FOLEY, Brigid





British knitwear designerS

Born: Yorkshire, England, 9 December 1948. Education: Studied at Sheffield College of Art, 1967-68; Nottingham College of Art, BA with Honors, Fashion and Design, 1968-71. Family: Married Kevin Keegan, photographer, 1973; children: Shelley, Peter, Jennifer. Career: While at art college began knitting and supplying shops with own designs; part-time lecturer, Plymouth College of Art, specializing in knitwear, 1971; designed, manufactured, and supplied shops with knitwear; joined Carr Jones designer group, London, 1973; first showed at London collections, 1975; went on to exhibit at international prêt-á-porter shows, including Milan, Paris, New York; introduced first hand-knits into collection, 1980; first Brigid Foley shop opened, Tavistock, Devon, 1991; second shop opened, Exeter, 1994. Address: Greenway, Harrowbeer Lane, Yelverton PL20 6DY, Devon, England.

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I like women to look elegant and feminine. From classic simple shapes, my clothes are often adorned in some way to make them special for the woman who wears them. One of my specialities is luxurious handknitted sweaters and jackets. Texture and colour play a large part in the intricate hand embroidery applied. My work has a typically English look about it, many of my designs are inspired from nature—flowers, wildlife, poppy fields, the Devon countryside where I live and work in. Other sources of inspiration are paintings, tapestries and Persian carpets.

I chose knitwear as my medium because it is such a challenge, creating the entire article deciding on the colours, the texture, the weight and softness of the fibres, choosing the embroidery threads, seeing the sweater or jacket emerge stage by stage, after such a lot of painstaking handwork. I take great pride in endeavouring to reproduce each design as closely to the original as possible. I am very proud of the people who work for me—such skill, patience and dedication.

Fashion today is gloriously diverse with no direct style imposed; such a variety of shapes, lengths, colours are available. Women can choose a style for themselves. Of my designs I would say they are classic, timeless, wearable, comfortable and appealing. I like to think they are clothes to enjoy and treasure.

—Brigid Foley

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Brigid Foley's first designs were mainly for sweaters for a young age group. She experimented with knitting machines, mixing geometric patterns with stripes and plains. After joining the Carr Jones designer group in 1973, a more feminine style emerged, with calf-length flowing skirts, fitted to the hips and swirling around the hemline with inset panels of different texture or color matched to sweaters with soft cowl necklines, and accompanied by plaited knitted belts in tones of the suit. These suits were among the first of their kind, attractive, feminine, comfortable, and easy to wear.

In 1975 Foley was invited to join the London Collections and exhibited at the London fashion shows each season, building on her growing success by exhibiting later at the Paris Prêt-á-Porter, and in New York, Dusseldorf, and Copenhagen. The colors of the collections at this time were mainly soft, and often marled as several different fine yarns would be used through the machine at once. A distinctive feature was the gored skirt, where the swing of the skirt was emphasized by the different shades used in the gores. The ranges varied from heavier, sometimes tweedier suits for autumn, fine knits with a sheen and hints of gold for cocktail wear, and fine lacy knits for the spring. Commenting on her work, Foley explained, "fully fashioned knitwear is a very exciting medium. You start with nothing but cones of yarn, and mix textures, colour, and mathematical skill to shape into lovely flattering outfits. These can suit many different shapes, ages, and types of women."

By 1980 Foley had brought a selection of hand-knits into the collection. Finding mohair a good medium, she introduced a range of soft fluffy sweaters highlighted with hand embroidery. Most notable were the designs featuring wildlife—one called "Hedgehog" was still selling decades later. Other designs featured wild flowers and landscapes, some of which were beautifully embroidered with a wide range of textured yarns and silks, bringing them to life.

Foley lives in a village in the middle of Dartmoor, Devon, and considers the distinctive Dartmoor landscape to be a constant source of inspiration for her designs. Recurring hand-knit designs included a range of landscape-inspired themes such as cornfields and meadows, as well as other wildlife scenes drawn from the countryside, including rabbits and hedgehogs. Her designs are considered to be very English and stocked by retailers worldwide, as well as at Brigid Foley shops in Devon, one in the traditional market town of Tavistock, opened in the early 1990s and another which opened three years later in the cathedral city of Exeter.

—DoreenEhrlich

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