TOAST Portraits is a new series in which journalist Mina Holland and photographer Elena Heatherwick meet the people whose treasured TOAST pieces some archive, some new have stood the test of time. First up was graphic design student Katy Brett, next is Genevieve Dutton...
Genevieve Dutton's dress reminds me of some of the drawings I did as a child. I can remember taking a felt tip pen and swirling all over a page, crossing over the lines I'd already drawn to create little cells which I'd then colour in. Genevieve's dress has similarly shaped cells made up of continuous lines, filled in with hues of rust, ochre and burgundy an autumnal chorus that's cheering on a day like this. London is singularly freezing and winter feels relentless.
The dress is one part of a patchwork outfit of TOAST clothes from the last decade, a few carefully chosen pieces held together by a Gaucho style belt, which Genevieve found in one of Camden's second hand shops. When she bought the dress five or so years ago, she felt it was too long on her small frame, so took up the hem to make it a mini dress. Today it takes yet another guise as a vest, worn over a beige T-shirt, and tucked into a pair of Alex Indigo Twill Trousers.
Genevieve turns forty this year, though you wouldn't know it. Hers is an ageless face, its hard lines and piercing blue eyes softened by a milky complexion and freckles. The older she gets, she says, the stronger her instinct to shed stuff and think carefully about what she buys. I can see evidence of this in her home in London's Crouch End, which is astoundingly clear of clutter impressive given that she is the mum of two young boys. The things she does have give away her interests in textiles and plants bright rugs, mudcloth cushions, a colour-coded bookcase and much greenery. The kitchen sink is lined with an avocado grown from a leftover stone, sprigs of hellebore in a milk bottle, and money plants so healthy that stems grow upon stems.She has recently started to make things. Not prolifically, but more a delicate effort to find a new vocation. In her hallways there are big wreaths, giant hula-hoops of branches, that Genevieve has made from clematis seed heads collected along the railway line in Finsbury Park. She has also started a short course called plants and people' with the Open University, about how plants relate to the likes of food, fuel, conservation, crime and culture and does occasional workshops at the Handweavers Studio nearby. She shows me one of the wall hangings she has made, explaining that though she has a preference for simple, muted colours, she likes to go to town on textures, using different fibres, knots, types of stitch and shapes. Instagram, she tells me, is a valuable source of weaving inspiration, pointing me in the direction of @maryannemoodie, @christabelbalfour and @amyilic, all of whose work she admires.
Before she had children, Genevieve worked at indie publisher Persephone Books. She also had a stint working on the design of careers journals for universities, but took a pause from both to have her sons. She admits to having found early parenthood baffling and lonely, and I sense her relief at having found a community of parents now that the boys, 8 and 5, are at school. I always wanted to do something with my hands, but wasn't a fine artist or a gardener. I don't think I was ever encouraged to find my thing We talk about the value systems that surrounded us when we were at school, the emphasis on succeeding academically, the lesser regard for the arts. We like to think things will be different for our children. The time is ripe for her, it seems, to find something new.
Goddesses who weave and spin abound in mythology, and their apparatus such as the distaff and the spindle have long been associated with women's creations (just think of The Sleeping Beauty). It feels fitting somehow, symbolic even, that a new phase in Genevieve's life comes in the form of textiles.
Before we leave, Genevieve shows us her garden. It's a head turner, not just because of all that is growing in it jasmine, winter-flowering honeysuckle, rhubarb, geraniums but because it is completely walled. The wall is a line of mews houses that back onto her garden, but the effect is rather magical, dredging up in me another childhood memory this time of Frances Hodgson Burnett's mysterious (and secret) walled garden. Genevieve pulls on another TOAST item, a coat bought when her eldest was three, and we head out past another clematis seed wreath on the kitchen wall, a miniature loom on the table into the garden beyond.