installations and ‘design experiences.’
As exemplified by the sibling partnership that proved to be the catalyst for Toogood’s existence, collaboration is at the core of everything the studio puts out and into the world. “With five years difference between us, Faye was naturally the bossy older sister — always the teacher, and me the pupil,” says Erica. “Slipstreaming her lead, whatever it might be, we created a natural fluid way of working or playing together that still exists today.”
Following in the footsteps of many art and design luminaries, Faye Toogood began her career at the Condé Nast publishing empire, working as a stylist for The World of Interiors — one of the world’s most-read interior design publications. But after eight years at the magazine, she wanted to commit her energies to something more tangible. “I was becoming quite frustrated with the two-dimensional page,” she says. “I wanted to start making things and not have to throw them in the bin after a day of shooting.” In 2008, she founded Studio Toogood, and her own eponymous brand followed two years later.
“While I was setting up on my own, I sent little Christmas cards to try and get work. I made these tiny matchboxes and then did some really small illustrations and made a sort of scene inside them. I sent them to everyone that I wanted to work with, including Dover Street Market in London. I then got a phone call from Dickon [Bowden] who runs the store. I ended up doing a shoe department for them, which was small — really low budget, lo-fi — but from there I started to get more and more work; a mixture of permanent and installation-based interiors for retail brands.”
Faye’s work became known for its experimental nature, enabling her to forge her own genre of immersive environments. “I started to involve food, fragrance, music, dance, and anything else that I could grab onto,” she says. “Now, these multi-sensory installations are very much ten-a-penny, but back then, no one else was doing it. It was a way for me to help create narratives around the projects.” In 2015 Faye created installations at both Somerset House — entitled “The Cloakroom” — and the Victoria & Albert Museum — another immersive environment called “The Drawing Room.” It was the participatory element of these rooms that captivated visitors. Each welcomed the audience in and provided them with a task, forcing them to experience all elements of the space, including using a map to find treasure.
With a growing profile within the British design scene, and a number of eye-catching projects under her belt – including work for Penfolds Wine in Sydney, Australia, where she reinterpreted five flavors of wine grapes using the sommelier’s notes, then enlisted sculptors, perfumiers and artists to produce an installation inspired by the description of the scent — Faye was asked to create an installation for London Design Festival. A turning point for Faye as it marked the start of her formal collaboration with her younger sister.
I started to involve food, fragrance, music, dance, and anything else that I could grab onto.
We have the same aesthetic, yet experience it in different ways and forms.
Described in Toogood’s official brand biography as having “inherited the dextrous hands of her grandmother” — a tailor who made underwear out of parachutes during the Second World War — Erica had already built her own successful career as a fashion pattern cutter and a theatrical costume designer, before joining Faye’s brainchild. Together, the two sisters have skills that sit in natural harmony. “We have always had that sort of collaborative sense. We call ourselves the tinker and the tailor. She’s the tinker and I'm the tailor,” says Erica. “Faye is kind of relentless in pushing the boundaries in terms of product. And I'm all about construction and method and creation from the beginning, and understanding how things are made.”
Fitting for a brand so centered around family, Erica cites her parents’ interests as a major influence. “Our mother, before having us, traveled the world teaching floristry in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and has continued her love for horticulture through gardening and painting. She taught us to use what’s around us to create, and to connect with nature. Our father, a keen bird watcher, walker and potter also influenced us heavily in terms of connecting nature and art.”
While the sisters didn’t pursue a formal partnership until 2012, they did find opportunities to work together early in their careers. “When Faye was at The World of Interiors, she would commission me. So I would come in with my sewing machine and we would just kind of make some magic happen,” remembers Erica. That would later lead to them working together at Salone del Mobile in Milan, one of the world’s oldest and most venerated design fairs: “Faye would ask me to make uniforms for the people that were going to help out. She didn’t know if there would be girls or boys, or men or women, or what size they would be. She just needed uniforms and outfits that worked.”
“Then there was the London Design Festival,” continues Erica. “Faye was asked to create something for Seven Dials, so she designed 49 coats, each labeled with a trade local to the area, lost in time.” The design magazine Dezeen commissioned seven young designers to create seven installations to hang above the streets of Seven Dials, and Toogood’s 7x7 installation was located on Monmouth Street. “These were oversized, two-meter high coats, all made in-house. They were all made with bathroom blind fabric that we managed to get hold of. I cut these beautiful coats, with kind of softened shoulders and big pockets.”
From the genderless, sizeless uniforms created for unidentified teams of project helpers to the oversized proportions of the coats for Seven Dials, Erica’s induction to Toogood proved a pivotal moment for the studio, helping it establish its now-signature style. Pairing her knowledge of technical fashion and textile production with the brand’s more abstract, fluid art and design practice, they delved into the world of fashion, launching their first clothing collection in a small gallery space in the Marais district of Paris for the coming Spring/Summer 2014 season.
Following on from their focus on workers and their attire at the London Design Festival, Toogood’s Collection 001 included nine new coats, practical and sculptural, crafted from hard-wearing materials. Each garment was derived from the workwear of a specific trade, noted by the studio as “an authentic vocation, not the shallow desk jobs of the digital age.”
“We launched the first collection, really not knowing what the reaction would be,” says Erica. “But it was extraordinary. There were actual tears, there was emotion, there were people just so ready to see change in fashion. I think the buyers and the press were just really interested in this change of attitude, and the fact that the studio already existed with its interiors, gallery furniture, and products.” While this holistic approach might feel commonplace in a post-Virgil Abloh world, it’s worth remembering that Toogood’s breakthrough predated this shift, and helped usher it in too. Just a few years later, in 2018, Toogood Studio would find its convergence of fashion and design celebrated on the highest stage, with an invitation to produce a conceptual redesign of Italian Vogue editor-in-chief Emanuele Farneti’s office, as part of another edition of Salone del Mobile.
Probably because it draws so closely on the relationship between Faye and Erica, Toogood feels more like a lifelong project than simply a brand. “When Faye started this, there was no blueprint for how this kind of studio might form, or where it should go, and how it should be known,” says Erica. “We have the same aesthetic, yet experience it in different ways and forms. Faye’s natural instinct, which has been apparent since she was telling elaborate stories as a child, is around narrative and the final performance. Mine has always been about building, sculpting and shaping. We work together in the same way as we did when we were children — respecting each other’s area of expertise and trusting each other’s instincts. It’s critical to how we have formed Toogood.”