TAR­TAN BARMY: THE EN­DUR­ING AP­PEAL OF SCOT­LAND’S MOST ICONIC CLOTH

From High­land clans to haute cou­ture, few fab­rics have the abil­ity to tran­scend time and class like tar­tan. Mairi Lowe ex­plores the his­tory – and fu­ture – of Scot­land’s most iconic cloth

Sunday Herald Life - - Fashion Feature -

NOT many fab­rics have the power to com­mu­ni­cate a feel­ing of be­long­ing no mat­ter where the wearer is lo­cated. But one that holds true to this claim is “im­me­di­ately recog­nis­able as a sym­bol of Scot­land, its peo­ple and its cul­ture” says Vixy Rae, owner and cre­ative di­rec­tor of Ste­wart Christie & Co, the old­est tai­lor in Scot­land. Of course, we are talking about tar­tan.

With its rich and di­verse her­itage, what makes this fab­ric so spe­cial is its abil­ity to rep­re­sent com­mu­ni­ties and to com­mu­ni­cate a sense of be­long­ing through the in­fi­nite vari­a­tions of colours and pat­terns. The time­less tex­tile orig­i­nally used to iden­tify and unite clans of the Scot­tish High­lands earned its ad­di­tional sym­bol­ism of re­bel­lion after tran­scend­ing the ban in­tro­duced in re­sponse to the Ja­co­bite up­ris­ing. How­ever, the rein­tro­duc­tion of tar­tan in 1822, when Sir Wal­ter Scott laid on a pageant for King Ge­orge IV, also re­in­forced its pur­pose of be­long­ing, in an at­tempt to join to­gether Eng­land and Scot­land through her­itage.

Tar­tan is in­tri­cate and com­plex, a fab­ric con­tin­u­ously be­ing wo­ven with many his­tor­i­cal and mod­ern threads. In­deed, an un­paid in­voice of Sir Wal­ter Scott lies in Ste­wart Christie & Co’s archives for a pair of tra­di­tional trews. We can­not for­get Vivi­enne West­wood’s revo­lu­tion­ary mod­erni­sa­tion of tar­tan in her 1993-94 An­glo­ma­nia col­lec­tion, which launched the tex­tile into punk fash­ion and acts of sub­cul­ture re­bel­lion. First Min­is­ter Ni­cola Stur­geon is the num­ber one fan of Totty Rocks, an in­de­pen­dent wom­enswear la­bel and bou­tique in Ed­in­burgh which “strives to find new and un­ex­pected ways to use the fab­ric”.

Lochcar­ron of Scot­land, one of the coun­try’s most suc­cess­ful weav­ing mills, be­lieves tar­tan is so pop­u­lar as it “has a way of rein­vent­ing it­self through time and in­ter­pre­ta­tion”. In­deed, our fash­ion shoot on the pre­vi­ous pages shows how the brand col­lab­o­rated with Scot­tish Bal­let to cre­ate an ex­clu­sive tar­tan and

cos­tumes for High­land Fling, a mod­ern re­work­ing of clas­sic bal­let La Syl­phide by Matthew Bourne.

But per­haps one of the best ex­am­ples of how tar­tan con­nects its an­ces­tral past and fu­ture in fash­ion is the re­cent col­lab­o­ra­tion of DC Dal­gliesh and Charles Jef­frey. DC Dal­gliesh is Scot­land’s ar­ti­san tar­tan pro­ducer still weav­ing tar­tans the tra­di­tional way; a brand con­scious of re­spect­ing Scot­tish tra­di­tions and her­itage. Manag­ing di­rec­tor Nick Fid­des ad­vo­cates that tar­tan is not a “fos­silised tra­di­tion, but a liv­ing one, that’s con­tin­u­ally de­vel­op­ing”.

En­thu­si­as­tic about sus­tain­abil­ity and sup­port­ing lo­cal busi­nesses and de­sign­ers, the pair­ing of DC Dal­gliesh and Glaswe­gian fash­ion de­signer Charles Jef­frey is a per­fect match.

Jef­frey, who won Grad­u­ate of the Year at the 2015 Scot­tish Fash­ion Awards, is unit­ing a com­mu­nity of cre­atives in Lon­don with his Lover­boy cult club night and cloth­ing brand. The de­signer cre­ated an of­fi­cial Lover­boy tar­tan with DC Dal­gliesh for his AW18 col­lec­tion at Lon­don Fash­ion Week. DC Dal­gliesh em­pha­sises how im­por­tant col­lab­o­ra­tions be­tween new and old are in or­der to con­tinue to de­velop tar­tan’s role in the fash­ion in­dus­try’s fu­ture, with Jef­frey “re-imag­in­ing how [tar­tan] can be worn, us­ing both tra­di­tional de­signs and his own ex­clu­sive new pat­tern”.

Jef­frey’s work plays boldly with gen­der con­structs, bring­ing to­gether through fash­ion a com­mu­nity against so­ci­etal norms of male and fe­male. The in­clu­sion of tar­tan in this state­ment-mak­ing col­lec­tion not only pays homage to his Scot­tish roots, but also re­in­forces tar­tan’s power and in­flu­ence in com­mu­ni­cat­ing mes­sages of re­bel­lion while strength­en­ing a united front and pro­mot­ing a shared opin­ion of a com­mu­nity.

