Toby Clark is a Welsh born, self-retired fashion designer and an Ambassador for the Campaign For Wool NZ. He’s also an evolving environmental land artist, poet, brand strategist, ideas generator, mentor, eco activist and full time dreamer. As the founder of Toby etc. an ideas company, Toby quietly influences international brands who are deeply connected to nature, helping to grow their international profiles.
Widely experienced in the fashion & textiles industry, Toby’s expertise has been sought after by a number of high profile international brands. His design creations for Margaret Howell received three nominations at the British Fashion Awards for ‘British Menswear Designer Of The Year.’ The International Wool Secretariat selected the Toby Clark label to represent the UK at a global showcase for Wool at Premiere Vision in Paris, 1997.
As a specialist in his field, Toby has a proven reputation for aesthetic design solutions that creates loyal consumers and in the development of niche Factory Brands – direct to consumer.
The ‘etc’ in Toby etc. is an abbreviation of the latin term Et cetera. The expansive definition of this much loved term means ‘and the rest’, or ‘other similar things, of a similar class’. It indicates Toby’s desire to collaboration across different creative disciplines, through different media platforms and across the wider creative industries.
Toby is a quiet activist of environmental causes and his principal desire, while facing an often capitalist driven consumer culture, is to act thoughtfully, creating work with diversity and an ethical purpose, with a positive impact on our planet’s finite resources.
Having always been ecologically minded, Toby’s first womens and mens collection in 1990, modelled by Roger Cook of L’Uomo Vogue and photographed by Wolfgang Tillmans, was inspired by ecclesiastical dress with T-shirts emblazoned with ‘Thou Shalt Recycle’.
During the Covoid-19 lockdown in March 2020, Toby fully realised his passion to start repairing oldness and not be part of the creation of newness. In terms of clothing, this means Toby aspires to repair pre made clothing rather than design clothing of new materials, unless they are 100% biodegradable with no negative impact on our planet.
To underline his mission, Toby is wearing the same clothes everyday for an indefinite period, helping to reduce the negative impact he has created as a designer. This is estimated to be in the region of 250,000 to 500,000 individual products made from 1990 to 2017. Products the world did not actually need, but just desired.
Toby writes widely, recently authoring ‘The Provenance Of Fashion’ published by Bloomsbury. While an art student in Bournemouth he wrote his thesis titled ‘Uniforms’, which he turned into a collaboration with photographer Wolfgang Tillmans.
Toby is currently writing his autobiography ‘The Magpie – Who Listened’ and is curating a project titled ‘FANDOM – The Blessed Curse’ with writer Paolo Hewitt and photographer Ian Macdonald. With forward by David Conn, Fandom features the portraits and personal narratives of British Football Fans.
The studio of Toby etc. welcomes creative proposals from far and wide, but naturally carefully selects the projects and clients it partners with.
To uncover the full background of Toby’s career, please review the Biography section.
A company profile and curriculum vitae is available on request.
“I think of myself as an activist of beautifully crafted objects and ideas, a fashion philosopher of sorts. I pursue honest design and seek to share products and ideas that channel the light. These are either with or without commercial intent and often philanthropic and altruistic. I have a genuine love for helping people and mentoring those who value it and believe in a communal quest to create an environmentally sound footprint. I enact this philosophy across a broad range of creative disciplines.
My career has tended to be entrepreneurial, supported with innovative original thinking. Prompting the creation and growth of niche products and niche lifestyle brands, supported with original ideas.
Pursuing a sense of purpose is an important motivation in my work. I intuitively resonate with like-minded brands and individuals who share this thinking. I prefer to consider the social benefits that design brings to others, rather than on any singular quest for profitable gain.
Throughout my childhood, I made jigsaw puzzles. These tiny fragments that conceal a greater form and require dedication to search for tiny clues of colour, shape or object. I found I could do this quite easily with some passion.
This early fascination with jigsaws directly influenced my design thinking as a consultant and mentor. The quest to help identify the missing pieces and I tend to view the world as a macro jigsaw puzzle. I enjoy connecting people, brands and organisations together and this feels like a naturally intuitive process. These connector insights help me visualise opportunities and perspectives that others may not have fully realised.
