Toby Clark is a non-practising fashion designer and founder of ‘Toby etc.‘ A design and brand strategy studio with a reputation for creating niche international brands.
A founder of the Toby Clark label and co-founder of Heartfelt Repairs Co. , Toby is a designer, poet, brand strategist, hand-spinner of wool and creator of mandalas – combining nature’s fallen materials with human debris – becoming the self appointed artist in residence on Primrose Hill, London in 2018.
Widely experienced in the fashion & textiles industry, Toby’s design methodology has steered influential brands. His decade of design for Margaret Howell received three nominations for ‘Menswear Designer Of The Year’ at the BFC’s British Fashion Awards.
A proven specialist in menswear – with a reputation for crafting authentic products and original forward thinking concepts – Toby’s sensory intuition and evolutional approach to design engineering helps to grow loyal consumers.
Throughout his career Toby has felt a deep affinity with Mother Earth and natural materials, particularly wool. Having learnt to hand-knit aged 8 by his mother Adrienne, this early fascination with transformative textiles, prompted him towards a career in fashion. After graduating from the Royal College Of Art in London, he started his own clothing label, becoming Welsh Fashion Designer of The Year at the Welsh Fashion Awards at the Savoy Hotel, London. His launch collection sold exclusively to Barneys New York, Browns Of London and Anglobal of Japan, being selected by the IWS ~ International Wool Secretariat to be showcased at Premiere Vision in Paris. In recent years after co-founding Blackhorse Lane Atelier’s, Toby renewed his love for wool becoming an Ambassador for the Campaign For Wool NZ.
Toby is a co-founder of Heartfelt Repairs Co. a for profit social enterprise with a mission to bring power-to-the-people through empowerment and creativity in repair to reduce the amount of clothing ending up in landfills.
A gentle but determined activist of environmental causes, Toby favours brands with an authentic ecological purpose who respect nature and our planet’s finite resources. Particularly brands who encourage end-users to adopt a new approach to consumerism buy consuming much less.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, Toby began to exclusively wear pre-worn items of clothing. This a reaction to his personal resistance to the fashion industry and its seemingly insatiable demand for new products, made in new textile materials.
To emphasise his thinking, Toby adopted a more radical approach wearing the Same Clothes Everyday indefinitely. This single set of clothing aimed to offset the negative impact he’d personally created as a designer, which he estimated to be in the region of 500,000 products manufactured between 1990 to 2017, contributing to a plethora of clothing the world’s consumers did not necessarily need but rather desired as luxury items. His Same Clothes Everyday manifesto was admired by the world renowned Fashion Trend forecaster Lidewij Edelkoort who invited Toby to be part of her World Hope Forum.
To underline his design philosophy, Toby has written articles for academia, authoring ‘The Provenance Of Fashion’ published by Bloomsbury. Featuring the important role of transparency, by tracing the supply chain with Blockchain technology and in sync with Jessi Baker the founder of Provenance.org
While an art student in Bournemouth his written thesis on ‘Uniforms’ turned into a collaboration with fellow art student Wolfgang Tillmans, then an unknown photographer. Part of this collaborative work has since been signed by the Turner Prize winning artist and sold through Sothebys to private collectors.
Having established a career as a clothing designer and design consultant, Toby continues to work within sustainable and ethical parameters, seeking to preserve the natural balance of our eco-system and aiming to bring city dwellers closer to nature.
To review a fuller background of Toby’s career, please click on the Biography section.
A company profile and curriculum vitae is available on request.
“I think of myself as a Beta, Zeta, Omega kind of male and an arbiter of beautifully crafted objects. I guess I’m a fashion philosopher of sorts. Guided by the finest natural materials, I create honest functional design products that are quality driven and embrace the notion of extreme comfort, as well as being in harmony with nature. I also carefully examine the fault-lines to seek solutions.
My career has tended to be entrepreneurial, developing original concepts for niche brands. I resonate with brands who embed a sense of purpose in their design discipline and which provides an important motivation for their existence. I admire creators of beautifully crafted products that are human-centered, with a direct correlation to the end-user’s sense of satisfaction and consideration for our planet.
My design approach is quite purist, starting by quietly observing the inner culture of a brand organisation. I seek to contribute meaningful creative solutions which do not attempt to reinvent the wheel. I believe the simpler and more harmonious the design and the awareness of the design solution, the better it will be. The antithesis of Sisyphus and the hill boulder.
I prefer to focus on the social benefits that good design can bring to the end user, rather than the profitable gain it may bring to shareholders. I help and mentor young designers starting their own brands and who share a desire to create an environmentally sound footprint.
I value authenticity and integrity over imitation. I feel attracted to people who possess a natural, incidental style, rather than those who seek to draw attention upon themselves or chase consumer trends. I resist technology that seeks to replicate human attributes and I feel a great aversion to the A.I. world of human avatars, which as I write, seem destined to infiltrate our future society. Soulmachines is not a cool company.
I endorse holistic design-thinking. During the design creation phase I consider the environmental impact and social responsibility within the supply chain and strive to reduce the need to discard or throwaway clothing & textile products. I do this by creating timeless products that are quality driven and I encourage their frequent use and lifetime repair. I personally enjoy repeatedly wearing the same set of clothes until they physically wear out. I believe it puts less stress on the planet. I also find the process of identifying fault-lines incredibly informative as a designer.
