Education: Studied at the Walthamstow School of Art; graduated from the Royal College of Art, 1961.
Career: Partner, Foale & Tuffin, 1962-72; opened retail store, 1965; designer, Sally Tuffin, Ltd., from mid-1970s.
Sally Tuffin was one of several designers to emerge from Professor Janey Ironside's talented stable of fashion design graduates at London's Royal College of Art in the 1960s. In company with Ossie Clark, Zandra Rhodes, and Bill Gibb she and her business partner Marion Foale (also a RCA graduate) fast came to epitomize the street style and culture of what became the trademark phrase of the decade, "Swinging London."
Based in the hotbed of trendy 1960s happenings, Carnaby Street, Tuffin and Foale produced clothes celebrating youth culture. "We were dressing ourselves and our friends and it just happened to be the things people wanted," Tuffin reminisced in the 1980s. The pair recognized that the sudden predominance of street fashion was a reaction to a previous generation's reliance on Paris for ideas. To the young, the couture direction seemed tired and inaccessible. Tuffin and Foale noted there was a fast-growing younger market which wanted something inexpensive in which to have fun and wear to dance clubs.
As designers, they incorporated both modernist and nostalgic ideas into their clothes. Beginning with the Pop Art movement that spawned prints and "keyhole"shift dresses, they moved through Op Art, into an art déco phase, and next the romantic dressing made popular by the hippie movement. They created hipster trousersuits, clean-cut crêpe dresses like cycle shirts, or vigorously banded into rugby stripes. They even printed giant Ys across a group of shift dresses intended as a pun on the male undergarment, in many ways a forerunner to the witty tactics employed by Moschino today.
Tuffin and Foale's partnership came to symbolize the greater opportunities available to young people with ideas and energy in the 1960s. Initially inspired by a lecture on garments given by Mary Quant at the Royal College of Art, the pair realized business could be fun and approached it in a lighthearted way. "As students we were trained to see, to explore, to enjoy ourselves. We felt as though we could go off and do anything without restriction," enthused Tuffin.
Tuffin and Foale's clothes sold in many outlets; their first big break came in 1962 when buyer Vanessa Denza purchased their designs for the Woolands 21 shop in London. This was followed by the opening of their one showroom in Carnaby Street and the retailing of their clothes in the famous Countdown boutique on the King's Road, Chelsea, and at various department stores throughout England. In 1965 the partners were among the first designers to be stocked in Paraphernalia in New York, where designer Betsey Johnson recalled they sold out of Tuffin and Foale's clothes almost immediately.
In 1972 the design duo dissolved their partnership. Tuffin went on to produce some collections under her own name label, which closely adhered to the cutting-edge young fashion look she and Foale had established in the 1960s. Yet Tuffin tired of designing clothes and turned to another form of art, establishing a pottery business with her husband.