I value authenticity and integrity over imitation. Feeling more attracted to like minded people who possess a natural incidental style, rather than those who adopt and chase the latest consumer trends. I am scared stiff of the effect the A.I. human avatar digital world will have on our society.
I fully endorse holistic design-thinking. Concepts that directly connect people with their place. During the creation phase I consider the wider environmental responsibilities and social impact of each supply chain. I strive to reduce the need to discard or throwaway products of mass consumption in clothing & textiles. I do this by simply not being part of any such inconsiderate development process. I wear the same set of clothes everyday and which I intended to do for the rest of my life, by patch repairing them. I also make mandalas using whatever natural resources I find at my feet.
My approach is to quietly observe people, organisations and brands and try to find meaningful solutions. The simpler the better. I admire all brands who create beautifully crafted products that are human-centered and empathic, with consideration for the end-user and our planet. I love both Japanese and Maori cultures and admire their thinking around nature and longevity.
My principal desire is to help instigate transparency and progressive change in our global fashion industry. One of my overriding concerns is the nature of our global supply chains, who conceal how branded goods are processed. This often means they employ a blind moral code, ignoring our planet’s finite resources. Equally the way the garment workers are treated in the process. Am pleased to feel in 2020 a huge wave of positive change coming and the covoid-19 global pandemic will certainly accentuate this.
Am passionate about ‘localism’ in business models and seek projects that bring industry closer to nature and nature closer to industry. I consider this a type of urbanite activism, intending to benefit our social wellbeing in cities and in rural areas around the world.
Along with my own mother, my great life teacher was Myra Love, the jazz singer and Rarotongan Princess. Myra taught me that “knowledge is power” and the values of altruism. She did this through her actions and her inspiring words. “I’ve put more East End kids through university than I’ve had hot dinners.” Myra’s hero was Tony Benn MP.
My friendship with Myra started because my g-g-g-grandfather William Beetham the portrait artist, painted the portrait of Myra’s g-g-grandfather, Wi Tako Ngātata the Maori Chief of Wellington and peacemaker. This is a painting of national importance in New Zealand and is titled ‘The Sale of Wellington’. It hangs as the central piece at Te Papa – NZ’s national museum in Wellington. I originally found Myra though my diligent research, as the painting popped up in Spitalfields Life blog, featuring Myra, the Maori Queen of the East End.
Am most fascinated by New Zealand’s Tuataras, the only living species to survive when the dinosaurs died out. Born with a third eye for extra periphery vision and with hearts that beat just once per minute. They are the true survivors on this earth, in terms of being the only living creatures with a beating heart, to have survived when the dinosaurs became extinct. The dinosaurs were much, much, bigger than them, but obviously not as clever at adapting to environmental change.
I believe in the after life and in our spirits ascending and in all faiths and all religions, with an overarching god of light. I Channel the Light following the path of the masters in the Astral worlds and the Indian Sapta Rishis. My lightworker guides are Guruji Krishnananda whose guru is Maharshi Amara and Muskan Sharma of ledbyheart.com . I believe in the prevailing power of good and in karma. I study the philosophy of the Dalai Lama and I believe that an action of Love will always prevail over an action of Hate as Love inspires others whereas Hate does not.
Brands & Projects
“Having been lucky enough to work with a variety of influential brands during my career, I think of myself as a commercial artist who responds creatively to bespoke challenges each brand project brings.
In my consultantcy role I careful observe brand culture, taking a step back and benefitting from an independent, helicopter perspective.
The ability to effect purposeful change, sometimes requires me to step into the heart of a brand’s organisational structure. By playing a direct role within the company culture. I enjoy this but really don’t like company politics or sitting in too many meetings, as I am more a of a creative doer.
A key aspect of a consultants role is learning how to stimulate positive change and improvements, without damaging brand culture. To achieve this I try to establish like-minded teams, who share a desire to build creative, harmonious brand environments. Cohesive teams are strengthened by mutual commitment, making the team ethos an effective strategy to achieve reliable brand growth. Sometimes it can be tricky to do, especially if it involves any release of control from the management. I feel it’s always good to be honest and seek to work through issues as they present themselves. Empathy and listening are two key ingredients.
