The contemporary styling on offer from Maude & Fox
PUBLISHED: 12:24 20 March 2017 | UPDATED: 12:24 20 March 2017
Maude & Fox combine British tweed with cool contemporary styling to give this heritage fabric a high fashion makeover you'll fall in love with, as Helen Fisher discovers
Arriving at the HQ of Maude and Fox near Blandford Forum on a crisp winter morning, I feel like I’ve entered a rather stylish corner of Dorset. Eye-catching colours and funky light fittings sparkle through Victorian picture windows, and as I close my muddy car door –two huge Italian Spinone hunting hounds bound up to welcome me. Maude and Fox is the contemporary fashion-label love-child of Sue and Mike Longmore and even their dogs look like Vogue cover models with their long legs and tousled caramel coats.
Sue warmly greets me wearing one of her own creations and I instantly understand the appeal of the Maude and Fox brand. She looks cosy, yet effortlessly stylish. The lightweight, super-soft indigo denim-blue tweed top is not quite a smock and not quite a hoodie – its contemporary cut makes it both shapely yet simple – I’ve never seen anything quite like it before. My mind quickly races-forward to the part of the interview where, purely for investigative purposes, I can legitimately play dressing-up in the Maude and Fox showroom. I can’t wait!
Tweed is what Maude and Fox do… and they do it beautifully. “I love tweed,” declares Sue. “It has such a deep seated heritage in our country and it has such a great flexibility of use - combining function, comfort and style. And the best tweed in the world is still made in Britain.”
Launched just four years ago, Sue and Mike’s Dorset fashion business quickly took up permanent residency in their converted coach house in Charlton Marshall. All their garments are still designed, cut and constructed on the premises. The walls are littered with drawings, mood boards and fashion trends, all jostling for space amongst the mannequins and swatches of tweed.
When Maude and Fox started in 2012 it was the year of the London Olympics so it seemed natural to use the Union Jack in their early designs. “The Patriot Gilet and cap were one of our very first garments and it’s never gone out of production,” says Sue proudly. “Our customers associate the Union Jack with the Mods and they just love the way we play about with the traditional images.”
Both Sue and Mike have backgrounds in design and business. Mike is still very much involved in running his own company which specialises in brand creation and brand management. So it comes as no surprise that the branding for their joint venture has ‘Made in Dorset’ proudly emblazoned across all their labels, along with a dapper image of a fox in a topper.
Sue began a career in fashion design after studying landscape architecture and working with architects from all over the world. Having grown up in Wiltshire, she had a strong desire to return to the country when she had a family of her own. “I was running a really big design studio in London when I had my second son,” she tells me. “My eldest son had done one term of school in London and I just knew it wasn’t for us, it was time for us to go.”
After a few kitchen table brain-storming sessions Maude and Fox was conceived – combining the couple’s passion for quirky style and their belief in creating something truly British. And you can’t get more British than tweed. “There’s something about being in Dorset, surrounded by countryside that really fits with working with tweed,” says Sue. “And of course it’s just a really beautiful fabric.”
For centuries tweed has been the fabric of choice for the hunting, shooting and fishing brigade, and with good reason, as Sue explains: “It has amazing inherent qualities such as insulation and waterproofing. It does, however, have a slight image problem of being itchy. But modern milling and weaving processes have sorted that issue out.”
Sue explains how Maude & Fox tweed is the polar opposite of itchy, because some of their more sumptuous designs have angora and lambs wool ingeniously mixed into the fibres to give it a more luxurious feel, but it is still very durable. “A lot of modern products have a built-in obsolescence, but not us. Sponge the mud off with a splash of cold water and it’s as good a new.”
Needless to say, Maude & Fox already elicits a devoted following amongst the hunting and shooting folk of the 21st century who are looking for traditional quality with a quirky fashionable twist. “Shooting enthusiasts love our clothes, the ladies are particularly pleased to find something that’s really warm but still flattering,” says Sue, who explains that one of the brand’s guidelines is everything has to be practical as well as superbly designed. “For instance, our skirts dip down a little at the back which we think creates a better silhouette.”
Sue is also a champion for larger sizes. “The reality is that a lot of people are bigger and the choice just isn’t out there for them. Actually, I think our clothes look great on larger people because we really think about shape. Many of our clothes have sculpted panels in the design to give them fit, flare and shape. Our customers are delighted!”
Although tweed never really goes out of fashion, it has been particularly on trend this winter, and Sue and her team of nine seamstresses, have certainly been busy. “Once the fabric has arrived from either Scotland or Yorkshire everything else is done in Dorset,” says Sue. “All our seamstresses are based in the county and they have their own professional machines. Many have their own workshops as tweed requires real skill to work with.” Each garment is made by one person throughout, ensuring attention to detail. “We also employ a couple of locally-based Polish ladies, their workmanship is just phenomenal. I think it’s because they’re taught sewing properly at school and they’re brought up using these practical skills throughout their lives.”
Sue then tells me about some of the more eccentric requests they have dealt with. “One chap wanted a custom made tweed ski outfit. I explained it wasn’t going to be waterproof but he said he didn’t care as he was only going to ski on fine days. Another customer wanted a tweed waistcoat to wear over her wedding dress. We also had a Thai kick-boxing champion buy one of our gamekeeper tweed hoodies!” She laughs. “He emailed me saying that he absolutely loved looking at it hanging in his wardrobe but wasn’t exactly sure when he was going to wear it!”
When I eventually go to the showroom for a trying on session, one of Sue’s seamstresses pops out of the workshop and jokes with me that no one who ever tries on a Maude & Fox garment ever escapes the showroom without buying something. I pride myself on not ever being easily swayed into an impulse purchase. But once a navy blue version of the fur-trimmed smock-hoodie has been pulled on over my head, I know I won’t be taking it off for a very long time to come.
Find out more at maudeandfox.com