With­out tra­di­tional weav­ing mills such as DC Dal­gliesh, Lochcar­ron and John­stons of El­gin, tar­tan would risk los­ing its au­then­tic­ity and author­ity. The fab­ric’s abil­ity to stand the test of time is en­sured be­cause of its rich ori­gins. Alan Scott, cre­ative di­rec­tor at John­stons of El­gin states the brand’s “orig­i­nal Scot­tish her­itage and prove­nance in weav­ing tar­tan de­signs can be traced back over its 220- year his­tory”.

For 2018, John­stons has in­cor­po­rated tar­tan to pro­vide author­ity and a medium for peo­ple to make a state­ment about and ex­press their opin­ions and feel­ings on is­sues in to­day’s so­ci­ety. Scott be­lieves “fash­ion al­ways cap­tures the im­por­tant sub­jects in mod­ern cul­ture ex­pressed through how we dress”, and that the rich tra­di­tion be­hind tar­tan is what al­lows it to bring a sense of clan and be­long­ing to the fash­ion trend. With­out the her­itage and prove­nance be­hind tar­tan, John­stons’ de­signs, which “ex­ploded into highly coloured fash­ion ver­sions of the tra­di­tional cloth”, would not have the re­quired strength and au­then­tic­ity to ex­press the state­ments they are de­signed to al­low wear­ers to make. Tar­tan’s abil­ity to unite groups and com­mu­ni­cate state­ments both pro and anti­estab­lish­ment through fash­ion has now been recog­nised world­wide, with many global de­sign­ers fea­tur­ing the tex­tile in 2018. It was Vivi­enne West­wood who cham­pi­oned tar­tan as a print of re­bel­lion in her 1993-94 An­glo­ma­nia col­lec­tion and now the pat­tern is again “worn with pur­pose” and re­garded as “the print of woke mil­len­ni­als” by fash­ion jour­nal­ist TiTi Fin­lay on ttfin­lay.com.

In its SS18 col­lec­tion, Ba­len­ci­aga used the Lewis Macleod tar­tan for a not-so­sub­tle politi­cial state­ment. The loud black and yel­low check be­longs to Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s an­ces­tral Scot­tish clan. The ironic use on a skirt by the brand is a per­fect ex­am­ple of how the world is be­com­ing aware of tar­tan’s abil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate a mul­ti­tude of per­spec­tives and us­ing it to pro­mote their own be­liefs and opin­ions glob­ally.

The resur­gence of tar­tan in 2018 can also be ex­plained with Scot­land fac­ing po­lit­i­cal tur­moil of its own, in­clud­ing Brexit and the pos­si­bil­ity of an in­de­pen­dent Scot­land. In such un­cer­tain times, tar­tan’s her­itage pro­vides iden­tity, a sense of se­cu­rity and be­long­ing and is “safe, fa­mil­iar and en­gag­ing”, sug­gests Lochcar­ron.

WITH a de­sire for her­itage comes a de­mand for qual­ity and longevity. Tra­di­tional Scot­tish weav­ing mills and in­de­pen­dent de­sign­ers are great ad­vo­cates of so­ci­ety’s fo­cus on slow and eth­i­cal fash­ion sup­port­ing lo­cal busi­nesses. DC Dal­gliesh be­lieves Scot­land “has a fab­u­lous story to tell” and that “where so many oth­ers are in a race to the bot­tom com­pet­ing on price and cut­ting cor­ners, that’s the last place we want to be as a wee na­tion with all this tra­di­tion be­hind us”.

With the slow fash­ion move­ment on the rise, tar­tan has the traits to be­come a sym­bol of the cov­eted val­ues such as longevity and sus­tain­abil­ity. It is the her­itage and high qual­ity of tar­tan that al­lows it to en­dorse slow fash­ion and fight against throw­away fast fash­ion, as “it comes to the client with a his­tory wo­ven into the cloth” at Lochcar­ron.

Scot­tish fash­ion de­signer Siob­han Macken­zie, who cre­ates mod­ern be­spoke kilts, is a strong sup­porter of sus­tain­abil­ity in the in­dus­try, pro­mot­ing the mind­set of “if you can buy one item that has used topqual­ity tex­tiles and crafts­man­ship it will last you a life­time rather than 20 cheap pieces which you will bin in a year”.

In­deed, Ste­wart Christie & Co of­ten re­pairs and re­sizes kilts handed from one gen­er­a­tion to the next. Owner and cre­ative di­rec­tor Vixy Rae be­lieves “kilts are one of the only gar­ments you may own that may last you your whole life, and then be handed on” and that it is this strik­ing ro­mance and her­itage that earns tar­tan a con­stant place in the ev­er­chang­ing fash­ion in­dus­try.

With tra­di­tional Scot­tish weav­ing mills con­tin­u­ing to col­lab­o­rate with global de­sign­ers, we can’t wait to see what new in­ter­pre­ta­tions and com­mu­ni­ties will de­velop, weav­ing past and fu­ture to­gether to de­sign a more so­cially aware world and eth­i­cally re­spon­si­ble fash­ion in­dus­try, through the use of tar­tan.

Where so many oth­ers are in a race to the bot­tom com­pet­ing on price and cut­ting cor­ners, that’s the last place we want to be as a wee na­tion with all this tra­di­tion be­hind us

Pho­tog­ra­phy: Laura Meek

Ste­wart Christie tar­tan Model: Tabitha Stevens

Pho­to­graph: Guy Marineau/ Conda©Getty Im­ages

Vivi­enne West­wood’s orange tar­tan dress and con­trast tar­tan mo­hair cropped jacket

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