Claire Mahoney looks at the lesser-known, but no less influential 60s design duo that was: Foale & Tuffin
Designer Zandra Rhodes described them as the ‘Queens of Carnaby Street,’ others dubbed them the ‘Liver Birds’ of the London fashion scene – the dynamic duo that they are referring to are designers Foale & Tuffin.
You may not have heard of them. (I hadn’t until I started delving deeper into the history of 60s fashion.) But these two East End art school girls has no less an influence on 60s fashion and the mod look than the likes of Mary Quant and to those who were in with the in-crowd, they were the designers that people wanted to wear.
Marion Foale and Sally Tuffin met at Walthamstow Art School. These bright young girls epitomised everything that the 60s was really about. They were determined to do something different and they were going to do it all by themselves and not sell out in the process.
So they stepped straight out of the Royal College of Art and took the bold decision to set up on their own. In 1961 they rented a small workshop and showroom in west London for six guineas a week. Then, with just two old sewing machines bought for them by their parents, they rolled up their sleeves and got to work. Initially they would buy their fabrics from the local department stores. Their workshop was not far from Liberty and the department stores’ famous Arts & Crafts influenced prints became a feature of many of their creations. Entire collections were made lovingly by hand to order and when their business started to take off they opened their shop in Ganton Street just off Carnaby Street.
Their little boutique attracted a devoted following – fans included Jean Shrimpton. Julie Christie, Susanna York and Cilla Black and their house model was Pattie Boyd’s sister, Jenny.
So what was it about Foale & Tuffin’s designs that were so appealing? Well for a start they were rebellious and they understood what young people wanted because they were young themselves.
“We’d had it rammed down our throats – I had to go to Sunday School with white gloves, a hat and a handbag, just like a miniature mum in a dress made by her, exactly the same as hers! I mean who wanted to do that? We just wanted to kick against it all,” says Sally Tuffin. And kick they did. People talk about how Yves Saint Laurent introduced the trouser suit for women but actually, it was Foale & Tuffin that did it first. Their design was in brown corduroy and most importantly was created for women by women.
Marion Foale recalls in an interview for the V&A ahead of a retrospective exhibition of their work in 2009. “I remember us putting a corduroy jacket on Jill Kennington and putting the trousers with it and falling about with laughter – it was so funny. We must have been making trousers anyway, but not with jackets. We put it all together and thought it was hilarious!”
It was good timing. By the mid-60s the sharp mod look was starting to get a little more playful with the likes of John Stephen stocking more dandy-ish styles with frills and Victorian style detailing for men. So as the men began to embrace their feminine side the women could explore a more liberated a less sexualised androgyny, that ironically, was no less sexy for it.
Foale & Tuffin designs were also playful. They were one of the first designers of the era to ignore the rule of matching clothes and accessories and wantonly clashed spots, stripes and checks – sometimes all in the same outfit.
They loved plaids and tartans and created skirt and trouser suits in contrasting prints and colours. They matched them with brightly coloured woollen tights. Their designs were so popular that they were eventually picked up by the big stores in the States and licensed to J C Penney and Paraphernalia.
Foale & Tuffin like many of the brands of that era either fizzled out or changed course in the early 70s, in this case, both had settled down to raise their families. Marion Foale, however, later went on to set up a very successful knitwear design business and Sally Tuffin became a successful ceramicist.
The legacy of their brand may not have been discussed as much as the likes of Quant and Biba. But to those in the know, Foale & Tuffin were a brand to be reckoned with.
To read more about them and see some fantastic pictures of their designs – take a look at Foale and Tuffin: The Sixties. A Decade in Fashion by Iain R. Webb, published by ACC Publishing Group.
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