My principal desire is to help bring progressive change to the fashion industry. I share the overriding concerns about global supply chains that often conceal how and where goods are made. The willing instigators of such practises often adopt a blind moral code and fail to consider the impact either on our planet or how the garment workers are treated within the manufacturing process. I also wish to bring behavioural change to consumers who view consumption of new materials as an anti depressive. This sadly leads to the emergence of throwaway fashion, with huge volumes of clothing textiles dumped in bins and landfills, leeching toxic chemicals into the soil and water table in faraway continents.
Am passionate about ‘localism’ in business models and concepts that directly connect people to their home place. I consider this a type of urban activism that subdues the reliance on the aviation industry and benefits our social wellbeing.
I take inspiration from many different aspects of our living world and am fascinated by New Zealand’s tuataras. These fascinating creatures are the only living species on earth to have survived when the dinosaurs died out. Born with a third eye for extra periphery vision, the ability to hear without external ears and hearts that beat just once per minute, they remain our planet’s greatest survivors. While the dinosaurs once dominated the landscape, demanding all of the attention with their sheer size, they did not possess the clever tuataras evolutionary ability to adapt, especially to climate change. A lesson we can all try to learn as climate change is now upon us. “
Brands & Projects
“Throughout my career I have been privileged to work with a number of influential brands, each providing invaluable insights.
Each brand develops its own unique culture with a specific personality and there is always a sensory learning curve. Understanding the profile of the consumer and their needs as a user is as vital as understanding the make up of the product.
While some brands may value the materials, fabrications and quality of make as their point of difference, others will place more emphasis on developing conceptual styles and powerful campaign imagery.
The brands I admire the most have common attributes, notably a design discipline and sense of purpose within their organisations. There is a meaning behind what they do. This process enables brands to identify and attract like-minded thinkers, which in turn creates an energy and flow. Cohesive teams are strengthened by their mutual commitment, making the ethos behind a like-minded team an effective strategy for brand growth.
As a consultant, achieving a level of autonomy within a brand organisation is often key to successful brand projects and this requires trust and confidence. While each project brings its own unique challenges, a key aspect is gauging how best to stimulate positive change, while respecting the existing brand culture that comes before it.
Most of all, I believe a design consultant should aim to satisfy the end-consumer, as much as the brand company’s management, simply because it’s the continued loyalty of the consumer that will make a brand commercially sustainable.”
2019 – 2020
2018 – 2019
2015 – Present
Tolaga Bay Cashmere
2015 – 2016
Blackhorse Lane Ateliers
2014 – 2015
2011 – 2012
1999 – 2012
1998 – 1999
1993 – 1997
2017 – 2018
Fine Arts College
2015 – 2016
2015 – 2016
2014 – 2015
Provenance of Fashion
2015 – 2020
Fandom – British Football Fans
1991 – 1993
Royal College Of Art
1989 – 1990
Bournemouth College of Art & Design
1988 – 1989
Southampton University of Art & Design
1987 – 1988
Cartrefle College of Art & Design
1985 – 1987
1980 – 1985
Darland High School
1975 – 1980
Gresford All Saints School
1974 – 1975
Borras Park Primary School
Ethos & Identity
Toby etc. is a bespoke design and strategy company proving services for niche international brands .
An established clothing designer and emerging brand strategist, Toby Clark leads unique projects for international brands, working alongside respected opinion formers. Toby believes in creating things slowly with crafted care. Championing a commitment to quality that is underlined with a sense of purpose.
The studio is guided by uberrima fides, a latin term meaning ‘of utmost good faith’. Honesty and integrity are common values in authentic brands and this can be developed into strategic armoury when building the brand culture and brand reputation.
Toby’s intrinsic approach avoids cutting corners or favouring cheaper solutions. Toby sees little value in such an approach. Instead he carries out detailed observation, with wide reaching research for all projects. This commitment has enabled him to work closely alongside his brand clients, creating beautifully crafted products that attract loyal and discerning followers.
Toby uses his vintage red plastic sheepdog whistle as a meaningful symbol to represent the ethos and identity for Toby etc.
“My red sheepdog whistle was given to me in 1978 by my grandfather Jack Ramsden, a respected farmer and champion sheepdog trialer in New Zealand.
He taught my brother and I how to blow these whistles, while ‘Star’ his champion sheepdog, tracked a flock of sheep on the distant hilltops. The skill, coordination and loyalty between man and dog blew our young minds. I particularly love how such a small instrument can send detailed instructions to an attentive, loyal, sheepdog from far away and how this process represents a lifetime’s skill and knowledge.”
When conceiving the brand identity for ‘Toby etc.’, Toby chose to collaborate with a true craftsman of letterforms and logotype. Mr Smith’s Letterpress in Kennington, London is run by the talented Kelvyn Laurence Smith.
“I first encountered Kelvyn operating a letterpress at The New Craftsmen exhibition in Somerset House. He was printing alliteration art, with a mug of coffee in hand while whistling a tune. He looked to be an artist in his flow and I felt intrigued by his approach to font, type and letterforms. It seemed to be the embodiment of a contemporary, artisanal, master-craftsmen.
For my own branding I wanted to commission a true practitioner of three-dimensional letterforms, with a real ‘hands-on’ approach to the subject. As in a traditional foundry and rather than appointing a digital brand studio. I often find 21st century creatives are reliant on their flat digital screens. Kelvyn proved to be the perfect foil to this thinking.