It’s helpful to identify and understand a brand’s ‘comfort zone’. This is unique to each brand and their management team. It’s ultimately based on individual perceptions and any willingness to grow and adapt to new ideas or a desire to resist change. It’s an important element to recognise and understand this as a consultant, as it’s likely to impact any push on innovation or any recommendation for significant change in the brand culture.
Am grateful to all my clients who have invested in my services and given me the opportunity and autonomy to work closely on their brand strategy. Achieving a sense of autonomy is often key to successful consultancy projects and this requires trust and confidence. These are vital elements when seeking to deliver the best possible results. I always value and appreciate any such trust and support extended to me by my clients. And I take this opportunity to say thank you!
Most of all, I believe the role of a consultant works best, when it directly benefits the well being of the end-consumer, rather than just the client company. As that type of thinking actually completes a circular process. It is often forgotten that it is the continued loyalty of consumers that actually drives a sustainable business.”
2018 – Present
2018 – 2019
2017 – 2018
2015 – Present
Tolaga Bay Cashmere
2015 – 2016
Blackhorse Lane Ateliers
2014 – 2015
2011 – 2012
1999 – 2012
1998 – 1999
1997 – 1998
1993 – 1997
2017 – 2017
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 ideas company.
An established clothing designer and brand strategist, Toby Clark leads unique projects for international brands, working alongside respected opinion formers. Toby believes in doing things slowly with crafted care, championing a commitment to quality, underlined with a sense of purpose.
The studio is guided by uberrima fides, the latin term meaning ‘of utmost good faith’. Honesty and integrity are key values of authentic brands and this develops into strategic armoury when building brand culture and brand reputation.
Toby’s intrinsic approach is to avoid cutting corners or consider cheap solutions, preferring to undertake detailed observation with wide reaching research for all projects. This enables him to work closely alongside his clients, creating beautifully crafted products that attract loyal and discerning followers.
Toby’s vintage sheepdog whistle is the perfect symbol to represent the ethos, identity and brand values for Toby etc.
“My little red sheepdog whistle was given to me in 1978 by my NZ grandfather Jack Ramsden, a well respected farmer and sheepdog trialer.
As young kids, he taught my brother David and I, how to blow the whistle, while ‘Star’ his champion sheepdog, tracked a flock of sheep on the distant hilltops. The skill, coordination and loyalty between man and dog really blew my mind. I love how a small whistle instrument can send detailed signals to a far away to an attentive loyal hard working sheepdog and the process represent a lifetime’s skill and knowledge.”
When conceiving the brand identity for ‘Toby etc.’, Toby felt it was important to 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 and whistling away. He looked very content and I was intrigued by his approach to font, type and letterforms. The embodiment of an artisanal master-craftsmen.
From my own observations, branding is often distorted by the wag of a dog’s tail, rather than the character of the dog itself. So I wanted to commission an artist and practitioner of three-dimensional letterforms, with a real ‘hands-on’ approach. As in a traditional foundry, rather than appointing a digital brand studio. As often 21st Century creatives are absorbed by flat digital screens. Kelvyn proved to be the perfect foil.
‘Toby etc.’ personifies a personal touch and the design identity was conceived with a certain Englishness and sense of simplicity. Even though Toby is definitely Welsh. The size and position of the full-stop after ‘etc.’ was pondered over for some time. This was nourished with strong coffee and Maree’s homemade brownies. Kelvyn prepared a small collection of beautifully rendered test prints and Clarendon was chosen as the ideal 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’ was concluded through this digital website which Mr. Smith conceived as a simple grid of squares to function intuitively for the end user.”
I started knitting at 8 years of age, at my family home in Gresford, North Wales.
Gresford is a small rural village and home to one of the seven wonders of Wales, the church bells. I used to do bell ringing there at 10 years old and was always careful to let the thick rope run through my hands and not to keep holding on, as you would end up in an almost certain death. Within the churchyard is a giant yew tee with a girth of almost 30 feet, that botanists have fixed with an age of more than 2000 years. That’s pretty old.
