Fans of the cult mail-order clothes company Toast greet each new collection's catalogue with a piquant mix of desire and envy. Desire for the beautifully cut pieces, envy for the lifestyle of the women in the photographs.
In the 11 years since husband-and-wife team Jamie and Jessica Seaton (inset) founded the company, its catalogues have been shot everywhere from Sri Lanka to Morocco. Everywhere that women with wanderlust and desire to be chic have wanted to go.
From their rambling rural home in Wales, the Seatons have developed a label that has grown from pyjamas to slinky silk dresses, sharp tailoring and cosy knitwear. The recent inclusion of homeware has brought fabulous throws, desirable soaps and scents, as well as things you want without knowing why, such as storm lanterns and a cable-knit tea cosy.
Russia, and the fairy tales illustrated by Ivan Yakovlevich Bilibin, were the inspiration for the warm colours and textures of the new autumn/winter collection. As Jamie explains: "I've known about Bilibin since my father read the stories to me as a child. I realised recently they could inspire a collection – there's an opulence about the clothes in the pictures, and a sense of wildness and mystery that's enticing."
To bring the collection to life, Jamie and his wife travelled to Slovakia with a crew of models, stylists and local fixers. The three-week shoot was quite an adventure. "We saw deer, bears and wolves while we were up in the Carpathian mountains," he recalls.
The production staff had the tough task of approaching local residents for permission to shoot: every location, interior and exterior, is authentic. "They go off to that forbidding-looking farmhouse and ask the owners if we can look in their bedroom," says Seaton with a laugh. "We stayed in a town called Stary Smokovec; it's an old resort from late Habsburg days so we stayed in a once-grand hotel that had kept going through the Soviet years. It was a little like the hotel in The Shining!"
It is Toast's organic way of working – from original concept to finished imagery – that makes it so desirable. And when its new catalogue is published in two weeks' time, the Slovakian tourist board can no doubt expect a flurry of enquiries from women wanting to capture that elusive lifestyle magic.
How Toast gets its look (see images above)
1. The location
"Holíc Castle was owned centuries ago by Empress Theresa. It's in the west of Slovakia, 30 miles from Vienna," Jamie Seaton explains of this photograph.
"In the summer, the court would head to Holíc, to be attended to by 1,000 retainers, It's now owned by the local town but is derelict. We photographed in a chinoiserie-style room, which was beautiful but faded."
Cord necklace, £39; silk velvet tunic; £125; trousers, £35; Sylvie heels, £145.
2. The props
"We were looking for a red Lada, as there was a theme of red in the photos. We ended up swapping our location van for this faded example for an evening. This was taken just outside a Roma village. I love the sense that what's happening is within a landscape; that the clothes are within a context."
Poplin fitted shirt, £75; wrist-warmers, £22; Zenda skirt, £145; pumps, £89.
3. The extras
"This man lived in this tiny house (now a heritage site) years ago. He now lives in a nearby town but was happy to open up for us. Here he is at the stove making us tea. The idea is that the model is his niece come to visit, but she suggested she might be his pregnant lover!"
Wrap cardigan, £155; cotton silk chemise paysanne, £89; leg-warmers, £29; sheepskin slippers, £25.
4. The still-life
"This is the work-shop of a house; it seemed a wonderful place to shoot these shoes – a variation of a style we have done for a couple of seasons. They have that burnished look that photographs well in shadow – they appear to glimmer."
Jazz derbys, £145.