John Tebb in the Marwood Spring/Summer 15 Lookbook - photographed by Arianna Lago
“It really starts with colour, fabric and pattern” confesses Becky French, as we sit across from each other in her East London studio. Since her quiet debut French has been exploring the sartorial parameters of ties in her accessory line, Marwood. In an age where CEO’s are wearing t-shirts to work, the tie has been demoted, but French has taken the accessory and made it relevant again.
With her seductive curiosity, French crafts well considered, texture-rich neckwear in each passing season. It all began as an online sketchbook of exploration and research in 2010, before she took a place in the NEWGEN Fashion East Installations. “I had an idea to create ties and I saw a gap in the market. At the time I was working at Aquascutum, so it wasn’t like starting my line straight after graduating. I had an idea and I wanted to start exploring it through research, collecting things and putting it together in a visual way. That’s what the blog was: it was a means of putting out an online sketchbook with the intention that it could develop into something. About a year later, I started freelancing for a couple of labels and I thought this is the time to put the ideas into action.”
At a Suffolk Mill, French approached the craftsmen and women with the idea of creating a capsule collection of men’s woven ties. At the time, small neckwear brands were almost non-existent, so she was a met with a round of support. Over the years, her relationship with the mill has grown. They work together to create original patterns resonating that of an ink drawing, photographic jacquard or sketch. Cut by hand, the ties are finished with the signature Marwood diamond shape lining behind the point of each tie.
Originally French trained as a Womenswear Designer at Kingston University, and later held posts at Ralph Lauren Purple Label and Aquascutum. “Ralph Lauren Purple Label was the start of my education in terms of fabric. They work with a lot of English and Italian mills and manufacturers in order to develop their own cloth from scratch. Then at Aquascutum we did a lot of fabric development where we would start a woven cloth from scratch. I worked with a really amazing team of people who taught me a lot about fabric development and so from that we met lots of mills and factories. There was one in particular that I connected with, and I thought so many people in the UK don’t know that this is here. They are the people to turn to, as they are a tie fabric specialist, making ties for luxury brands worldwide including Hermes.”
When we move onto the contentious subject of Made in England, French grounds her discussion in quality. “It’s a real shame because I think it’s been over used and it should not be a line to hook onto. It can be quite quickly devalued and what people like about Made in England, or certainly what I like, is the celebration of the craft that has been around years, as well as the people who have specialist skills. They’re not trying to imitate something or catch onto something. This part of heritage, what’s going on around us everyday and that excites me. You go to China because they’re specialist in making silks and softs, you go to Italy for a certain type of tailoring and to England for another type of tailoring. It’s more about celebrating a history of a place, what their skills are and then using them to the best of their ability rather than trying to make something for the sake of it.”
The story of Marwood goes hand in hand with the idea of process: The website alone subconsciously offers a glimpse into the hidden world of English factories. “Now, I think people are more aware of the factories, as lot of brands over the years have shown the processes. People like to see behind the scenes of anything and social media has allowed people to get more information. Through social media they can access something they didn’t know was there or would like to be a part of. For instance with the lace factory, it's a real industry that remains quite unknown. It’s such an incredible part of our history! Lace is made just outside of Nottingham, but there is only one remaining factory in the whole of the country. 40 years ago there were 48 factories and you just think there are so many people who have been affected by the demise of that industry. So, it’s quite nice to think that people are thinking about where things come from”. Marwood's popular lace ties and bow ties range, feature English leavers lace from the Nottingham factory. Using archival lace patterns, the range has become extremely popular for formal occasions. It is another relationship that has developed over the years or as French explains “meeting the people in the factory was so important because as you build a relationship you develop better product”.
For Spring/Summer 15, French looked towards 14th century Persian illustrations and Sigmar Polke. “I found this lovely book of Persian miniatures in an old store where the colour palettes, intricate details and miniatures throughout tell a story. I’m also always inspired by artists who explore lots of different techniques. I love going to a retrospective at a gallery and seeing the initial sketches of something and then you see the photography or painting. When you see all that work together, you see how they really went for it and express themselves: so Sigmar Polke was certainly someone I was inspired by.”
There is always a character at the heart of a Marwood collection. From the individuals depicted in Hirsch Kitai’s photography to Jean Cocteau; various influences combine and lend themselves to the continuation of her sartorial fascination with luxury neckwear. This season 'The Gardener,' or more precisely, John Tebbs, was the character dressed in Marwood bow and neck ties, cotton neckerchiefs, pocket squares, slub scarves and socks, enriched with graphic textures and patterns. French’s eyes beam with enthusiasm as she tells me how the The Garden Edit founder became the subject of the Spring/Summer 15 lookbook. “In all our lookbooks we try to create a character wearing ties in many different ways. When you look at all the old artists, it’s amazing what you’ll find them wearing and they’ll always have a tie on. This is one the things with accessories, we’re producing something that can be seen as a very formal, but what I like to do with photography is really get across versatility. Plus, I like the idea of formality in situations that we don’t see anymore. What I liked about John, is what he stands for and his attention to detail, his process and products that he chooses. We stood for the same thing, so John and I got on really well. We - including photographer Arianna Lago - liked the idea of having a gardener being off-duty and now we’re discussing a possible collaboration product for his website.”
Marwood’s launch, in the thick of the economic recession, has proved that even in tough times, a highly conceptual product can still prosper. It currently sits comfortably in Dover Street Market, Bergford Goodman and Selfridges but French is keen to develop her online store next. “We have a lot of customers on our online store and we’re constantly learning about them. We love offering a great customer service and that’s an important thing now; especially as a young brand. I can test some new products and see how it goes and it doesn’t have to be on a wholesale scale. Unfortunately, there are alway restrictions on how much you can grow. No matter how many ideas you have; we’re small and we’ll grow gradually, but the focus is definitely to launch products exclusively on the site”.Images courtesy of Marwood London with photography by Arianna Lago