A Sense of PlaceA conversation with the founders of Toast
It's all about opening a window on the world - an accessible world that you could disappear into if you took the time.
Toast began with cotton pyjamas, parcelled up and posted from a barn attached to Jamie and Jessica Seaton’s farmhouse in west Wales. Two decades on, the couple are still at the helm of their company. Jamie leads on design, while Jessica oversees the business. Though they have long since expanded into women’s clothing and homewares, their collections are still guided by the respect for simplicity, longevity, and utility that inspired the very first pair of pyjamas.
Toast’s elegant books also carry reminders of the company’s modest rural beginnings, albeit transplanted to impressively far flung locations. Season after season, the heavyweight matt pages reveal tempting fantasies of a wholesome, creative life lived at a slower pace, typically somewhere remote and wild. Fearsomely beautiful, bright eyed models ride dappled grey ponies across damp grassy hills, watch the sun rise over black volcanic sands, or drift dreamily through the sun parched ruins of a palace in Rajasthan.
Curious about how these faraway scenes connect with the Toast brand, Cereal met up with Jessica and Jamie in their uncluttered, light filled flat in the Barbican; their London base whenever they have to be away from their adored Welsh countryside.
JESS: Toast has always connected with place through our photography and use of language, as well as in the inspiration for the clothes, whether it’s the UK or abroad. This connection is the most important thing for the brand, and that feeds into everything we do.
JAMIE: It’s less about travel and more about a sense of place. Obviously, we make our clothes in order to try to make a profit from them, but beyond that, it is all about about opening a window on the world – an accessible world that you could disappear into if you took the time. You don’t have to be rich, you just have to take the time. That’s always been an important part of Toast to me.
JESS: That’s absolutely always been its essence; it’s about the simple luxuries – time, space, and peace – that everybody can have if they just take the trouble to access it from wherever they are. We have, however, always had a strong sense of landscape within the shoots.
JAMIE: As soon as we left university, we moved to Carmarthenshire in the Welsh countryside. We both worked as archaeologists there, and liked it, so we devised a way we could stay. We’ve have been there ever since. It was the tail end of the hippy days, and we were reading a lot about Zen Buddhism. We just wanted to live in a cottage in the countryside. That was what was important to us, so we began a knitwear business as a way to make a modest living. Jess picked plants to make the dye for the wool, and I designed and knitted the sweaters.
JESS: We didn’t have any training in fashion at all. But I think, in coming up with the idea of Toast, that turned out to be a real advantage. Jamie absolutely loves textiles of all sorts. If he meets somebody at dinner, he will be drawn to a detail of their jacket, or he’ll want to know where this particular style of embroidery comes from. It’s down to Jamie’s viewpoint on how clothes should be, I think, that a sense of place was stitched into Toast from the beginning. Now of course we have a whole team, but they share a love for the various permutations of textiles and a curiosity about the origins of different techniques.
JAMIE: The other way that a sense of place fits with the brand is that the clothes are designed to be undemanding. We don’t want to tell people how to dress – we want to encourage people to dress for themselves. Its undictatorial, non-trend led fashion. To visualise it, we created an imaginary woman who we send on journeys each season. She’s a sort of female version of the writer William Dalrymple.
JESS: In his book, In Xanadu, there’s a wonderful woman he travels with. There is a photograph of her just before they are about to cross the border into Iran, and she looks amazing: indomitable, cheerful, stalwart … and somewhat eccentric, it has to be said.
JAMIE: Now I am doing less design myself, she is one way of communicating the starting point of a season to the rest of the team. It helps take their heads to a specific place, and then let their imaginations expand. I pick where to send her from a list of places I would like to go myself. It’s vicarious escape, although it’s more a celebration of the world … or maybe it is escape?
JESS: I guess it is a window into something that isn’t the mundane. It doesn’t have to be some far away destination, though. It can be a particular moment or a pool of light.
JAMIE: Serenity can be achieved anywhere. For this autumn’s collection, we were shooting on the hectic, old streets of Tokyo, but we were still striving for the same thing. Jess decides on the shoot location once the designs are complete.
JESS: It’s subtler than simply connecting the materials or design references with a location. The autumn collection is an eclectic fusion of lots of different cultures, including Chinese fishermen and French work wear, as well as Japanese design influences. After a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, we ended up deciding on Tokyo, where I thought we could best depict a distillation of all those ideas together. It’s about the feeling that the collection represents, and the resonance of that feeling in that place. I try to pick the best environment to celebrate the collection – and make sure that our imaginary woman is going to like it there too!