British design firm
Founded: by designer Nigel Preston, 1972. Preston born in Reading, Berkshire, 1946; studied painting and graphic art at Dartington Hall, then interior design; by late 1960s was designing for popular musicians. Company History: Maxfield Parrish cloth collection launched, 1983; signed Fashion Stage as distributor, 1991. Company Address: 5 Congreve St., London SE17 1TJ, England.
On MAXFIELD PARRISH:
McDowell, Colin, McDowell's Directory of Twentieth Century Fashion, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1985.
d'Aulay, Sophie, "Cologne Delivers the Crowds; Three-Day German Show Had Excitement…," in DNR, 12 August 1994.
Socha, Miles, et al., "New York Trade Shows: Getting Fancy for Spring," in WWD, 30 September 1999.
For centuries it was believed that by adorning the body with the skin of an animal, the wearer was thereby encouraged to develop its attributes. Accordingly, a lion denoted strength and courage, while a rabbit implied a rather inferior metamorphosis. In time certain types of fur, especially those more difficult to find such as ermine, became symbols of wealth, power, privilege, and—ultimately—in Western culture, eroticism. The history of wearing animal skin is varied and responses to it differ from culture to culture and have changed with time. In contemporary Western culture, there is still a certain amount of prestige attached to the fur, yet less due to pressure by groups such as Lynx, the Green movement, and PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals).
Leather, however, and its more "well-bred" counterpart suede, are still generally acceptable; in fact a whole mythology exists for the rebellious black leather jacket. These seemingly arbitrary distinctions and distortions can be set against the continuing success of the company Maxfield Parrish, whose name for some brings to mind the production of well-cut and crafted suede, sheepskin, and leather garments. The company was founded twenty years ago by designer Nigel Hayter Preston who was born in Reading, Berkshire in 1946. After studying painting and graphic design at Dartington Hall, Devon, Preston moved into interior design, toyed for a time with music, and in turn began designing clothes for his friends in the record industry.
This low-key venture took off so successfully that by the end of the 1960s Preston was producing stage outfits for names such as Suzy Quatro and Emerson, Lake & Palmer. From these humble beginnings Maxfield Parrish was to become an international label, synonymous in womenswear with the design and production of suede, leather, and sheepskin clothing which displayed unusual combinations of color— thanks to Preston's studies in fine art—and classic relaxed styles whose defined cutting betrays the discipline of a training in graphic design.
During the production cycle of the company's definitive garments it is the choosing of the skins which is of the utmost importance for the designer. Those of the softest, supplest kind are selected so they can be cut into and shaped like cloth, one of the company's trademarks. Preston handles the materials confidently, using the same methods other designers would utilize with more malleable wool, seen in classically styled outerwear such as the 1982 voluminous loose coats and jackets in soft blues, faded rose or beige, worn over softly draped skirts and cropped trousers. One of his more innovative methods is to overlap several skins to produce a montaged patchwork textured effect. This is used as a bolt of cloth from which he cuts various garments such as tubular or sarong skirts and tops.
For years, Preston and partner Brenda Knight worked in a design studio based in a Normandy chateau to creates sample collections of elegant, easy to wear garments which are then manufactured and distributed from the company's administrative base in London. By the middle 1990s Maxfield Parrish had become an international brand name in retail; the goods bearing the name were available in boutiques and stores in Europe and the United States.
Despite the fragmented nature of women's fashion at the end of the 20th century with its changing styles and alternative looks, there have always been lower profile designers more interested in producing elegant styles in the most refined materials. Maxfield Parrish is one such firm; it has relied on the ongoing development of new techniques in the cut and construction of leather, suede, and sheepskin, using only the finest materials, and availing its luxurious garments to a certain segment of society for which wearing fur or related accoutrements is of the utmost importance.
updated by Owen James