‘Toby etc.’ is personified by a personal touch, the design identity conceived with a certain Britishness and sense of simplicity. The size and position of the full-stop after ‘etc.’ was pondered over for some time while nourished with strong coffee and homemade brownies. Kelvyn prepared a small collection of beautifully rendered test prints on tactile papers and Clarendon was chosen as the suitable logotype.
This particular font was created by Robert Besley in London in 1845 at Fann Street Foundry. It was the world’s first patented typeface and became popular in many parts of the world, especially in display applications such as posters, printed with wooden type.
The brand identity for ‘Toby etc’ also included this website which Kelvyn Smith conceived as a simple grid of squares to function intuitively for the end user.”
I was born in Wrexham in 1969, the year mankind made one giant leap on the moon. I felt lucky to have been raised by my Welsh father Bob and NZ mother Adrienne at our family home in Gresford, North Wales. Together with my brother David and sister Fiona, our dogs Candy and Skip, cat Wogan, geese and ducks, tropical fish, wild rabbits, occasional peacock and our milking goat. I was the baby in the family. The little one.
Gresford is a small rural Welsh village which remains close to my heart. It’s the first team I played football for and its church bell’s are one of the seven wonders of Wales. I learned to ring the bells as a young boy, being careful to let the thick rope ascend freely through my hands, as holding on elevated you to certain death, somewhere up in the bell tower. Gresford is also tragically the site of the biggest mining disaster in British history, 266 men and young adolescent boys lost their lives in an underground explosion. Their bodies were never recovered, its coal seams remain sacred ground.
It was in Gresford where my creative journey first started. As a child I was close to my mother, who encouraged me to touch different tactile objects and hand knit at 8 years of age. My first creation being a set of peggy squares. I eventually progressed from plain stitch to purl, which felt like a really big deal at the time. The knitted squares were made in New Zealand wool, hand-spun by my mother on a traditional Ashford wooden spinning wheel. The wool bales had travelled 11,337 miles from her family farm ‘Ngāputahi Station’, located in the beautiful Pohangina valley in the North Island of NZ. Ngāputahi means meeting of the waters in Maori Te Reo while back then air miles was actually considered an impressive notion.
I found the transformation from a hand sheared sheep, into a cloud like wool bale, to fine spun yarn, to knitted garment fascinating and at 10 years of age, it inspired me to design and make my first 3D object. Mum suggested I make a Tea Cosy as a simple functional object our tea drinking family would all benefit from. I created it in a pearl stitch with a striped design, using natural undyed wool colours. The process felt pretty magical to me, being the first functional object I’d designed and created with my own hands.
From these humble beginnings, I’d unknowingly sowed the seeds for a career in the fashion and textiles industry. Looking back, I believe the tea cosy provided a critical design education, aligned to the Bauhaus School’s principles of form and function. Its form needing to fit snugly over a teapot, with slit holes for the handle and another for the spout to pour the tea. Having being knitted in wool – a natural insulator, its function was to keep the tea warm in the teapot. This simple, holistic, design philosophy helped to guide me throughout my career. When I talk to fashion students and they ask me about Kate Moss, I prefer to show them the tea cosy as I think they learn more from it.
With my father being a Director, Chairman and Life President of Wrexham Association Football Club I became hooked on the team too and after my dreams to be a professional footballer inevitably hit the skids at 16, I initially pursued a career as a Sports Journalist, hoping it would provide free press entry into football grounds. But my English teacher had other ideas and presented me with a book titled First Aid in English. The dent in my pride sent me off in a more artistic direction. I never imagined back then two Hollywood A listers Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney would one day be the Co Chairmen and owners of my hometown football club. My father would have certainly laughed about such an absurd notion.
After completing an Art foundation in Wrexham, North Wales, I pursued my fashion studies at Bournemouth College of Art & Design. This was during the early 1990’s, an era of great social change in Britain. Buoyed by the vibrant music industry and backdrop of Maggie Thatchers Poll Tax riots it felt an exciting era to be studying art and design at college. Being obsessed about clothing and its power to create a personal identity or form of self expression, I decided to write my academic thesis on ‘Uniforms’. This I developed into a collaboration with then a very talented but unknown photography student Wolfgang Tillmans. Soon after graduation Wolfgang’s stardom rocketed, becoming a globally acclaimed photographer and artist, winning the Turner Prize, Hasselblad Award and producing major exhibitions and book titles.
During this period I met my future wife Marta Narbona who hailed from Valencia, Spain, who was also studying fashion. When Marta’s sister had a baby girl – Patsy Ferran – she became the first newborn baby I held in my arms. When Patsy’s performed around the breakfast table at a young age – finding myself part of her tiny audience and instructed to clap – I didn’t fully comprehend it would one day lead to her winning the Laurence Olivier Actress of the Year award in 2019.
After graduating from Bournemouth in 1990 my ambitions steered me towards the Royal College of Art and an MA in Fashion Menswear Tailoring. At that time it was the only postgraduate degree course in the world that specialised in Menswear, with just 7 places. With my background, coming from Wrexham and then Bournemouth Art college it was a fairly ambitious leap. I remember trudging on foot, through two feet of deep winter snow with my black A2 portfolio to drop it off at a Georgian building on Queen St in Kensington. As the very large black wooden door opened I saw a vision of thousands of similar black portfolios, all stacked up in a vast room with large vaulted ceiling. My heart quickly sunk.
