Queens of all seasons Foale and Tuffin at Fashion and Textile Museum

By Melanie Abrams | 05 November 2009
A picture of the entrance to a fashion show full of mannequins and clothes

(Above) © Kirstin Sinclair

Exhibition: Foale and Tuffin – Made in England, Fashion and Textile Museum, London, until February 24 2010

While Mary Quant and Biba may be familiar names today, in the 1960s the hippest designers were Foale and Tuffin.

Described by Zandra Rhodes as "the Queens of Carnaby Street", Sally Tuffin and Marion Foale were the epitome of the "youthquake" and Mod culture which rocked Swinging London – with Julie Christie, Susannah York and Cilla Black among their biggest fans.

A black and white picture of a model in a white dress from the 1960s

Jenny Boyd, 1966

"Our clothes were for girls who needed to express themselves," explains Tuffin.

"They were young, busy, trendy, wanting to do their own thing and kick down the barriers of so many years. These girls wanted to hoick up their skirts – literally – and get rid of their suspenders."

Now a retrospective of their 10-year reign (1962-72) has opened at the Fashion and Textile Museum, bringing their unique style back into the spotlight.

Their iconic Marlborough Court boutique, showroom and design studio has been recreated with original fixtures and fittings from sewing machines and cutting tables to the fluorescent red and blue light bulbs spelling out the Foale and Tuffin sign.

An old picture of two young women standing outside a fashion boutique in the 1960s

The fashionable pair outside their Marlborough Court boutique in their heyday. Reproduced from Foale and Tuffin: The Sixties. A Decade in Fashion by Iain R. Webb, ACC Publishing Group

Pulsating sounds of the decade, including She Loves You by the Beatles and Baby Love by the Supremes reverberate throughout the show, intensifying the Foale and Tuffin experience.

"We wanted to capture their Sixties and what it was like for them, not the idea of what the Sixties would have been – like in an Austin Powers movie," says Dennis Nothdruft, curator at the Fashion and Textile Museum.

Original signature pieces are on display, including the corduroy brown trouser suit which changed the way women dressed before Yves Saint Laurent, an achievement Tuffin remains proud of.

A black and white picture of two young women wearing black and white clothing with black hair in the 1960s

Curator Dennis Nothdruft feels there is "a sense of timelessness" to the designs

Strikingly, the look remains modern with some pieces on trend today, including an early 1960s Napoleon raincoat which could easily work as this season’s must-have trench.

"There is a sense of timelessness to their designs," says Nothdruft. "It was because wearability was part of what they wanted to do. Their designs don't feel retro – they are just cute clothes."

They were often ahead of the game. The "boyfriend" look, created after raiding their partner's wardrobe for inspiration, and their idea of mixing up patterns and prints – such as teaming a striped jacket with a spotted skirt – prove their foresight.

A picture of a dated sketch from a fashion show

Sketches from the 1962 collection

Even the way they designed is contemporary. They would reinvent shapes in different, previously unfashionable fabrics, as we see in one dress featuring a keyhole neck in black lace and organza as well as Liberty prints.

"These were granny fabrics but looked modern when cut into their silhouette," says Iain R Webb, author of the book about the designers which prompted the show.

Nothdruft put their success down to a pop sensibility. "Their designs had big pop culture references, such as the Olympics or even advertising. Their iconic Double D dress, for example, stands for Double Diamond," he points out.

A black and white picture of a smiling woman in hippy clothing from the 1960s

Foale playing the hippy in 1971

They closed the shop for the last time in 1972. "Both of us had children," reasons Tuffin regretfully.

"We were growing up, getting married, having different priorities. That was the way it was in the Sixties. Nowadays, designers such as Alice Temperley are able to continue in fashion and have children."

So why has Foale and Tuffin been such a hidden secret? Some put it down to their lack of celebrity status, unlike Mary Quant and Ossie Clark who, with their celebrity partners, were part of the Swinging London vibe.

"We didn't know how important publicity was," admits Tuffin. "We never courted it. We are quite shy. We weren't aware of it."

A picture of a sketch from a fashion show with notes on it

The shop closed in 1972 after the pair both had children

Other designers of the time also went beyond their fashion label, for example when Quant extended into products including nail varnish and lipsticks, even licensing her name.

With the recent re-launches of Sixties labels such as Biba and Ossie Clark, Tuffin has not ruled out the possibility of reviving Foale and Tuffin.

"It would be good fun to do, but we are busy so it might not be practical," she says.

“It is tempting. It's difficult to find clothes for our age group now, which is how we started out. "

Admission £6.50/£3.50 (free for under-12s). Call 020 7407 8664 or email info@ftmlondon.org.

Foale and Tuffin discuss their careers and the exhibition at the Museum on November 20, 6.30pm-8pm. Admission £12/£9 (includes glass of wine and entrance to exhibition.) Advance booking recommended, call 020 7407 8664 or book online.

Foale and Tuffin: The Sixties. A Decade in Fashion by Iain R Webb. Published by Antique Collectors' Club. £25, order online.

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