Cutler and Gross’ In Conversation series celebrates the brand’s customers and their personal style. We look closer at their work and how they ended up in their individual creative field, what their specific craft looks like, the style journey they are on, and how their Cutler and Gross frames fit in with their unique aesthetic. Commencing with globally celebrated and multidisciplinary London-based designer Faye Toogood.
Knocking on the door to Faye Toogood’s Redchurch Street studio in East London, I already have a firm idea what the space will look like, and how the designer, sculptor, and artist – and let’s not forget, businesswoman – will present herself. When someone produces such specific and characteristic work as Faye has done since setting up her brand 14 years ago, the image of the founder is about as important as the product, at least from a marketing point of view.
And neither the sleek three-floor space – ironically an old squat – nor Faye disappoints. Though I’m sure the studio is as creatively chaotic as it should be when we are not there taking photographs, there’s a serene calmness about the space: the colours, scent, shapes and sounds make to you want to sit down in a Roly-Poly chair (arguably her most famous design) and relax the morning away and then empty the place of every single object – sculptures, furniture and clothing – in as many shopping bags as are needed.
Having studied history of art at the University of Bristol and then worked at the seminal World of Interiors magazine, Faye launched Toogood as a multidisciplinary design studio in 2008. Initially focused on interiors and sculptures, the brand is now equally known for its furniture and clothing, which Faye co-designs with her pattern cutting sister, Erica. The premium product, high-end materials, slow design process and consequent price point means Toogood has collaborated with the likes of Dover Street Market, Porter Yoshida & Co and Birkenstock, to mention but a few. Sat in said Roly-Poly chair, Faye talks to Cutler and Gross about her love of collecting sticks and stones, working with her sister, and injecting a bit of punk into her designs.
How do you describe what you do, what’s on your business card, should you still carry such a thing?
Ha, it’s a question I really dread. Generally, I’ll just say I’m a designer, but I think other people give me the label of a multidisciplinary designer. For myself, I really like the word ‘tinker’. I tinker in a lot of things, but I’m a master of nothing. I like working in interiors, objects, furniture, clothing and art. There’s less of a defined rulebook because of that, helped also by the fact I didn’t study design but fine art and history of art. That means I’ve been able to come at it more from an artistic point of view … although I don’t call myself an artist, as I’ve said I prefer designer.
Why is that?
I like collaborations, I like deadlines, I like a budget and I like working with people – that to me is a designer not an artist. I like having a brief, having a reason, having a kind of ‘why’ behind what I’m doing.
What’s the starting point for your work and does it differ depending on the design discipline?
Yes, everything starts with sculpture, landscape and materials – those are my three pillars. When I was younger, I wanted to be a sculptor, and sculpture is just such a big part of who I am and how I shape and find form. And then materials … every project or collection we do starts with materials. You can really create amazing dialogue with materials by taking one object and changing its material, so whether we make that object in glass, bronze, wood or stone, it’ll have a completely different feeling and message even though it’s the same geometry. And then the landscape is because I grew up in the middle of nowhere, I feel very connected to that kind of landscape. I’ve recently just moved back to the countryside, so the British landscape, the British countryside, the palette, the materials, the light – it’s just very fundamental to who I am, and I think that comes through in the work.
Do you collect anything?
I collect natural found objects. I started that from the age of three or four, collecting them, rearranging them in my room, bringing in new collections. I think children do that to get an understanding of the world around them. I’ve moved a lot in my life but somehow the things that stay with me are always those natural objects like sticks, stones, broken bones, whatever I can find.
“It’s the smallest things and the biggest things, I’m not so interested in what’s in the middle.”
So do you still find yourself picking up like sticks and stones?
Yes, I have three young girls and I join in with them doing it. At the moment we’re obsessively collecting sea glass, so the bowl of sea glass is very slowly, gradually getting bigger. But, yeah, that sort of magpie eye that you have as a child, you see things very differently. For some reason as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become really obsessed with glass, collecting scientific glass as well as glass art. But over the years I’ve mostly sold those collections, I’ve kind of let go of them, except I still collect the sticks and stones and broken bones.
