Sometime last year Rosemary Goodenough’s brother was dining out in London. As is appropriate at The Ivy, he was dressed formally in a suit, but before leaving his house he had thrown a silk scarf of Rosemary’s design around his neck and tucked it under the lapels. His guest, a previous British Fashion Awards Designer of the Year who now ran his own eponymous line, noticed the scarf.
‘May I?’ his guest enquired, reaching out to touch it. He was handed the scarf.
‘Ah’, said the designer, ‘Silk twill from China… Printed at Lake Como … Hand-rolled hem… She’s got everything spot on.’
This anecdote tells us that Rosemary Goodenough is doing something right. But this isn’t her only plaudit. Since launching the brand in 2012, Rosemary has won respect amongst the notably hard to please fashion industry, not only with her designs but also for her unrelenting dedication to creating the highest quality product. A sculptor and oil painter, she added fashion designer to her résumé having overheard a woman at one of her exhibitions declare ‘If that painting was a scarf I would wear it.’ A self-confessed obsessive detail person, Rosemary’s mantra from the start of this endeavour was ‘If it’s not as good as Hermès then it’s no good.’ Perhaps this should be everyone’s motto.
‘I didn’t think as a brand, I thought as an artist; the idea of seeing my work on a different surface, a moving surface.’
‘People don’t have to buy my brand; my role in the relationship between the person who buys my designs and me is to make it as perfect as I possibly can.’ Rosemary and her husband, acclaimed photographer Michael Waller-Bridge, spent an entire weekend testing the sound of acid-free tissue paper between their fingers, to ensure customers had a suitably luxurious experience opening their packaging and receiving the treat inside. Artists are rumoured to be neurotic over what is known as the ‘handle’ of their work – the tactile quality and texture, be it sculpture, painting or sketch – and this fixation translated to Rosemary’s work with textiles. She treated these creations with the same dignity she would a work of art; each scarf has a hand-rolled black hem denoting the frame of a painting, and just as an artist signs each piece, every scarf features a logo made up of her signature and an authentication stamp.
‘I didn’t think as a brand, I thought as an artist; the idea of seeing my work on a different surface, a moving surface.’ Being ambidextrous however, means Rosemary excels at the practical side of design too. She is not overly enamoured with design that is beautiful but that does not work. The 1930s rotary-dial telephone hanging in her hall – I had presumed merely for decoration – provides testament to her attention to detail when it starts to ring. None of her scarves have a label, that irritating scratchy piece of woven fabric that won’t tuck in and can’t be cut off without halving the value of the item. Instead, the name of the original painting, the variation number, ‘Made in Italy’ and ‘Dry-clean only’ are printing directly onto the silk along the edge of the frame.
Rosemary did not expect to fall in love with the business side of the brand, but fall in love she did. ‘You know, it’s not the school of pretty thoughts, it’s called the fashion industry,’ she states with a wisdom that many trying to enter this industry could do with realising, ‘It’s certainly not fashion lying-around-waiting-to-have-a-good-idea.’ The idea is the easy part, learning Photoshop is not. Husband Michael photographs the original painting then Rosemary uses Photoshop to manipulate the colours, the composition of the original painting never varying from that of the original, ‘My painting Mad Red Flowers is, as the name suggests, of mad red flowers; they are scarlet with a yellow vase, there’re lots of vivid colours in it, but I can now create digital colour ways in very, very soft silvers and pinks and amazing cobalt blues. It’s a very liberating process for an artist.’
James Middleton, brother of Kate aka the future Queen of England, was recently photographed in a Rosemary Goodenough scarf on the cover of TYD magazine.
In January of this year at London Collections: Men 2015 Rosemary launched Rosemary Goodenough Man, a collection containing both scarves and ties. She had previously noticed that the press had picked up on men wearing her scarves, despite the sex of her customer not crossing her mind when she began designing. James Middleton, brother of Kate aka the future Queen of England, was recently photographed in a Rosemary Goodenough scarf on the cover of TYD magazine. Rosemary did not change the colours of her prints for her menswear range; her signature strong, vivid prints never come across as frilly or fussy. She was surprised to find she enjoys designing menswear more than womenswear and has two new collections of scarves and a new collection of ties coming out this year, as well as considering plans for a shirt collaboration. There’s no stopping her.
Rosemary was first asked to design a tie by a hereditary peer at a dinner party, ‘As an artist I was thinking it’s a very narrow canvas; elephants, dots, stripes, everything’s been on a tie. I wondered if it would be possible to tie it so that the knot would be a different colour, but realised that wouldn’t work due to different neck sizes. But with that idea – the different coloured knot – I was fully engaged with this process.’ The UK Fashion and Textile Association said she was the first person in 150 years to redesign the tie, so true to meticulous form, taking their advice, she registered her design immediately.
Just as Coco Chanel’s admiration of the elevator operators’ uniforms at the Schloss Mittersill hotel in Austria in the 1930s birthed the first Chanel Haute Couture suit in 1954 and so secured the anecdote a place in the pages of fashion history, perhaps we will hear ‘If that painting was a scarf I would wear it’ Chinese-whispered from editor to editor at the front row during fashion week, or see it typed across glossy magazine pages. If anyone can achieve this, no doubt Renaissance woman Rosemary Goodenough can.