Faye ToogoodAn Interview
This is a woman who has designed a dressing table in the form of a cage and a bench in the shape of a bullet; whose colour palette tends towards glowering English skies and the rusted tinge of abandoned industry.
The word ‘antidote’ is often used to describe Faye Toogood’s work. Her installations for fashion brands and retailers have been hailed as an ‘antidote’ to brash commercialism; her furniture and design objects are an ‘antidote’ to mass-production. However, in the context of her Redchurch Street Studio the word seems wrong; a symptom of a modern malaise, our obsession with achieving a frictionless state of ‘wellness’.
Faye agrees. She’s just returned from a meeting at Selfridges where she’s creating a Comme des Garçons installation – the reason why the studio’s crammed with bulbous sculptures clad in vulcanised rubber. “I prefer the ‘anti’ part of the word ‘antidote’,” she says, sinking down onto a fibreglass Roly Poly day bed. “As a child I was one of those restless beings. If you show me white I’ll make it black, tell me bronze is precious and I’ll make it in plaster.”
It’s easy to imagine the former enfant terrible. Dressed in a deconstructed suit of painted blue pinstripes, she’s part Pierrot, part page boy, part power dresser. This is a woman who has designed a dressing table in the form of a cage and a bench in the shape of a bullet; whose colour palette tends towards glowering English skies and the rusted tinge of abandoned industry. “Soft furniture,” she says, patting the punishingly hard day bed. “That’s the next challenge.”
The daughter of a florist and a scientist, Faye spent her childhood in Rutland gathering “sticks, stones and broken bones”. Following a degree in art history, her collecting habit won her a job at The World of Interiors; when she arrived at the magazine’s offices with a suitcase of swatches, sketches and found objects, she was hired on the spot. Over the course of eight years she eventually became Decoration Editor of the magazine, before leaving to establish her own practice in 2008. Since then she’s pursued a restless aesthetic – each new project is an opportunity to test a different material.
That sense of flux is the life force of the studio. “We’re all misfits,” she says, introducing me to Celine, an interiors specialist who’s switched to product design, and Thomas, an architect working on a furniture project. At the back of the studio is the tailoring room where Faye’s sister Erica designs the Toogood clothing range, creating radical workwear with names like The Oilrigger Coat and The Milkman Jacket. Pinned to the wall is a painting by Faye’s three year old daughter Indigo, entitled ‘Pigs in Mud’. In Indigo’s world, pigs are anarchic, outrageous creatures who know that beauty doesn’t require decorum.
Mud, as it happens, is a key ingredient in Faye’s next ‘Assemblage’ of design objects and furniture. We walk towards a magpie collection of maquettes and materials at the centre of the studio. “I call it my jewellery box,” she says, passing me a weighty lump of cob – an aggregate of clay used for building houses. “The next Assemblage is all about play, mudlarking. We’re recasting the Roly Poly chairs in mud and solid glass – there’s going to be a game of solitaire, and wearable tapestries, and a wall hanging of beads…”. I spin what looks like an ancient bingo cage; wooden beads clatter inside. “That was a lottery system to select which miners would go down the pit.” She touches the spherical ribs of steel. “It’s beautifully made.”
If an antidote is an act of reversal, a way of smoothing us back to our ideal selves, then Faye’s work is something quite different. “I suppose it’s the role of design to prompt a type of behaviour which corresponds to ‘the good life’. But I’m not keen on worthiness,” she admits. “I’m not the designer you come to for the perfect spoon to eat your cereal.” She picks up an optical prism and places it next to a chunk of volcanic rock. “Whenever I move house I let go of a lot of possessions, but somehow these found objects stay; they releases associations, memories, emotions. When I create something which connects me back to that state, that’s what I’d define as good design.”
Perhaps that’s the difference between the good life and the Toogood life. We’re not given a prescription.