Faye Toogood has multiple facets that fascinate. Her surname has a winsome ring and personifies the artistic and construction quality of her creations. Every decade or so, an iconoclast emerges in the design world, rewriting aesthetic rules and functional familiarity. Toogood is today’s candidate.
The English designer is a polymath, dipping her toes into just about any category. She has designed interiors, furniture and clothes, and recently added cups and pitchers to her oeuvre. You can surely recognise her cocooning Roly-Poly chair produced by Driade, whose form, as if sculpted from a single slab, is at once charming and strange. The seat has more than 300,000 tags on Instagram, and is de rigueur in fashion-forward boutiques and homes. Then, there is the Spade chair, whose structure yokes the rudimentary shapes of a spade handle and traditional milking seat.
The latter is Toogood’s homage to her bucolic childhood, which she credits as her source of creative energy. “I had a rural upbringing in Rutland, the smallest county in England. We had no television and spent a lot of time outside walking, foraging and collecting stones, fossils and minerals from an early age, I suppose, as a way to make sense of the world. I inherited my strong love of the British countryside from my ornithologist and florist parents,” she shares during our interview, which was conducted remotely.
A visit to Barbara Hepworth’s studio at age eight seeded in Toogood the ambition to be a sculptor. She did not study sculpture but is most certainly one. “Even though I studied art history, I never lost Hepworth’s love of landscape, geometry and materials,” ruminates the 44-year- old designer. Toogood shapes and gives life to collected materials in a beatnik manner—testing and shaping materials with her hands like a child at play. The awkward and primordial, but captivating, aesthetic is refreshing in a world that favours perfection.
Her atypical background is advantageous. “As I didn’t have formal design training, there was no preconceived expectation of how the design process should flow. I’ve always been experimenting with materials in an unconventional and honest way, which often results in a basic or elemental shape. By focusing on simple geometry, the eye is drawn by the rawness and natural irregularity of the chosen material rather than being distracted by a complex shape. I suppose people find this endearing,” muses Toogood when asked about why she thinks her designs are so coveted.
“I inherited my strong love of the British countryside from my ornithologist and florist parents”
Canvas, paint, clay and bronze are favoured, but she dropped them this year for stationery such as paper, tape and cardboard. This evolved into the Assemblage furniture series. The pieces, which skipped the typical intermediary fine-tuning stage, resemble large maquettes. “It’s freeing to use such simple materials because they allow endless possibilities and teach you not to be precious about an idea. I tried to push the boundaries of [making] that wouldn’t be possible in mass manufacture,” says Toogood.
Her approach of learning through unlearning reminds me of her contemporary, British designer Thomas Heatherwick, whose work in Singapore includes the Eden condominium and The Hive building at Nanyang Technological University. “I am a big fan of Thomas’s work. He also does not think in a linear sequence. He can design a bus or a bridge; he has no fear in that way,” she responds. Toogood’s intrepid spirit raised standards at The World of Interiors magazine, where she worked her way up to become editor before leaving in 2008 to establish her eponymous studio. “I was young and brave in the way I approached tradition; I was not afraid of mixing things from different eras,” she recollects fondly.
Her oeuvre is not large, but she constantly expands upon each product’s capability. For instance, the Roly-Poly chair has been realised in raw fibreglass, patinated bronze and precious crystal barium glass that evoke strikingly distinct moods. Timelessness, rather than trends, is her dictate. Her utilitarian, unisex fashion range conceived with her sister Erica, and retailed at boutiques like Selfridges and Dover Street Market, eschews the four-collection-a-year calendar.
“My children have reawakened my creativity in every way. It brought a softer, more childlike and playful approach seen in the Roly-Poly and also our new Fudge chair”
This aligns with today’s sustainable leanings in the creative industries, exacerbated by the pandemic’s abating of the economy and “opening up of values around transparency of production; the quantity versus quality debate and the importance of making clothes with longevity at the forefront”, Toogood expounds. “COVID-19 has emphasised to us that the path we chose eight years ago is still valid and is what people truly want from the fashion industry—clothes that are made to last and comfortable to wear every day.”
The designer chooses collaborators with a similar ethos. Her latest partnership is with German footwear company Birkenstock for its designer range, whose alumni includes Rick Owens and Proenza Schouler. The sandal’s names—The Mudlark, The Beachcomber and The Forager—harken to themes of discovering, searching and collecting. They bear Toogood’s trademark unexpected yet uncomplicated style, with canvas, felt and suede extending slyly off traditional band lines or puffing upward.
Toogood is married to Matt Gibberd—an architecture journalist and co-founder of the estate agency The Modern House in London, whose projects have been given tempered, tactile makeovers by her. Family fuels her, particularly after becoming a mother eight years ago. “My children have reawakened my creativity in every way. It brought a softer, more childlike and playful approach seen in the Roly-Poly and also our new Fudge chair. Previously, all my furniture had been sharp and angular, but I realised they were inappropriate for my own home where everything had to be rounded, ‘fall-off-able’ and safe. It brought on a new aesthetic,” says the now mother of three.
She sees a reprisal of her childhood in how her children collect similar found objects, and she is delighted. “They bring them back, organise them into boxes, reorganise them and put them in order or priority, into groups that make sense to them. They even have a hierarchy to the stones they collect according to which ones are more special. Connection to the earth, to the land, is important as humans.”