British textile design firm
Founded: in London in 1980 by husband and wife team Sue Timney (born 9 July 1950) and Grahame Fowler (born 12 January 1956). Timney educated at Carlisle College of Art, 1966-67; Newcastle-upon-Tyne Polytechnic 1971-76, B.A.; Heriot Watt University, Edinburgh, postgraduate diploma, textiles, 1976-77; Royal College of Art, M.A., Textiles, 1977-79. Company History: Incorporated, 1985; partnership developed Japanese market for print design, clothing and accessories consultancy, 1980-84; clients included Issey Miyake and Yohji Yamamoto; opened UK retail outlets and Print Studio Workshop; interior fabric range, 1984; expanded design services to Yves Saint Laurent, Chloé, and Agnes B., produced for Italian designers Bini and Mantero; exports to Europe and U.S., and designed for Calvin Klein, Kamali, Saks Fifth Avenue, 1985-88; designed tableware and giftware for Wedgwood, 1991; fashion accessories launched in U.S., 1993; signed textile license with Linda McCartney, 1994; contracted to hotels for interior design, 1997; opened office and showroom in New York, 1999; began offering online sales, 2000; members of Chartered Society of Designers, London; Textile Institute, London; Interior Designers and Decorators Association, London. Exhibitions: Period Homes and Interiors, Olympia, London, 1992. Collections: Victoria & Albert Museum, London; Cooper-Hewitt Museum, New York City; Art Institute of Chicago. Awards: Roscoe award, Interior Fabrics, USA, 1988, 1989; Textile Institute Design gold medal, 1991. Company Address: 355 King Street, London W6 9NH, UK. Company Website: www.timneyfowler.com .
On TIMNEY FOWLER:
McDermott, Catherine, Street Style: British Design in the 1980s, London, 1987.
Gordon-Clark, J., Paper Magic, London, 1991.
"Timney Fowler Prints," in Country Life (London), 16 September 1984.
"England's Fabric," in WWD, 3 June 1985.
"Two's Company," in the Sunday Express Magazine (London), 15>September 1985.
Hall, Dinah, "Family Classics," in World of Interiors (London), April 1988.
Hawkins, Heidi, "Culture Club," in Graphics World, September/October 1988.
Crawford, I., "Artists in Residence: Mission Impossible," in Elle Decoration (London), October 1990.
Heinrich-Jost, Ingrid, "Alte Römer und Junge Englander," in Frankfurter Allemein, March 1991.
"Duo Tones," in Metropolitan Home, December/January 1991-92.
Fitzmaurice, Arabella, "Appearing in Print," in the Sunday Times Magazine (London), 1 March 1992.
Malone, Scott, "Prints' Future is Colorful," in WWD, 26 January 1999.
Gilbert, Daniela, "Dots Key at Print Shows, Embroideries Still Hot," in WWD, 25 January 2000.
Caplan, David Grant, "Black and White Stars at Shows," in WWD, 30 January 2001.
"Modernart Editions Debuts New Collection," in Art Business News, March 2001.
Timney Fowler's distinctive designs draw on the rich symbolism of European art. Neo-classical, architectural and Egyptian images are placed together in unexpected ways to create modern prints. Other designs use hand-drawn symbols to give a softer, more ethnic look. Animals, leaves and other images from the natural world are also used in unexpected ways.
—Timney Fowler Ltd.
Sue Timney and Graham Fowler are a design team of international repute who began working together after graduating in textiles from London's Royal College of Art. Timney had earlier studied fine art and Fowler, graphics and textiles. They launched themselves as freelance fashion designers in 1979, selling printed fabric on the roll. In 1985 they produced their own range of interior furnishings to sell in their first London showroom in Portobello Road.
Self-confessed "20th-century vultures," their inspiration has been drawn variously from photography, mythology, classicism, and European history, and from the arts and crafts and aesthetic movements— this eclecticism expressed with bold graphic imagery and in an uncompromising monochrome. "Image rather than color is our main vehicle for expression," Timney explained. "Black and white keeps color to its absolute classical minimum."
If design hype were to be believed, they virtually invented black and white. This striking classical modernism was taken up avidly by the style conscious avant-garde in the early 1980s. From the early years strong links were established with Japan, from where their work derived many influences. Clients included Yohji Yamamoto and Issey Miyake and the Japanese market has remained an important business connection.