You can imagine my exhilaration when I opened the letter, with the beautiful RCA monogram embossed into the corner, to discover I had been accepted. No doubt Wolfgang’s photographs had given my portfolio a special set of wings.
Tragically my mother had a fatal heart attack about 10 days later. I found the note she had hand written when I had told her I had been accepted. I was utterly heartbroken, wanting to walk away from the RCA, but my tutor Charlie Allen somehow helped me to find my inner strength. I owe Charlie a lot for that.
Under the RCA’s more intense spotlight, I found myself oscillating in elevated fashion circles, with some of the world’s leading designers, Jean Paul Gaultier and John Galliano popping in and out of our studio.
My RCA graduate collection was inspired by School uniforms, a form of attire I hold in high regard to this day. This fascination helped prompt a 6 page editorial on ‘School Fashion’ in the launch edition of Arena Homme Plus+ who had spotted my collection. While this glossy publication would grow to became one of the world’s most influential Mens style magazines the ‘School Fashion’ editorial was styled by David Bradshaw and photographed by the Italian great Paolo Roversi, an idol of mine. My Toby Clark clothing label was featured alongside Comme Des Garcons, Vivienne Westwood and Paul Smith and it made me feel giddy. I felt I had arrived.
On my last day of graduation, when a kind tutor Henrietta discovered I was Welsh, she left on my desk a poster for the ‘Welsh Fashion Awards’ with a £3,000 prize fund. Despite my suspicions about Wales and Fashion not sitting comfortably together, it dawned on me the prize fund amounted to my student overdraft. This led to me showing my RCA graduate collection at the inaugural Welsh Fashion Awards at the Savoy Hotel, London and being highly commended by the judges.
The following year I re entered and won the competition, becoming the ‘Welsh Fashion Designer of The Year’ which helped to raise my profile significantly. The awards were chaired by David Emanuel, well known for designing Princess Diana’s wedding dress, along with judges Shakira Caine, wife of actor Michael and Caroline Collis, the daughter of Joan Burstein (Mrs B) who co-founded Browns of South Molton St.
While receiving my prize on the catwalk I was somewhat taken back to be quite genuinely asked by the host and TV presenter Jeff Banks, “Are you Ossie Clark’s secret love child?” Though untrue, this humorous encounter lead to me being featured on the BBC’s populist programme ‘The Clothes Show’, which Jeff also presented and regularly attracted 8 million viewers on BBC1.
The nationwide exposure of being Welsh Fashion Designer of The Year and appearing on BBC1 Clothes Show opened further doors and led to an invitation to represent the British Fashion Industry at a prestigious promotional event ‘Action Japan’. Along with Philip Tracy, Amanda Wakeley and Edina Ronay, this event was conceived by the Department of Trade & Industry and held at the British Embassy in Tokyo in 1995. The exposure subsequently led to me meeting Sam Sugure, president of Anglobal Ltd and the president of Sanyo Shokai (Burberry’s licensing partner) making an approach through Mitsui & Co. Trading company to license the Toby Clark label in Japan. As a fledgling designer who had only graduated some 12 months before, it felt an exceptional honour but I turned it down.
The increased interest in my designs led to me establishing my own label TOBY CLARK, which sold exclusively to some of the world’s leading stores. Notably the Bursteins, owners of Browns of London, the Pressmans, owners of Barneys New York, Tom Marotta, the Vice President of Saks 5th Avenue, Sam Sugure the president of Anglobal, Japan, Angela Quantrell, fashion director of Liberty of London and Shinsegae of Korea – who successfully retailed the Toby Clark label to secure number #3 best seller behind Jil Sander and Romeo Gigli. During that period, Suzy Menkes fashion editor of The Herald Tribune coined the Toby Clark label as ‘tailoring with a light hand’ during her London Fashion Week round up.
Around this time I won a number of awards, including Shell LiveWIRE Welsh Young Entrepreneur of the Year, silver medal at the Shell LiveWIRE British Young Entrepreneur of the Year awards and i was the winner of the UKFT Newcomers Award for Fashion Exports, presented by its patron HRH Princess Anne.
In 1997 for the launch day of London Fashion Week, the Daily Telegraph’s Fashion Editor Hilary Alexander, featured a full page editorial on the Toby Clark label. The article headlined me as ‘Catch 22 for the new Jean Muir’. Despite the significant brand exposure, I was fairly shocked by the angle of the story. During the interview Hilary had mentioned though a number of prominent members of the industry had drawn such a comparison to Jean Muir, in her view, such comparison would be the death of me. I had let Hilary know though I greatly admired Jean Muir as an icon of the British fashion industry, I did not seek such comparison. The team at Jean Muir were also understandably upset as Jean had sadly passed away just a few months earlier. So to suggest there was a new younger version of her, was more than a touch insensitive. Though I recognised Hilary as a truly great editor, I sadly learned some journalists will pursue ‘the story‘ to aid their own notoriety, irrespective of the impact it may have on the individuals they chose to promote.
Following this period I took a heartfelt decision to close my own brand and in 1999 I co founded a design consultancy Clark & Narbona together with my wife Marta. Our first project was an invitation by Roger Saul, the founder of Mulberry, to help relaunch Mulberry menswear at Pitti Uomo, Florence. This proved an invigorating challenge and was well received by the fashion press. My designs were worn by Bob Geldof alongside Bono during the G7 summit. During my tenure at Mulberry, Christina Ong took a controlling acquisition of the Mulberry brand for her Club 21 holding company.
