Looking for Archie Foal (clue: think hipster meets farmer style)
A love of clothing made to last inspired two designers to join forces with Yorkshire's top-quality cloth makers, Stephanie Smith reports.
If you’re looking for Archie, he’s in rehab, or maybe the Gobi Desert. “Somewhere exotic,” says Julian Turner, who is the creator, along with business partner Tessa Weale, of Archie Foal.
Archie was actually managing director Tessa’s beloved first dog, sadly no longer with us but immortalised in the name of this supremely British fashion brand, which has caught the admiration of the metropolitan fashion cognoscenti for its luxury-imbued, pared-back clothing for men and women.
Offering beautiful knitwear, outerwear and capsule wardrobe pieces, Archie Foal’s look has been described as hipster-meets-farmer and it is becoming an in-the-know must-have among discerning urbanites. “Lustrous utility” is how Julian and Tessa describe it.
Established in 2010, the label is based in London, although much of its clothing is made using Yorkshire cloth, and founder Julian is a Yorkshire lad, born and raised in Bramham. He attended Richmond House School in Headingley, followed by Leeds Grammar School, and gained a degree in Chartered Surveying at Central London Polytechnic, now the University of Westminster. He never practised chartered surveying. “I qualified just as the property market had its first major crash and my great love was clothing anyway,” he says.
Julian’s parents, Brian and Pat, were fashion agents, supplying to boutiques in Yorkshire and the North East, but it was a gift of a Ralph Lauren rugby shirt that sparked an appreciation of classic quality. “It was such a thing of beauty,” he says. “I would have been about 14 and my friends used to borrow it to go on a first date. I’ve always liked well-made, substantial clothing. It’s something that really informs Archie Foal. It’s such a Yorkshire sensibility, making sure you get that value for money. Stylish clothes that last.”
Julian’s first job, aged 22, was in sales for a cotton and cord supplier to Marks & Spencer, then came a position on Bond Street in London with Gianni Versace, heading up menswear wholesale in the mid-1990s. “It was very heady days for a young man from Yorkshire,” he says. “You know when you see fashion on film? That’s what Versace was like, going to Milan Fashion Week. Their tailoring was beautiful. People used to stop me in the street to say, ‘where did you get your suit from?’”
There followed roles in bra company Triumph, Ralph Lauren, and high-end fashion distribution company Egomark, which he joined as as sales director. It was there in 2005 that he met Tessa, whose mother, Linda Weale, had a designer fashion shop in Belfast and asked if her daughter, who was just about to start studying at Central Saint Martins, could intern over the summer.
Tessa returned the following summer, too. Despite the age difference (she was 19 and Julian 36), they quickly became friends. Drinks after work led to plans for their own fashion brand. “It was a very quick sort of click,” says Tessa. Julian adds: “You know when you meet somebody and you instantly get on? People say to us, you spend so much time together and then you phone each other and go on holiday together. What do you find to talk about?”
Tessa adds: “We knew we worked well together and I think we also value the same things. I’ve got some sweaters of my grandmother’s that are 40 years old and still look brand new.”
So Archie Foal was born, beginning with a range of luxury shooting socks, after Julian had noted, while at a pub in Wensleydale, that current offerings could be improved upon. They sold to Selfridges and Harrods and also sold at a weekly London market, where they gained a reputation for having the most expensive stall in Britain, with £400 cashmere sweaters now added to the range.
Archie Foal soon gained a loyal following, but they decided they needed bricks and mortar. First came a pop-up store near Piccadilly, then three years ago they opened their first shop.
They design together, although Tessa’s degree in womenswear design means she is more technical. Alison, their pattern cutter, is in Bramham. As creative director, Julian oversees the look of the brand and the shops, and also heads up sales.
“Archie Foal is the opposite of fast clothing,” he says. “We don’t landfill any of our clothing. It has a pared-down aesthetic which won’t go out of fashion.”
Knitwear is manufactured in Derbyshire and Nottingham and some in Italy (Archie Foal specialises in merino). The outerwear is made using fabrics from Chapmans and Brisbane Moss in Todmorden, linings are in Otley Rainwear from Marton Mills, waistcoats use serge from Hainsworths in Pudsey and they also work with Abraham Moon in Guiseley and Z Hinchliffe in Denby Dale. “Abraham Moons, Hainsworths, when people were buying cheap fabrics from China, they stuck to their guns and continued to make exceptional materials,” Julian says. “Luxury should get better as you wear it.”
Only 15-20 per cent of sales come from online and much of that is from people who have been into the shops, Julian says. To help grow, they did some crowdfunding at the start of last year, and quickly raised £350,000, far more than anticipated, with investors gaining a share of the business. This has enabled them to increase stock to meet demand and also employ a marketing manager, Jessica Stobart, and an operations manager, Paul Goddard, from Barnsley, who used to work for Rita Britton at Pollyanna.
Tessa and Julian hope a second round of crowdfunding will lead to more shop openings, perhaps one in Harrogate or York and international stores in Tokyo and New York.
Julian lives in Chiswick but is often in Yorkshire to see his mum, who still lives in Bramham, and his boyfriend, Paul, who lives near Wakefield. Tessa, meanwhile, lives in London with her partner Kit, who is a much-in-demand carpenter, their young baby, Errol, and dogs Hector and Horace.
“We’ve got a moses basket in the kitchen of the new shop,” she says. “It’s very exciting times.” Julian adds: “It’s the best of times.” Julian and Tessa say they have had only one argument in eight years, and that lasted 30 seconds. “We respect each other,” says Julian. “And we always say please and thank you.”
All clothing by Archie Foal at www.archiefoal.com
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