London Design Festival serves up a huge array of exciting and unexpected treats every year. Faye Toogood’s “The Cloakroom” is a perfect example. Faye is a designer of a strongly academic and artisan persuasion who collaborated with a number of British-based makers and craftspeople to create a wonderfully immersive installation and tour through the V&A museum as temporary custodians of one of her 150 “Oilrigger” coats.
The experience goes beyond that of a viewer. It starts with entering the cloakroom and being met with a circular continuum of coats – each the same but different. The invitation is to select a coat, each with a different hand-painted motif on the back, that appeals to you. I choose one that strikes me as akin to the Quentin Blake drawings in the Witches – a profile painting of a pointy-nosed character – very angular. I sign for my coat, number 97, and set off on a journey throughout the museum to locate ten coats installed amongst the permanent museum collections.
The “imposters” are sometimes obvious, other times not. There’s effort required and coated in Faye’s foam and silicon garment it gets warm, intensifying my desire to find them all! The sculpted coats showcase British craftsmanship and take on a number of forms in materials ranging from wood to fibreglass and metal.
They sometimes sit comfortably within the surrounding works, at other times they jar, like the earthy kiln-like coat against a shifting LED light backdrop. The beauty of this experience (it’s more than an exhibition or installation) is that it takes you to parts of the museum you may never venture to. It reveals quiet corners and oddities, which become just as striking and important as the ones you’re actually looking for. I took snaps along the way of rooms and objects that captured my imagination as much as the coats.
I managed to locate 8 of the ten coats using the hand-drawn and printed fabric map that fastened back into my coat at the end of the experience. There’s a sense of achievement in finishing the tour and I feel I have been on a journey. The coats are a definite bonding tool and I chat to others on the same journey as we head towards the common goal of finding the next coat sculpture. I also had some enquiries from other museum-goers wondering if there was a new coat trend sweeping London. It struck me that the coat was at once an ice-breaker and furnace (I was wearing a boiler suit underneath it, so partly my fault). It was definitely worth the heat.
The final coat is a ghostly construction of English embroidery woven from a delicate mesh, then stitched with thousands of pins.
Meeting Faye at the end of the experience and receiving a pat on the back for finding nine of the ten sculptures was a delight. She explained the process of cutting, sewing and hand painting each coat with silicone. Toogood’s work spans clothing, furniture, textile art and sculpture. Her work is rooted in materials. The exploration and hybridisation of materials underpins her work and the garments she creates in collaboration with her sister Erica are manufactured from a broad range of textiles including primed canvas, baked latex, rot-resistant canvas and hand-painted rubberised oil. The coats were made from Highfield, an organic compressed-foam upholstery textile by the manufacturer Kvadrat, constructed using Tevira CS fibres and technology to achieve high durability, low pilling and fireproofing. At 620 grams per square metre I now know why I’m feeling the heat. The coats were then hand-treated by Toogood and her team to render each one unique.
Kvadrat is Europe’s leading manufacturer of design textiles, pushing the aesthetic, technological and artistic boundaries of textiles for private and public spaces.
As I leave The Cloakroom it continues to become a shrine to previous custodians of the coats – full of photographs of visitors in their coats, some of whom elected to buy their coats for cost price at the end of the exhibition. It’s great to be part of an installation that invites the viewer to take part and then take a piece of it home.
Oilrigger header image from Toogood Outerwear