At the start of the millennium and having always loved Margaret Howell, I was fortunate to be approached by Richard Craig through Vanessa Denza and appointed Margaret’s Head Menswear designer. At MH I invested 12 years of brain power to help Margaret reestablish her Mens division into an acclaimed international brand. At that time the total group revenue was circa £70M a year, with 10% generated in Europe and 90% in Japan. As a company MH is 100% Japanese owned by Anglobal Ltd, a division of Sanei-International Co Ltd, with TSI Holdings the parent company.
My creative steer on Margaret Howell’s Menswear would lead to MH receiving three nominations at the British Fashion Awards for Menswear Designer Of The Year. This period included designing the Labo range for the global Japanese company MUJI and designing the Uniform for the V&A Museum in South Kensington. During my time with Margaret I was interviewed by author and philosopher Alain De Botton for his book titled ‘The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work’ published by Penguin.
While at MH I met my fiancé Maree Ballantine a New Zealander and re-branded my design company to Toby etc.
In 2012 after concluding my role at Margaret Howell I became a co-Founder of Blackhorse Lane Ateliers. This unique concept for British manufacturing was about establishing connectivity between the end user and the making process. The factory became the catwalk. It remains the only Factory brand in London specialising in selvedge denim and organic denim products. With a holistic, circular approach, led by sustainable practises, we cultivated a local allotment to grow Japanese indigo plants. The founding methodology for the brand, incorporated a factory space with a restaurant and chef, loom weaver, indigo dyer, leather craft maker and other emerging craftsmen as part of a community focused enterprise. It was considered by industry opinion formers to be a game changer for manufacturing in Britain.
Around 2015, I started to consult for Tolaga Bay Cashmere, a small specialist company in New Zealand. Tolaga farm their own exclusive breed of cashmere goats who roam the coastal hill tops with their own knitting atelier nestled under the hills. Having worked extensively across the fashion industry and experienced large global supply chains, I felt attracted to this small, single source brand, who were deeply connected to nature. Growing their own materials and manufacturing their own branded cashmere products, within their immediate locality.
In 2020, during the outbreak of the ‘Covid-19’ global pandemic, I sensed a significant moment for social change. My personal reaction was to start to outwardly reject clothing consumerism. This led me to wearing the same set of clothes every single day, indefinitely. I carefully observed each item, learning its fault lines as it changed state and eventually wore out. I then patch repaired the broken fibres. This Same Clothes Everyday became a personal manifesto and a project admired by the world renowned fashion forecaster Lidewij Edelkoort who invited me to be an ambassador for her World Hope Forum.
During this same year I became an Ambassador for the Campaign For Wool (NZ). This incredible natural fibre has remained close to my heart ever since I started knitting the teacosy.
In 2023 I became a co-founder of Heartfelt Repairs company in the UK with the intention of making a strategic allegiance with Patagonia’s United Repair Centre in Amsterdam. Our intention is to a) reduce the amount of new clothing being purchased in new materials by extending a products lifecycle and b) reducing the amount of clothing ending up in landfills and leeching toxic chemicals into the soil. Heartfelt Repairs has a charitable element, by donating a % of all sales to help save lives with https://www.minutesmatter.org.uk who are refurbishing the iconic Sir Gilbert Scott red K6 phone booths across the Uk and installing defibrillators inside them.
In the same year I created a BrandWorld document for Wrexham AFC for a collaborative pitch to Ryan Reynolds, Rob McEllhenney and John Deschner, Creative Director of Maximum Effort, Ryan’s personal creative agency.
I also started the creation of Chiaro Scuro a new healing parfum and skin care range 100% created and sourced from nature with Aotearoa-New Zealand. This brand will donate a % of all sales to the Mental Health Foundation in NZ, to fulfil the circle of doing Social Good.
As a small lagniappe to thank you for reading my biography, here is a link to one of my favourite songs, back when I was a fashion clothes horse in the glorious 1980’s.
Over the years the creative projects that have felt really meaningful to me have often been part of a collaborative process.
While each and every day we all collaborate with one other, in some form or other, either willingly or reluctantly; for creatives the true art of collaboration is instigated by a mutual respect. A desire to fully express your own ideals in harmony with your collaborator. This often requires intuition and sensitivity to create extract a balanced viewpoint.
Successful creative collaborations don’t plagiarise one another’s dna, neither seeking to profiteer or replicate old ground. They create new original work together, that without such collaboration, would not be possible to achieve.
It is, in the truest sense, a meeting of minds.
The creation of this website – Toby etc – prompted me, for the first time, to document my collaboration with Wolfgang Tillmans, the photographer and fine artist. It occurred while we were art students together at Bournemouth in 1991. It remains a fond memory of a true collaborative process.
At that time Wolfgang was an aspiring photographic artist, who along with myself, was studying at Bournemouth and Poole College of Art & Design. I enrolled onto a Sportswear Design course, which was the only course in the world delivering this niche specialism. Wolfgang was studying photography under the tutelage of Tony Maestri. The photography course had a worldwide reputation and attracted international students, unlike mine which was new and unproven.
Photography has always felt an important stimulus to my work. So when enrolling on a Fashion Sportswear course at Bournemouth, I was aware of the college’s reputation for film and photography. It was widely considered one of, if not, the leading photography course in the world at that time. Hence it attracted some of the world’s finest young talent.