Sadly Gresford was also home to the biggest mining disaster in British history, when in 1934, two hundred and sixty six men and boys lost their lives. Their bodies were never recovered from beneath the coal seams. In 1982 I attended the opening of the Gresford Colliery memorial by Lady Diana, HRH Princess of Wales. This was her first official engagement having just become a princess. She looked really beautiful and crouched down to receive daffodils from the excited Welsh children. I would see Diana again fourteen years later in my fashion circles, when she came to talk to the leaders of British Fashion at an event in Lancaster House. I was standing right next to Jean Muir CBE. I loved Diana because she was beautiful and also seemed so down to earth, approachable and humble. I cried the day she died, like millions of others did around the world. Her funeral on television was also the first time I ever remember seeing my own father crying. Apart from when he woke up the day after my mum died. I had shared a bed with him that night to give him comfort.
My first creations were small knitted peggy squares, crafted in plain stitch. And then purl, once I’d got the hang of plain. These were made in New Zealand wool, hand-spun by my kiwi mum on an Ashford wooden spinning wheel. These natural, undyed, wool bales had travelled 11,337 miles from her family sheep farm, ‘Ngaputahi Station’ in the beautiful Pohangina valley, NZ. As a child Mum used to swim in the rivers there, which she said carried crystal clear water.
The NZ wool felt incredibly soft and comforting to me and having met the NZ sheep in person in 1973, when I was 4, I have always really loved the smell of sheep’s wool. My grandfather affectionally known as ‘GrandJack’ taught my brother and I how to blow the sheepdog whistle and round up the sheep on the far away hills in 1978. I still have that whistle hanging on my wall and it’s a bright red plastic and I love it. It’s forty-two years old now.
At 10 years of age, fascinated by the transformative process of wool knitting, I asked mum if I could create and design a 3D object. I was thinking of a jumper that I’d been designing with pencil crayons. Though mum suggested I design and knit a more humble functional object, that all the family would benefit from… a Tea Cosy. Mum helped me create it in pearl stitch. I chose a a striped design, using natural wool colours. It required a hole to access the handle and hole to access the spout. It felt a magical thing to do. It was the first object I ever designed and created with my own hands. Mum helped me along the way, sharing her knowledge and encouraging me. That made a big difference.
From such humble creative beginnings, I’d unknowingly sowed the seeds for a career in design. Enhanced by my love of sheep wool. It’s the reason I’m currently pursuing a role as an ambassador for the Campaign for Wool (NZ). The teacosy also provided a critical design education, as I realise with forty-three years of hindsight, it aligned to the Bauhaus School’s principles of form and function. The tea cosy was bespoke created to fit the form of the tea pot, with slit holes to hold onto the handle and the spout to pour the tea and its purpose being made in wool, was to the keep the tea warm in the teapot. A simple holistic philosophy that would become my lifetime work.
At 20, following a foundation in Art in Wrexham, North Wales, I pursued my academic studies at Bournemouth College of Art & Design. This was during the early 1990’s, a time of great social change in Britain. Buoyed by the vibrant music industry, it was an exciting era to be studying art and design at Art college. This led me to create a thesis on ‘Uniforms’, which I turned into a collaboration with my fellow art student Wolfgang Tillmans. Wolfgang’s stardom rocketed and am not at all surprised he is now a globally acclaimed photographer and fine artist, winning the Turner Prize. He was so good behind the camera, even at that young age.
Around that time I met my future Spanish wife Marta Narbona who was also studying fashion. Marta’s sister Carmen had a baby girl Patricia Ferran, who was the first human knew as a newborn baby. As a result I have always felt close to her. Though I didn’t realise her desire to perform around the breakfast table at a very young age and with me finding myself a part of her first tiny audience, would one day lead to Patsy winning the Laurence Olivier’s actress of the Year in 2019. Impressive stuff.
In 1992 I continued my studies at the Royal College of Art, gaining an MA in Fashion Menswear – the only Mens postgraduate degree course in the world at that time, which offered just 7 places. I trudged on foot through the two feet of deep snow and dropped my black portfolio off on Queen St. As the large wooden doors opened I saw a vision of a few thousand similar black portfolios stacked up in a high ceiling room and my heart sunk.
Luckily I got in. Wolfgang’s photographs had helped me.
