Big in Japan: Designer leads the tartan charge
A new touring exhibition in Japan celebrating tartan brings together the work of various Scottish designers, including Joyce Young, who talks to Tessa Williams about the project and her hopes that it will attract visitors to Scotland
Japan has always had a fascination with Scotland, mainly around golf and whisky.
But now they have taken their love affair with tartan to a whole new level.
A new exhibition simply entitled “Tartan” is being hosted at the Kobe Fashion Museum in Hyogo, the country’s only exclusively fashion-orientated museum.
It opened last month and will last for two years, travelling around other major cities.
Leading the charge of designers from Scotland is Glasgow-based, Joyce Young OBE.
Joyce has worked for over four decades as a fashion designer and graduated from the Glasgow School of Art in 1975.
Her tartan inspired wedding gowns, couture dresses and special Scottish themed outfits grace the finest weddings, and are worn by those in the know; Alannah Hamilton, Kimberley Stewart, Ashley Jensen, and Judy Murray to name a few.
Her tartan designs have taken her many miles from Fashion Week in Los Angeles and Dressed to Kilt in New York.
Though it’s a first for her to be shown in Japan.
For the past four years she has had two stores, one in Glasgow’s Maryhill and the other in Haverstock Hill, London, and she continues to travel between the two places to have fittings and appointments for her dress making business.
She strongly supports the Scottish textile industry and has had everything produced from her own 20 strong factory in Maryhill for over 25 years.
She also uses Harris tweed in her designs and Scottish cashmere whenever possible.
“It is an easy option to go for having things made in the Far East and it does have its benefits but one of the reasons I love what I do is the investment in quality. I know that the brides and other clients I have are getting the best fabrics and the best possible dress,” Joyce explains.
Joyce’s first job in the fashion world was as a designer for Marks & Spencer but she was keen to set out on her own after
just a year of working for the high street.
“I only worked for them for a short time, before I decided to start up my own company. The problem of working for a high street company is that you are so limited in the way you can design; you have a piece of fabric and you have to just compromise and compromise,” she adds.
Her business has gone from strength to strength and in February 2014 she received an OBE from Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace for services to the textile industry.
Other talented Scots who will help tell the story of tartan in the Japan show include: Kinloch Anderson, Samantha Mccoach (Le Kilt), Alison Harm, Judy R Clark, Siobhan Mckenzie and Howie Nicholsby.
Kobe Fashion Museum, a three storey exhibition hall that is the first museum of its kind in Japan, expects more than 50,000 people to see the show.
The Tartan tour – which will also stop at Tokyo, Iwate, and Fukuoka – will display more than 150 different types of tartan – everything from tartan shoes to tartan telephones, and even biscuits and tells the story of tartan from the Jacobite times to the present day.
Joyce was first approached by Miki Inamura, a Japanese delegate, from the Kobe Newspaper foundation over a year ago.
They picked Joyce out of a handful of Scottish designers and asked if she would design a wedding dress specifically for the exhibition.
Delighted to have the opportunity, Joyce agreed to meet with the Japanese team at her Glasgow studios.
“It was actually in November that they came to visit – but we put our Christmas decorations up a whole month early, just to give the place more of a warm Scottish welcome,” she says.
“I am so excited to be a part of this show and think it is a great opportunity for Scotland to attract more visitors, especially people who may be thinking of getting married here,” says Joyce. “I’ve even decided to add another website to cater for those looking to come and get married in Scotland, and offer links to Scottish five star hotels and locations.
“People from abroad tend to look on Scotland as this wonderful mystical place, full of heather, lochs and whiskies. This exhibition will really help preserve the image of Scotland and help attract more tourists too,” she adds. “It’s a bit like the way we look upon somewhere like Bali, or Sri Lanka I guess.”
Within a few months Joyce had designed a specially made tartan insert wedding dress as well as an evening gown in her signature Bystorm purple tartan.
The dresses were sent off in May to Japan and as the exhibition had bought them, Joyce would not have them returned, so she wanted to have some photographs taken before they left the country.
“I put up a call on Facebook to see if I could find any Japanese ladies who would model for the dresses, and miraculously within about half an hour a lady who is also a concert pianist from Edinburgh University replied. She was very pleased to be photographed, and it turned out her father also came from the city of Kobe, which was quite a coincidence,” Joyce adds.
As yet Joyce is unsure yet whether she will be able to visit the tartan show in Japan, but is very hopeful that she may be able to see her work on full display in the two-year exhibition period.
“I felt it was important to show a good representation of the weddings, so along with the dresses on display there will be a slide show of our brides who have been married in Scotland wearing tartan. It’s good for the visitors to the exhibition see the wedding dresses in context of a true Scottish wedding and the best way is to show real life weddings. The Japanese visitors not only see the grooms in kilts and the pipers and the Scottish venues but also get a glimpse of our landscapes,” Joyce explains.
“I am very much hoping that as well as learning all about tartan at the exhibition Japanese engaged couples will be inspired to consider Scotland – a romantic far off land – as the location for their weddings,” she adds.
Although Joyce has travelled to many parts of the world with her business she doesn’t seem
“I am very much hoping Japanese engaged couples will be inspired to consider Scotland as the location for their weddings”
tempted to transfer to Japan herself.
Scotland is and always has been her home.
“Though I’ve lived here in Scotland all my life and travelled to a lot of different countries, there’s nowhere else I could ever live. I love the scenery here and how it changes in such a short distance. My favourite part has to be around the Kyles of Bute on the West Coast, but there are so many stunning areas to visit. Also Scottish people are so warm and friendly I would miss that too much if I lived abroad,” she says.