I was also aware Nick Knight had recently graduated from Bournemouth’s photography course and was already art directing Yohji Yamamoto’s campaigns. Considering the fashion world was still waking up to the avant-garde Japanese trio of: Yohji Yamamoto, Rei Kawakubo and Issey Miyake, it seemed an amazingly swift ascendency for Nick, to have secured such a high profile fashion campaign, in such a short space of time. It made me think that his raw talent had been carefully nurtured at Bournemouth.
The collaboration with Wolfgang came about when I was preparing my thesis on the subject of Uniform. I’d always loved creative writing and still find it a cathartic process as an artist. Continually editing to find the words with exactly the write fit.
Uniform is an area of clothing that I still feel repetitively drawn to. Am fascinated by its uniformity, its restriction, familiarity, empowerment and sense of belonging, its egalitarianism and sheer functional utility.
For some, it’s restriction and controlling framework creates fear and a sense of anarchy to rebel against. For others (and I would place myself in this camp…) it’s a creative challenge to figure out how to express your own personal individuality, within the confines of a rigid rule book. For others a uniform is a safe haven or a blanket of pride they enjoy conforming to.
At secondary school my curiosity around regulations, led to the discovery, my grey lambswool crew-neck sweater had the ability, for some unknown reason, to prove less antagonistic to school rules (stipulating a bottle green polyester v-neck jumper) than the black v-neck polyester jumpers that saw my classmates sent home or placed in detention.
At conception, I envisioned my Uniform thesis to be accompanied by a series of portrait images. This led me into the photography department and perhaps with some luck, to bump into a young 22-year-old Wolfgang Tillmans. It was Tony Maestri who recommended Wolfgang to me. After our brief chat, I sensed Wolfgang shared the same interest in Uniform as a creative subject. We also seemed to share similar aspirations to do really meaningful work, that could stand up in its own right, beyond the internal boundaries of academia.
My invitation to Wolfgang was very simple. To capture and record the subjects I would curate. Allowing him full artistic interpretation of the final image. I would select the subjects and do the interview and prepare the written narrative for each portrait. Wolfgang would place the subject in their exacting location, within their familiar setting. In doing so, creating the atmosphere for each portrait. Wolfgang would also print and choose the final images to his own exacting requirements.
There were 10 subjects; Road Workers, School Girl, Nun, Hip Hop Artist, Funeral Director, Air Hostess, Student Photographer, Digger Driver, Chef de Cuisine and Hotel Doorman. Each one offering a different perspective of how uniforms interplayed within their daily lives and how the world in turn viewed them when they wore it.
To my mind, this curated work was about the ‘Uniform of Life’ and life is represented through the subject’s occupations. The Nun represented the start of life through birth, the Funeral Director the end of life, the School Children the value of knowledge during early beginnings. The Chef our reliance on food as humans to survive a sutainable life form. The Hip Hop Artist the powerful role and therapy of music to our existence. The Air Hostess the impact of long haul travel, as a powerful social transformation in world culture. The student photographer with a camera, the reflection of life itself and the Road Workers (Wolfgang’s favourite image) represented the ‘work’ that we all do. The work we do to distract ourselves and provide our sustainable income and sense of purpose between birth and death.
Each time Wolfgang unveiled a portrait, it was carefully presented to me in a secure slip folder, followed by a moment of studious reflection and then Wolfgang’s beaming smile. Even then as an art student there was a sense of Wolfgang being quite aware of the value of his work and a sense of carefully controlled release. There was no confetti approach. He made just two prints of each subject, keeping one for himself.
Wolfgang and I seemed to work well together and later that year Wolfgang approached me and asked if he could take photographs of my own clothing designs, which I was making as a fashion student. My final collection was an interpretation of Cassock dresses of Catholic Clergy. I was inspired by the film ‘The Godfather Part III’ by Francis Ford Coppola and became interested in the powerful immagery of Ecclesiastical Dress as a Uniform.
Wolfgang photographed my collection as a campaign format, styled on the house model of Japanese designer Matsuda. This model was Roger Cook who I had found having been featured in L’Uomo Vogue. I sent a hand-written note to Roger and we agreed to meet at the Photographers Gallery in London. Roger was a striking but unusual model. His modelling assignments were fulfilled as a sideline, while professor of Fine Art History at Reading University. He also acted in Derek Jarman’s film The Garden. Roger is now a visiting lecturer at the Royal Academy of Arts.
My recollection of collaborating with Wolfgang was his incredibly well drilled observation, his over arching confidence and technical control with a camera. Along with the meaningful embrace he gave to each subject. Even as an art student he seemed to possess the intent of a fine artist, creating art with a purpose, rather than just clicking on a camera button, which perhaps some more traditional photographers do.
Wolfgang possessed great technical aptitude, with total control and confidence in his photographic toolkit. He seemed to have the ability to capture a powerful image in a blink of an eye and appeared so instinctive when framing a subject. He made it look easy, but of course it never was. To me his most endearing facet was discovering his single minded confidence was balanced with empathy and humility.
His desire to handprint each image, added an extra layer of artistic control over the process. He seemed to be motivated by his inquisitiveness of life. With a burning desire to reproduce specific colour tones in a printed image, to create his own signature as an artist and in a manner of work that was not being done at the time. He almost had the impression of a photographic scientist with a microscopic lense, who could climb inside the printed image.
Am quite certain it was Wolfgang’s photographic prints in my portfolio that helped me secure a place at the Royal College Of Art. I was the first ever student from the Fashion School of Bournemouth to be accepted into the RCA. And still feel very proud of that. This opened the door for other fashion students at the college to follow in future years.