Under the more intense spotlight of the RCA, I found himself oscillating in a higher profile arena, with some of the world’s most famous designers popping in and out of our class. When a tutor discovered I was Welsh, she left on my desk, on my last day of graduation, a piece of paper with the words ‘Welsh Fashion Awards’. This led to me showing my RCA graduate collection at the Savoy Hotel, London 1994. A title I went on to win in 1995, becoming the ‘Welsh Fashion Designer of The Year’. This prestigious competition was chaired by David Emanuel, who’d designed Princess Diana’s wedding dress, with fellow judges Shakira Caine, the wife of actor Michael Caine and Caroline Collis the daughter of Joan Burstein (Mrs B) who co-founded Browns of South Molton st.
While on stage I was asked by the host, TV presenter Jeff Banks “Are you Ossie Clark’s secret love child?” Though humorous, it wasn’t true. Though it did lead to me being filmed by the BBC for the populist programme ‘The Clothes Show’, a show on BBC1 with 8 million viewers, and hosted by Jeff. Jeff in his earlier life had married Sandie Shaw who sang ‘Puppet On A String’ with no shoes on and became the first British entry to win the Eurovision Song Contest.
This nationwide exposure led to me being invited, along with Philip Tracy, to represent the British Fashion Industry and Department of Trade & Industry at a ‘Action Japan’ event at the British Embassy in Tokyo, 1995. This in turn led to the president of Sanyo Shokai (Burberry’s licensing partner) making an approach to license the Toby Clark label in Japan. It was quite an honour for me as a postgraduate designer, only 6 months out of college. I actually turned the offer down.
This rapid interest in my creations helped me to establish my designer label TOBY CLARK, which retailed at leading designer stores in America, Asia and Europe. Notably selling my label to the Bursteins, owners of Browns of London, the Pressmans, owners of Barneys New York, Tom Marotta Vice President of Couture of Saks 5th Avenue, Sam Sugure the president of Anglobal, Japan, to Angela Quantrell fashion director of Liberty of London and to Shinsegae of Korea, whose Fashion Director advised me the Toby Clark label was the number #2 best seller behind Romeo Gigli.
During this period I won a number of business awards, including Welsh Young Entrepreneur of the Year, the silver medal at the British Young Entrepreneur of the Year awards and the UKFT Newcomers Award for Fashion Exports, presented to me by its patron HRH Princess Anne. She was wearing a white glove.
My RCA graduate collection was inspired by School uniforms , which prompted a 6 page editorial on School Fashion in the launch edition of Arena Homme Plus+ which became a really important style magazine around the world. This editorial was styled by David Bradshaw and photographed by Paolo Roversi. David had worked on Madonna’s video Rain and Paolo happened to be my favourite photographer working in fashion at that time. I felt overwhelmed but also incredibly excited.
The Daily Telegraph’s Fashion Editor Hilary Alexander, featured a full page editorial on Toby Clark for the launch of London Fashion Week in 1997. The article proclaimed me as the new Jean Muir. I found that quite tricky as I didn’t wear lipstick or have a bob hair cut. And especially as before the interview Hilary told me such comparison would be the death of me. The team at Jean Muir were understandably not amused either, as Jean, an icon of British fashion had sadly died a few months earlier. I learned then that some journalists see ‘the story’ and the sale of their newspaper as being of more importance, than the individuals they may exploit, for their own gain.
At 29, I founded the design consultancy Clark & Narbona with my then Spanish wife Marta Narbona. I was invited by Rogel Saul the founder of Mulberry to help relaunch Mulberry menswear at Pitti Uomo, Florence. This proved an enjoyable challenge, though I had always admired Margaret Howell, which fortuitously led to me being appointed as Margaret’s head Mens designer.
At MH I would dedicate 12 years, helping Margaret to establish her Mens business into an international brand. At that time the total group revenue was circa £70M a year, with about 10% generated in Europe and 90% in Japan, controlled by Anglobal Ltd, a division of Sanei-International Co Ltd. , TSI Holdings the parent company.
At 36, my creative steer on Margaret Howell’s Menswear led to MH receiving three nominations by the British Fashion Council for the title of – British Menswear Designer Of The Year at the British Fashion Awards. This period included projects for the Japanese company MUJI and designing the Uniform for the V&A Museum in South Kensington. While designing for Margaret, I was interviewed by Alain De Botton for his book title ‘The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work’. This was interesting as Alain seemed as interested in my thoughts of the human figure without clothing, as my articulation of how important the right shape and cut of a collar on a man’s shirt is.