The company's design criteria could be said to be embodied in the Neo-Classical Collection, the core of the Timney Fowler fabric range, produced in 1984-85. Drawing extensively on the history and symbolism of European art, the designs were presented in the company's distinctive graphic style, black on white. Greek, Roman, and Florentine objects led by the bestselling Emperor's Heads; twisted columns, sections of architectural buildings plans, elaborate montages of stonework and foliage scrolls, the unexpected and witty juxtapositions of paisley dolphins teamed with acanthus plasterwork. To complement these classical borrowings was a range of Regency stripes, latticed Victorian ironwork, and small scale heraldic repeats. Linked to all this was a small group of wallpapers, friezes, and borders.
Timney Fowler's aim has always been to produce "20th-century classics, contemporary and exciting in mood but making few concessions to instant fashion." The Neo-Classical Collection has been featured in some of the world's leading museums of modern design. Over the years the duo have become truly international, supplying specialist design consultancy services to leading fashion and household names. Their position in the forefront of British design has been recognized in the UK and internationally with the prestigious Textile Institute Design Medal for "outstanding contributions to textile design and management." Twice they have been the recipients of the Roscoe award in the United States.
In the late 1980s, Timney Fowler expanded into fashion, with a range of scarves and shawls in wool and silk, silk shirts, ties and t-shirts, waistcoats, and bags. New fabrics included velvet and plastic-coated cotton. Design features included images from Greek and Roman works of art, French tapestries, nautical instruments, along with a strong architectural theme; Russian maps, mosaic floor plans, and in the scarf range what over the years virtually became the company's logo—the clock—all used in a thoroughly modern way. Surprisingly, having traded for so long on their black and white signature, Timney Fowler at this stage introduced color for the first time into its fashion range. Their shirts and fashion accessories sell worldwide through retail outlets, as well from a New York showroom opened in 1999.
New products continue to emerge, including umbrellas, jewelery, shoes, furniture, lights, and a collection of black and white clothes. Noteworthy is the range of ceramics, mainly neo-classical and paralleling the fabrics. But while the source remains historical, there is also wit and a sense of the surreal. Strongly inspired by the etchings of Piranesi, the 18th-century Venetian architect, they capture the romantic characteristics of his work. On a much larger scale yet maintaining the same imagery are the Timney Fowler gun-tufted rugs—manifestly intended to be centerpieces, perennial designs like Coinhead and Timepiece, all resolutely in black and white, which speak for themselves.
The company fast outgrew its original premises in Portobello Road and in 1986 moved to the highly fashionable Chelsea where they concentrated on key products suited to this more sophisticated mileu—fashion, scarves, ceramics, tableware and interiors. Timney Fowler describe its design philosophy as "a process of evolution, working through one set of ideas in a kind of natural progression, but without any ups and downs."
Although there has been no let up in the appeal and saleability of Timney and Fowler's original style theme, much plagiarized by lesser talents, there have been moves to get away from visual typecasting. To this end a major development was the expansion of the Interiors Collection in the early 1990s, from the original black and white neoclassical themes into new fabrics and color, including a range of deep dyed cottons and velvets. New themes have emerged based on Rococo and Toiles, 15th-century European fashion portraits and 18th-century Byzantine paintings.
Color has been creeping into the Timney Fowler scheme of things and, as the designers would have it, not before time. There is also a distinct softening of the edges. Timney has described her earlier work as "clinical and calculated," and believes the new ecological awareness, lowering of international barriers, and the recession make for less ostentation in the 1990s and again in the early 2000s. Although interiors followed fashion's lead towards purer, simpler lines, by the end of the century texture, embroidery, and metallics played a prominent role. Micro and miniaturized prints were popular, and Fowler noted to Women's Wear Daily (26 January 1999), "Simple geometrics in fresh colors have gotten a great response from buyers," while dots and horizontal borders gained as well. The following year at the English Accents show in January 2000, batik prints with wood-blocked borders and Japanese screen designs were the rage.
The dynamic couple of Timney Fowler had created a stunningly unique look; their contrasting approaches of the formal intellectual on the one hand and flamboyant practicality on the other have been the recipe for an ever-evolving success story which has yet to slow down.
updated by Owen James