I’d made the transition from a Higher National Diploma course straight onto a Masters Degree course. It was a significant leap, especially as the RCA’s Fashion Menswear course at that time, was the only specialist Menswear postgraduate degree course in the world. My class intake was limited to 7 students. I remember trudging through two feet of snow in Kensington to drop of my portfolio in Queen’s Gate, inside a vast Georgian room, with high ceilings. When I pressed the bell and the door opened it looked like a sea of 10,000 black portfolios. I felt resigned to being a needle in a haystack.
At the interview, the Fashion professor John Miles mentioned he thought the photography in my portfolio was outstanding and looked like a campaign by an international brand. He said it was rare to see in a student’s portfolio. I guess that was Wolfgang but maybe Wolfgang had also found me for a reason too.
The next year Wolfgang wrote to me to ask how I was doing at the RCA and to tell me he was excited to have secured a commission with i-D publication. That early work with i-D provided the exposure that started the Tillmans ripple effect as an artist. With his cult reputation growing rapidly as the years passed by. Ten years later in 2000, at the dawn of the new millennium, Wolfgang won the prestigious Turner Prize, becoming the first photographer to receive the award as an artist and challenging the boundaries between art and photography.
The creation of this website ‘Toby Etc.’ has by chance, coincided with the major Tillmans 2017 exhibition at the Tate Modern.
Though our collaboration on Uniforms, has to this day, never been published or exhibited, a tutor at Bournemouth thought the Uniform project was so good we should approach the Sunday Times Magazine. In the end I decided not to pursue it. So the work, transcripts and prints would remain lying under my bed for over 20 years. Recently I decided to hang the portraits to recognise my fondness and memories of the work we did together. I did this in keeping with Wolfgang’s own style with non hierarchical hanging.
The fact Wolfgang’s work has achieved world wide attention doesn’t surprise me. Real talent will always rise to the top and fly free. I didn’t know until recently Wolfgang exhibited one of the Uniform images ~ Road workers ~ at his first solo exhibition at the Daniel Buchholz gallery in Cologne in 1993, recreated at Frieze Art Fair in 2016.
I do recall his fondness of the Road Workers image and can still remember us being there on that roundabout. Like much of life’s best art, it happened impromptuly on the side of the road, while we were outside the college returning from another shoot. I never imagined then that twenty eight years later this same photograph would be sold as a signed Tillmans artwork through Sothebys ………….. Sothebys Tillmans Auction
Considering Wolfgang’s methodological archivist approach and his careful control over release of his work; am sure despite the huge volume of work he has created since 1990, he will still have the Uniform images chronologically listed in his archive.
26 years later, to thank Wolfgang for the work we did together, send him a pair of Blackhorse Lane Atelier Jeans a brand I had co-founded. These were manufactured in Walthmastow, London. Being aware of Wolfgang’s love of East London the style I sent him was E5. We created our selvedge jeans with London postcodes, with each style created conceived according to the social demographic identified with each zonal area. As a brand identifier it was an interesting experiment.
I was aware Wolfgang was a devotee of Levis jeans. His regular wardrobe staple being his T-shirt and Jeans combination. Though with my knowledge of the clothing industry, I knew Wolfgang’s Levis jeans would have been manufactured thousands of miles away. So it felt meaningful to be sending him a pair of selvedge denim jeans crafted one at a time and locally made less than 5 miles from his own London studio.
It felt particularly fitting to be sending Wolfgang a pair of jeans. An item of clothing entrenched in our global culture and an essential ‘Uniform of Liberty’ around the world. We had thus come full circle.
Wolfgang returned an electronic note to thank me, together with a selfie photograph wearing our Atelier jeans…
You can view on this link, Wolfgang being interviewed by Lou Stoppard of SHOWstudio. This includes a question I posed to Wolfgang about Bournemouth and our Uniforms collaboration.
Toby Clark studied at the Royal College of Art -London, graduating in 1993 with a Master’s Degree in Fashion Menswear. After graduation he started the ‘Toby Clark’ label which won a number of high profile awards – ‘Welsh Designer Of The Year’ 1995 and achieved recognition amongst the fashion industry’s opinion formers. The label was retailed through some of the world’s leading stores. Barney NY, Browns of South Molton St and Anglobal, Japan. In 1997 Toby founded a design consultancy studio which has spanned three decades, completing projects for a number of highly admired international brands. In particular Toby’s decade of work for Margaret Howell received three nominations from the British Fashion Council for the title of ‘British Menswear Designer Of The Year’.
‘Toby etc.’ provides a holistic approach to design consultancy. Projects are tailored to suit each client brand, promoting empathic design thinking. Project solutions are attuned to a client’s key objectives, while aiming to enhance brand reputation and appeal to valued consumers. Toby values an original individual approach with a love for authentic, engineered products that are user centric. He strives to fulfil a client’s expectations by creating bespoke creative concepts, specific to each company and by going the extra mile. To protect his reputation as a specialist in the industry, he carefully selects the projects he undertakes and the brands he engages with. Utilising his knowledge and experience to help strengthen a company’s brand culture and their core DNA. Toby believes in the principles of kaizen 改善, by building lasting relationships that maintains a consistency and builds momentum through continual incremental improvements.