At 40, I met my current fiancé Maree Ballantine a New Zealander and re-branded my design company to Toby etc.
I became a co-Founder of Blackhorse Lane Ateliers, the only Factory brand in London making selvedge denim jeans, with its own local allotment growing Japanese indigo plants. The founding methodology incorporated a factory space with chefs, weavers, dyers, leather makers and emerging craftsmen as part of a holistic community-focused enterprise. It was a game changer for manufacturing in Britain.
I retain a personal interest in philanthropic practice and community ownership. I was the architect of a campaign, to help secure 11,337 digital signatures to safeguard the Racecourse Ground, Wrexham (The Oldest International Football Ground in the World) within the Welsh Government’s Local Development plan. This activism helped secured the future of the sports stadium for the community and deter property speculators from purchasing the land with potential development value of £25M. My father was a former director and Chairman of Wrexham Football Club and my lifelong love for my home town club inspired my actions.
At 50, having established myself as a clothing designer, brand strategist and quiet activist of environmental concerns, I continue to pursue opportunities within sustainable and ethical parameters, to preserve the natural balance of our eco-system. My current thinking seeks to reconnect the values “of-the-land” to a growing number of post millennium urbanites.
I plan to do this in Aotearoa, help NZ brands with ecology in their hearts grow into Asian, European and American markets.
At 51 am wearing the same clothes everyday for the rest of my life. I will patch repair them as they change state. I do this for environmental reasons and it’s a project admired by Lidewij Edelkoort who would like me to be part of her World Hope Forum.
Am currently currently writing my autobiography – The Magpie Who Listened and Helped to Heal Me and making mandalas for free, with love for our planet.
On 16 July 2020 Toby was named an Ambassador for the Campaign For Wool (NZ)
As a small lagniappe to thank you for reading my biography, here is a link to one of my favourite songs as a teenager, back in the glorious 1980s.
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 in London, graduating in 1993 with a Master’s Degree in Fashion Menswear. This study culminated in the creation of the ‘Toby Clark’ label which won international awards – ‘Wales Designer Of The Year’ 1995 and achieved recognition amongst the fashion industry’s cognoscenti and opinion formers. The brand sold into the world’s leading retail stores. Barney NY, Browns of South Molton St and Anglobal, Japan. Following a number of design commissions with high profile brands, Toby incorporated a design consultancy business in 1997. Through old fashioned hard work and an arc for integrity, the company TOBY etc. has successfully completed design consultancy projects spanning three decades. This has included a number of highly admired international brands with a cult following. 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.’ maintains a holistic approach to design consultancy. Projects are tailored to suit each client and promote empathic design thinking. Project solutions are attuned to the client’s objectives, to enhance their brand reputation and appeal to their valued consumers. Toby values originality and authentic products. He strives to fulfil his 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 maintain consistency and by building momentum through continual incremental improvements.
We adapt our consultancy service to suit the client’s individual brand culture and offer a multi-faceted service that spans Retail, Wholesale, Online e-Commerce and Mail Order. Our portfolio of clients include premium international brands with a high profile in the lifestyle and luxury market sectors. We have provided consultancy roles in a variety of guises, including Design Engineering, Brand Identity, Brand Strategy, Creative Direction, Product Development, Manufacture & Sourcing, Styling, Catwalk Shows & Exhibitions, Brand Campaigns and Strategic Reports to Management etc. Toby Clark is a skilled practitioner of clothing creation and a multidisciplinary design thinker. He has considerable knowledge of Brand Strategy for premium brands expanding into global markets. ‘Toby etc.’ is happy to work confidentially for our clients when requested to do so, although is unable to work exclusively for anyone client.
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TOBY etc. is experienced working with a brand’s Licensee and in developing the brand and trademark in overseas territories.
To carefully observe the smallest of details, as they often resonate the loudest.
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All consultancy work carried out by, or under the responsibility of Toby Clark / TOBY etc. is subject to our terms of business. These terms are shown below. The expanded version is available on request. This may be varied (in whole or in part) with any proposal or subsequent agreement, provided it is agreed in writing and signed by both parties.
