Workers For Freedom - Fashion Designer Encyclopedia

British design firm

Founded: in 1985 by Richard Nott and Graham Fraser. Nott was born in Hastings, England, 3 October 1947; studied at Kingston University; design assistant to Valentino, Rome, 1972-75; principal lecturer, Kingston University Fashion School, 1975-85. Fraser was born in Bournemouth, 20 July 1948; studied accountancy and fashion retailing; worked as buyer/accountant, Feathers Boutique, London, 1970-71; assistant buyer, Harrods, London, 1975-78; buyer for Wallis Shops, London, 1978-81; advertising manager, Fortnum & Mason, London, 1981-82; fashion director, Liberty, London, 1982-85. Company History: Nott and Fraser operated first Workers for Freedom shop, Soho, London, 1985-92; introduced menswear and womenswear wholesale collections for Littlewoods Home Shopping catalogue, beginning in summer 1993; womenswear collection for A-Wear, Dublin, summer 1994; signed licensing deal with Mark Margolis, 1996; Anthony Cuthbertson hired as designer (left in 2000). Exhibitions: Dayton Hudson, Minneapolis, 1991; Fenit, São Paolo, Brazil, 1992. Awards: British Fashion Council Designers of the Year award, 1990; Viyella Designer of the Year award, 1990. Company Address: 6 Spice Court, Ivory Square, Plantation Wharf, London SW11 3UE, England.




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Graham Fraser and Richard Nott launched their company, Workers for Freedom, in 1985 leaving behind their respective former careers as merchandising manager for fashion and accessories at Liberty in London and principal fashion lecturer at Kingston University in Surrey. Nott came from an art school background, and also worked for three years as design assistant to Valentino in Rome.

The company name was chosen to emphasize what they saw as their freedom from the large companies for whom they had previously worked. Their former experience in the fashion field left them well qualified to set up their own fashion company which, among other things, earned them the title Designer of the Year at the British Fashion Awards in 1990. The reason behind the formation of their own label, according to Nott and Fraser, was their mutual disillusion with what was happening in the field of menswear at the time and their aversion to very "preppy" styles with little or no decorative adornment.

The first Workers for Freedom collection, which was sold through their retail shop in Lower John Street in London's Soho district, was comprised solely of menswear. The garment that became their hallmark was the embroidered shirt, in black-on-white or white-on-black combinations. The success of this first collection, which attracted both male and female customers, prompted Workers for Freedom to extend the next collection to womenswear, at the request of the American and Japanese buyers who bought their apparel.

In the beginning, Nott and Fraser designs were outside mainstream fashion trends, and their customers were not concerned with being in fashion. Though not antifashion exactly, the evolutionary nature of their designs meant that each season customers could add an outfit or single garment to those from previous collections. Nott described Workers for Freedom clothing as "very gentle" and admitted that at one point during the 1980s, with the advent of designers like Christian Lacroix, their designs seemed somewhat out of place with what was happening in fashion as a whole.

According to Nott, who designed the early collections (Fraser handled the administrative and promotions side), his inspiration came from the fabric itself, which ultimately determined the shape or form of the garment. Nott viewed each garment within a collection as an individual piece, designed as a separate item and the collection is styled afterwards. The fabric for which Workers for Freedom became best known was silk, which they used either plain or in Nott's textile prints. Signature colors were subtle, with a predominant use of black, brown, ivory, and indigo blue.

In late 1991 Workers for Freedom began working for Littlewoods mail order catalogue, for whom they designed a separate collection each season. The Littlewoods connection was viewed by Nott and Fraser as a diffusion collection, produced at a lower price range which helped maintain their name at the High Street level. This left them free to make their mainline collection more "rarefied," since the sportswear element was soon incorporated into other ranges such as Littlewoods and a collection for A-Wear shops in Ireland, distributed by the company Brown Thomas.

The decision by Workers for Freedom to move to France in 1992 attracted a considerable amount of publicity from the British press. Nott and Fraser had sold their shop in Soho and considered moving the business to Toulouse where they found a château and hoped to establish the company. This fell through when the exchange rate dropped and they found themselves unable to sell their London house. During this period they kept a low profile, did not produce a collection for fall/winter 1993 and moved the company headquarters to Battersea, South London.

The six-month break from producing spurred a reevaluation period for Workers for Freedom, and succeeding collections indicated a definite change in direction, as well as limiting sales to primarily the UK. Their signature use of embroidery was dropped ("because everyone has it now," says Nott), and there was an emphasis on shape using bias-cutting Nott saw as the new softer alternative to stretch Lycra fabrics. The fall/winter collection for 1994-95 was produced entirely in black and brown, without embroidery or other form of decoration.

In 1996 Nott and Fraser took their design business in a new direction, severing ties with Littlewoods in favor of aggressive global expansion. The duo forged an alliance with the Los Angeles-based Michael Margolis, to bring a new collection of Workers for Freedom sportswear to the U.S. market. The threesome formed Workers for Freedom Inc., based in Los Angeles, to handle manufacturing and distribution of the new apparel, priced to sell alongside such hip brands as CK and DKNY in better department stores. The first collection debuted in Paris, followed by a stint at London Fashion Week, with jeans, Lycra separates, cotton and nylon skirts, and jackets.

Commenting on the new Workers for Freedom line to Women's Wear Daily (25 September 1996), Nott enthused, "This is an entirely new price point and market for us, and we're taking it stage by stage…. We are extremely confident about the future; this is what we have been trying to do for all these years. For me, it's true freedom at last." Elsa Klensch, writing for Style online at CNN's website (9 January 1997), praised Nott and Fraser's new direction, saying, "The constant in Workers for Freedom is the collection's casual nature— and its dare to give femininity a special flair." Workers for Freedom's flair remained intact for the remainder of the 1990s and into the 21st century, despite some changes within the firm's ranks. Anthony Cuthbertson joined Nott and Fraser, designing popular collections in 1999, but left the Workers for Freedom fold in 2000.

—Catherine Woram;

updated by Owen James

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