Toby etc. adapts the consultancy service to suit the client’s individual brand culture and offers a multi-faceted service spanning Retail, Wholesale, Online e-Commerce, Direct To Consumer and Mail Order in the niche lifestyle goods and luxury fashion market sector. Consultancy services have been in a variety of guises, including Design Engineering, Brand Identity, Brand Strategy, Creative Direction, Product Development, Manufacture & Sourcing, Styling, Catwalk Shows & Trade Exhibitions, Brand Campaigns and Strategic Reports to Management. Toby Clark is a skilled practitioner of clothing design and a multidisciplinary design thinker. He has considerable knowledge of Brand Strategy for luxury premium brands and expanding into global markets. ‘Toby etc.’ works confidentially for clients when requested to do so, although is unable to work exclusively for any one client brand.
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To carefully observe the smallest of details, as they often resonate the loudest.
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Inspiration is a stimulating method of creative motivation. To be inspired is to dream and to want to change the world in some small way.
All creatives fondly remember moments they felt really inspired as art students. Especially discovery of another artist, whose work directly inspires their own. It’s a rewarding part of the creative process. In my case, inspiration is derived from all walks of life. It’s based on a methodology of eclecticism. Sometimes my inspiration is quite literal in the form of an object or an environment and how it makes me feel. Other times it might be reading a manuscript printed by a 1960’s typewriter. Step forward… William S. Burroughs.
The purpose of allocating a page of this website to inspiration, is to acknowledge its role as a critical part of the creative process. It’s also to share an image that currently inspires me, together with a short explanatory description. I intended it to be a slowly evolving showcase that I would update and replace from time to time. Not dissimilar to Eno Goldfinger’s carefully curated wall of art at his home in 2 Willow road, Hampstead.
However I love this image and Marti so much, I have decided to leave it here permanently. It’s a digital reproduction of a gelatin silver print of 2 ceramic jugs thrown by NZ potter Barry Brickell and photographed by my dearly departed friend Marti Freidlander. Marti was an incredibly talented NZ photographer with a unique eye and charisma and highly decorated in New Zealand. I think of Marti as a true artist and admire her greatly. Not just for her extreme talent and passion as a photographer, but because she was incredibly generous, brave and thoughtful, with a zest for life that made her fun and charismatic to be around. I suspect this image was taken circa 1974. I can somehow sense this, even though there is very little to date the photograph.
I love the tactile quality of the jugs and the suggestion of a finished work still in progress. The slightly forward tool drawer suggesting a craftsman of refined skill and knowledge. A craftsman who has mastered their craft and able to assemble an art form with their own two hands. The light passing through the glass window pane provides a suitable sensitivity, which gives the jugs a sense of provenance and title. The angle of the interlocking handles makes them appear almost entwined. It inspires me to learn to throw pottery and I smile when imagining the conversation on that day between Marti and Barry.
Instagram is undoubtedly the most influential image creating platform of the 21st century. With more than 1 billion users worldwide, for many it has become an intrinsic tool of their daily life.
Its influence upon society is unparalleled, with a platform of connectivity driven by the biggest archive of digital photographs in the world, already exceeding 40 billion images.
Having established itself as a universal tool, it’s widespread popularity has in itself created a new set of social paradigms, for both social engagement and commercial business activity.
With images shared directly from one hand held device to another, its immediacy has created a level of digital voyeurism. While the facility to enhance each image through digital filters takes us a step closer to a world of virtual reality and A.I. technology, leaving a powerful impression on the viewer and enabling a conflict between illusion and reality.
While it remains an intriguing phenomenon, the advance of Instagram, together with its omnipresent desire to record our every movement, as part of a digital revolution, it might also be viewed as slightly unsettling.
The long-term social effects of globalising a once private inner sanctum, is still relatively unchartered…
“As a creative I’ve always felt it important to engage with all types of technology. I also believe in the principle of sharing authentic creativity within an open public platform.
I prefer to do this in a quiet way and use Instagram to connect with like-minded creatives. I do not seek or chase followers and believe in organic discovery and connectivity. This is the reason I never use #hashtags.
I like reality, which is the reason I never photoshop or filter my images. To me there is an art and skill in capturing a moment of reality. Natural daylight is our powerful ally if we learn how to use her.
My images are inspired by all forms of creations. I tend to be altruistic and seek to promote the creative works of others, as altruism feels important to my life journey. My instagram feed features a myriad of creators who inspire me and who all channel the Light. ”
Please click the link below if you wish to be taken to my Instagram:
In this modern age with digital screens, which disconnect and create physical barriers, that vie for our attention, finding the luxury of time to invest in conversation with friends, sharing time together, to laugh, giggle or even cry in one another’s company, is often the biggest challenges we face.
I admire my friends, not because of what they do, or any status or success, but the way they choose to live their lives.
Self-awareness and the ability to show empathy towards others are aspects of our personalities that are important to me. My attraction to my friends is always driven by their kindness, thoughtfulness and humour. These I feel are the best foundation blocks and elixir of life.
I feel especially lucky to work in the creative industries; as creative people are often extra sensory and imaginative. Imagination is one of the greatest facets of a creative thinker and my true friends all possess this hallmark.
This section of the website provides opportunity to share the work of my friends and creatives who inspire me and who I admire. There is no running order, just a list of very talented people who do something exceptionally well with grace and humility.
Kelvyn Laurence Smith
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“I believe a personal touch is the best line of defence.”
If you are a student and seek some career guidance or mentoring you will be pleased to know Toby has a philanthropic heart and will do his best to help you.
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