Scotch mist

It's 150 years since Mr Mackintosh invented the rainproof coat - and unwittingly started a fashion for not-so-practical imitations. The real thing is still made in Scotland, and Tamsin Blanchard looks at some of the best

hile Madonna belts out "Don't Cry for me Argentina" as Evita, a much smaller-scale, oddball musical revival, Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, is on limited release at cinemas around London. The gloriously re-coloured, newly printed film that was first shown in the Sixties, stars an all-singing Catherine Deneuve as a love-struck 16-year-old who falls in love - and, as seemed inevitable in the late Fifties, when the film is set - pregnant. The clothes - the candy-coloured twin sets, the matching coat and cocktail dress sets and the kitten heel sling-back shoes - all look strangely modern now. But, as the daughter of a woman who runs an umbrella shop in rainy Cherbourg, Deneuve wears a mackintosh like nobody else.

The mac is one of the great survivors of clothing history. It is a rarity in that it is thoroughly functional, totally practical and, when worn by Ms Deneuve, at least, fantastically stylish. It has connotations of spies, or movie stars in dark glasses, with collars pulled up high in mysterious incognito. But the mac is, of course, a Victorian invention thanks to Mr E Mackintosh, who used rubberised cloth, first patented in 1804 in London, and made it into waterproof coats. As with most classics of design, it was never intended to be the height of fashion, sought after as it now is by chic Italians and Japanese who scan the label for those all important words, "Made in Scotland".

After more than a century and a half, the rubber coating process still flourishes in a few factories in Scotland. And it is thanks to one of these manufacturers that the high street retailer Jigsaw is producing its own mackintoshes in a simple, double-breasted style that, unlike the traditional wet weather coat, does not reach to the ankles, or feature extra yokes, triple linings and endless D-rings. It is more of an everyday jacket, useful not just when it is raining. But it has that unique stiffness and the raw edges of heavy duty rubberised cotton. Of all the coats featured here, it is the only one that is made by the traditional process that can truly call itself a mackintosh. The others are merely raincoats.

The zip-pocket nylon knee-length coat by Joseph is showerproof and comes with trousers to match - perfect for anyone who rides a bike and doesn't like wearing bright yellow road-worker waterproofs. They might seem a bit silly to wear indoors, though.

The Aquascutum coat is a timeless classic, and chances are there is one hanging in the wardrobe of a near relative, if not your own. Whenever it rains you can always rely on your Aquascutum, or, indeed, your trusty mackintosh, not only to keep you dry, but to look right with whatever you're wearing, be it jeans and wellington boots or ball gown and tiara. Just don't forget your umbrella - and feel free to sing when it rainsn

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