The Scottish Are Coming
The Scottish Are Coming
Cozy up to tartans and tweeds: Highland heritage is proudly making its mark on high-end menswear
Some might find it surprising that accessories label Fraser Balgowan is less than a year old. After all, the company, founded by husband and wife Ewan and Fiona Fraser, uses centuries-old techniques to make their ruggedly chic deer-hide and tweed bags. Red deer more or less wander onto the Frasers' farm, located three hours north of Edinburgh (the animals proliferate in the area and must be culled annually). Their hides are tanned in Glasgow, the sturdy hunter's tweed is woven in the mill town of Hawick and the bags are stitched just across the English border.
What's less than traditional in this scenario is that the Frasers are exporting that heathery authenticity. Fraser Balgowan will be available this fall at Saks Fifth Avenue in New York, Boston, Chicago and several other cities. "People buying the bags are really buying a piece of our land," Ms. Fraser said.
The H-word—heritage—has been a crucial element in menswear for a few years, but the Scottish have been a bit quieter about their traditions than the English and Italians. That is changing. Plenty of companies, native and otherwise, are capitalizing on the country's rich textile expertise and craftsmanship. This is a place where Argyll and Paisley are literally marked on the map.
Aran knits and Fair Isle pullovers have become staples at high-end labels. And on the runway for fall, clan tartans went avant-garde in collections as diverse as Thom Browne, where the designer cut them into punk-tinged suits, and Issey Miyake, where bright red plaid was dip-dyed black using a Japanese shibori technique.
The Scottish are influencing fashion beyond their borders as high-end designers from Paris, New York and Milan work with traditional manufacturers in Scotland, and young Scots modernize and market their own heritage. Malina Joseph Gilchrist has details on Lunch Break. Photo: F. Martin Ramin for The Wall Street Journal.
With part of a floor at its Manhattan flagship devoted to Scottish menswear and accessories, Saks Fifth Avenue has put this provenance front and center. Eric Jennings, the store's men's fashion director, suggested that Scottish goods are an underappreciated element of what he described as the recent "British invasion" in men's clothing. "The Scots don't like to promote themselves like, say, the Italians. It takes a little more research to understand their story," Mr. Jennings said.
Telling that story requires a reorientation of sorts. "We've been training the American man over the past few decades that luxury equals soft," he said. "In Scotland, you see that luxury can also be coarse, dry, and hard. What's interesting is that the younger generation understands that."
Among the Scottish goods available at Saks are scarves by Johnston's of Elgin, a knitwear manufacturer founded in 1797, and sweaters by Todd & Duncan, which has produced cashmere since 1867. For the custom sweater program at its Beverly Hills store, Saks has partnered with 138-year-old Hawick Knitwear.
Meanwhile, a handful of new companies are bringing a contemporary sensibility to Scottish craft. In addition to Fraser Balgowan, there's Jaggy Nettle by Jason Lee and Emily Quinn, another husband-and-wife team. They are making a name for themselves with hipster-friendly Harris-tweed footwear and cashmere sweaters screen-printed using a technique they spent years developing.
For some fall pieces, Ms. Quinn and Mr. Lee collaborated with Johnston's, which despite its venerable status has been in innovation mode—possibly the result of working with labels like Jaggy Nettle, Burberry and Christopher Kane. It's one of many signs that Scotland's knitwear manufacturers, which were devastated in recent decades as mass-market brands and even some luxury labels shifted production to Asia, are finding new synergy with the top end of fashion.
"We were doing it before the Italians and long before the Chinese, but we were never great at marketing it," said Clive Brown, commercial director at century-old Barrie Knitwear. "Now, we're beginning to push back." The price of cashmere has soared, but Mr. Brown said that premium brands attuned to provenance have been willing to pay extra for it. Scottish manufacturers are focusing more than ever on luxury clients such as Chanel and Brooks Brothers, as well as their own branded product. In a forward-thinking step it might not have taken a few years ago, Barrie is adding cotton-cashmere pieces—a blend it had never manufactured until Hermès requested it—to its own knitwear label, John Laing. However, there are some doubts about the viability of the firm. Barrie's parent company, Dawson International, declared bankruptcy in August, and at press time the future of the Hawick-based manufacturer remained uncertain.
With any luck, Barrie will experience the sort of turnaround Harris tweed has in recent years. Harris had been on a downswing since the mid '60s, and the much-loved fabric (it's protected by an act of British parliament passed in 1993) seemed on the brink of extinction several years ago, when the owner of the dominant mill attempted a business overhaul to disastrous results.
But in 2007, two new mills opened, putting many of the region's 100 or so registered weavers—or crofters—back to work. This season, they're supplying such trendy labels as Rag & Bone, Band of Outsiders, Robert Geller and J. Crew. "My collection was all about the great things of British style, and Harris tweed is the first fabric that came to mind," said Mr. Geller, who used it in a handsome toggle coat.
Harris tweed is woven in island hamlets in the Outer Hebrides and nowhere else, and its crofters are stubbornly dismissive of the changing tides of fashion. But whether they like it or not, the product they churn out by foot loom is being adapted for the times. New finishing processes allow for a softer, vintage-feeling hand, and Saks (which is producing a four-pocket Harris tweed topcoat for fall under its own label) has toyed with the idea of selling Harris tweed items with magnifying glasses so that customers can fully appreciate the fabric's subtle interplay of dyed threads.
"They do a beautiful job with color, which is such an important part of menswear now," Mr. Jennings said.
Perhaps the most conspicuous style achievement for the Scottish has been making a skirt seem manly. It would be a stretch to say kilts are all the rage, but it would also be wrong to dismiss them as mere novelty. According to Andrew Brookes, managing director at Kiltpin, a tailor in Falkirk that specializes in bespoke kilts, younger Scotsmen are wearing them without the sporran (a fur pouch that hangs from the waist) and in darker, more weathered tones. Both Givenchy and Jean-Paul Gaultier presented kilts in their fall collections, and Marc Jacobs wears them so often that it's become a personal signature of sorts. "I think they're really sexy," Mr. Jacobs said. "I just like it, the fabric moving around your knees—it's a good feeling."
Large Avatars for Everyone!
Last edited by lucy92; 27-08-2012 at 02:28 PM.
What fresh hell is this.?
^I'm the same. I've been fascinated by pretty much everything scottish the last few years, and actually took a summer university course there last year.
In addition, I'm a big fan of scarves in tartan. And I have several that wear during winter.
Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't. - Mark Twain