Did you have any sort of a-ha moment growing up that exposed you to the power of art?
There was a significant moment when I was probably about eight when my parents took me to Barbara Hepworth and I saw the way that she was working, and this very small petite woman hacking bits of stone, creating her art. That blew my mind. There was a definite switch that went off at that point, and then I think it probably wasn’t really until I got to university when it really opened up and I realised that there were other people like me, and that the world could be different to the one that I’d grown up in.
Did working at the World of Interiors magazine help shape your eclectic style?
Yes, working at the magazine was an amazing experience, I got to travel to Africa and India, shooting palaces and mud huts, handling 18th century teapots. And that, combined with studying history of art, has meant that I’m one of the few designers not to be frightened to look back in time in order to create. I think certain design school teaches you nothing really that important happened before 1910, but for me I really like looking back in order to design contemporary objects.
How and when did you start making clothes as part of Toogood?
It wasn’t until maybe eight years ago that I started making clothes with my sister, the idea was just to create these eight coats based on eight trades, to dress our friends and other artists and designers, people that didn’t want high fashion. We took the coats to Paris, and because we had only just started we couldn’t afford special fabrics so we decided to use plain canvas which we painted, screen-printed and melted bin liners on them, basically whatever we could to make it interesting and not look like boring canvas. Through that process I was constantly questioning my sister, she had very formal training in pattern cutting and tailoring, so I would sort constantly ask whether we needed that seam, or why it couldn’t be raw and so on.
“When I look at a pair of glasses, it’s essentially a sculpture, an object that happens to transform your identity.”
Sounds like there’s a kind of complementary tension between you two?
Yes, there’s a tension of sorts between her formal education and my sculptural background, and that’s proved to work really well. I come in at the beginning of a concept and think about the narrative behind the collection, I give her some references, she closes herself off in a room and cuts cloth. Amazingly, she makes three-dimensional things from flat pieces of cloth and scissors, she never draws, and then I come in towards the end and work on the textiles, and the finishes, and then I really enjoy putting the collection together that way – it works for us.
I feel like you almost bring a little bit of like punk to the proceedings, a sort of ‘rip it off’ attitude that questions the old school way of doing things?
Yes, I think I might be a bit of an old punk by now, haha, but yeah, that’s essentially always been my role, and still is.
Are you a big picture thinker or obsessed about the small details?
It’s the smallest things and the biggest things, I’m not so interested in what’s in the middle, and so that’s quite hard for the people around me because I’m like, ‘what about that stitch’, or ‘what about that button’. And then I look at the finished product, so I obsess less over what happens in-between.
On a personal style note, what do you look for in an eyewear brand as glasses are such a distinct design feature of our everyday lives?
In a logistical way I’ve had to wear glasses since I was four years old so glasses are a really big part of my identity. I can’t imagine not having glasses now. And I can see that throughout my life I’ve used glasses to help me change. I’ve always enjoyed transformation, and whenever I haven’t seen anyone for a couple of years, they’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, you look completely different’, and I love that about eyewear, that it provides transformation of identity. Whether I put on a really hard pair of black Cutler and Gross glasses, or the pale clear ones, they have such a different feeling, and having been lucky enough to create a collection of glasses, I’m now able to put glasses on depending on how I feel that day, and there’s something really just fundamentally special about that.
Would you say there’s any overlap between Toogood and Cutler and Gross?
Definitely. When I look at a pair of glasses, it’s essentially a sculpture, an object, and it’s an object that happens to transform your identity, or transform your face, but it’s the same journey in terms of looking at the geometry and the materials. Whether it’s with Toogood or Cutler and Gross, you could get ten people around the table all wearing one of my jackets and the same pair of glasses and we would all look so completely different, because of the way that we create our own looks. It’s another tool in our box to create identity.
The first in-depth look at Faye’s work, Faye Toogood: Drawing, Material, Sculpture, Landscape, is available to pre-order exclusively through Phaidon Books.