Fashion: A New Year's fling with tartan
Wednesday 31 December 1997
Tamsin Blanchard reports. Photographs by
When the MacAndreas tartan was given recognition by the official museum in Lochcarron in 1993, it was a fine day for Vivienne Westwood. Since the early days of punk and bondage trousers, she had made use of tartans, and now she had one of her very own, to safety-pin, lace up into corsetry or ruche into bustles, just as she liked.
Westwood herself was born in Glossop, Derbyshire, but it somehow seems fitting that she should have her own tartan, however remote her Scottish roots.
Since her Anglomania collection of autumn/winter 1993, when Westwood loaded her models so heavily with tartans that Naomi Campbell fell off her platform shoes, the designer has introduced a new tartan each season. This winter, there are two: the McStone, and the McBrick - featured here, and so named because of its colour, McBrick red. The MacAndreas was named after Vivienne's husband and collaborator, Andreas Kronthaler.
Originally, the tartan plaid was a blanket worn by Scotsmen by pleating it into a belt and wrapping the excess fabric around the shoulders, a little like a sari. The British banned the wearing of tartan as a political offence in 1746, but repealed the law in 1785. Ironically, it was Queen Victoria who popularised it in the 19th century and made it a wardrobe staple, when she introduced a tartan for her sons to wear on holiday in Balmoral.
The look quickly caught on, and children in particular would wear tartan kilts, dresses and knickerbockers as part of their "Sunday best". Tartan has become synonymous with royalty, as it has with Scotland, and, what's more, it never goes out of fashion. It represents both the Establishment and - when Westwood and Malcolm McLaren got their hands on the stuff in the Seventies - anarchy too.
And of course, the rest of the world, particularly the French, Italians, Japanese and Americans (who think tartan comes from the mighty clan of Ralph McLauren) perhaps love it even more than we do. Just as the Japanese will buy traditional tartans and Burberry checks by the bus load, so, too, will they spend almost pounds 1,000 on a tailored suit made of officially recognised Westwood tartan.
The traditional kilt must be one of fashion's most enduring classics. This winter, it has been revived by the designers Clements Ribeiro, whose mini-kilts and tartan dresses decorated with lace have a certain Bohemian eccentricity about them. Christian Lacroix, French designer and fan of all things British, is inspired by traditional fabrics; he takes tartans and loosens them up a little to make abstract weaves.
The bad boy of French fashion, Jean Paul Gaultier, not only wears a kilt to show off his rugged Gallic knees; he uses tartan in his collections, too. Queen Victoria would not have been amused, however, by a sheer T- shirt - whatever the shade of tartan.
And it is not just the jet-set fashion world that pillages Scotland's finest weaves; the Scottish knitwear company Barrie has seen the potential in its own back yard and has produced some luxurious cashmere tartan knits, perfect for throwing over your shoulders when venturing into the cold night air for a chorus of "Auld Lang Syne".
According to Ms Westwood, the appeal of tartan is "heroic, rustic and traditional and because of this, romantic: it has a sense of dressing- up, even fancy dress, and lends itself to role-playing, perfect for coquetry." In other words, for tonight's New Year celebrations it is just the thing: far grander and more dignified than any little black dress, and guaranteed to give the wearer - male or female - a wild and swinging night. Happy hogmanay.
Stylist: Charlie Harrington
Model: Clare Durkin at Models 1
Make-up: Alex Babsky at Mandy Coakley
Hair: Esther Bihore for MacMillan, 61-63, Monmouth Street, London WC2
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