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We aspire to provide our clients with a service that represents ‘value for money’ and believe our reputation is built on this. Our fees are not charged by the hour and we provide goodwill by going the extra mile. We enjoy working with small companies as much as large organisations and understand the investment in our services is subject to each company’s structure, policy and budget. The consultancy fee to engage Toby Clark is negotiable and agreed for each project. Work is normally undertaken on a fixed-fee basis according to deliverables in the project. For an indication of fees, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org This to establish his international market rate for full-time ongoing consultancy projects or for one off ‘single-day’ consultancy engagements. All expenses incurred in the provision of services to the client, such as travel to overseas locations, airfares, hotels & accommodation costs, etc. are agreed in advance with the client and invoiced together with the consultant’s service fee.
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Inspiration is what drives all of us to get up in the morning. It’s a form of self motivation. To be inspired is to dream and to want to change the world in some small way.
All creative thinkers will fondly remember the moments they felt really inspired as art students. Especially through the discovery of another artist, whose work directly influences your own work. It’s a rewarding part of the creative process. In my own case, inspiration is not confined to any particular niche, nook or cranny. It’s 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. A la, William S. Burroughs.
The purpose of allocating 1 grid square of this website to the subject of Inspiration, is to acknowledge its roles 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. This was intended to be a slowly evolving showcase that I would update and replace from time to time. Not dissimilar to Eno Goldfinger’s carefully curated art wall at his home in 2 Willow road. Do go and see it if you’ve never been. It’s wonderful…
However I love this image and Marti so much, I decided to leave it there 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 late pen pal and friend Marti Freidlander. Marti the incredibly talented NZ photographer. Marti had a unique eye and charisma and is highly decorated in New Zealand. I think of her as an artist and I admired 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 really 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. It draws an emotive reaction, suggesting a craftsman of refined skill and knowledge. A craftsman who has mastered their craft and able to freely communicate their artform 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 imagining the conversation between Marti and Barry on that most creative day.
Instagram has grown to become the 21st century’s most influential image sharing technology. With more than 1 billion users worldwide, it’s now considered by many to be an intrinsic tool of our daily lives.
It has become a tool for friendship, a tool for family connections and also a tool for business.
It’s global influence upon our society is quite remarkable. With an unparalleled platform of connectivity, driven by the biggest archive of digital photographs in the world, already surpassing 40 billion images.
The popularity of image sharing has created a new set of social paradigms, providing a rampant level of digital voyeurism, with images shared direct from one hand held device, into the palm of another, located somewhere else in the world.
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, while enabling a conflict between illusion and reality.
While an intriguing phenomenon, the advance of Instagram with its omnipresent influence and desire to record our every movement as part of a digital revolution, could also be viewed as slightly unsettling. The long-term social effects of globalising a once private inner sanctum are still relatively unchartered…
“As a creative I’ve always felt it important to engage with all types of communication 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 don’t seek nor chase followers and believe in organic connectivity. This is the reason I never use #hashtags.
I like reality, which is also the reason I never photoshop or filter my images. To me there is an art and skill in capturing 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 is important to my life journey. My instagram feed features a myriad of creators who inspire me and who all channel the Light. ”
Do click the link below if you wish to follow me on Instagram:
My outlook has always been to value genuine friendship.
In our modern age of digital screens who create a physical barrier and vie for our attention, finding the luxury of time, to invest in conversation, to share time together, to laugh, giggle or cry and enjoy each other’s company, is one of the biggest challenges we face.
I admire my friends, not because of what they do, or their status or career success, but the way they choose to live their lives.
Self-awareness of our own personalities and behavioural traits, with the ability to show empathy towards others, are important aspects of life. My attraction to my friends is always driven by their kindness, thoughtfulness and humour. These I feel are the best foundation blocks and the elixir of life.
I feel especially lucky to work in the creative industries; 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 also of other creatives who inspire me and who I admire. There is no particular 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 in a personal touch as the first line of defence.”
If you are a student and simply seek some career guidance, mentoring or referral, you will be pleased to know Toby has a philanthropic heart and will do his best to help you.
To contact Toby: