Susannah Frankel: 'Tweed running shoes? Darling, that's absolutely fabulous...'

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The Independent Online

In 1987 Vivienne Westwood, erstwhile queen of punk and grande dame of British fashion, entitled one of her most memorable collections Harris Tweed. "My whole idea for this collection was stolen from a little girl I saw on the Tube one day. She couldn't have been more than 14. She had a little plaited bun, a Harris tweed jacket and a bag with a pair of ballet shoes in it. She looked so cool and composed, standing there. Everyone around her was being noisy and rowdy but she looked quite serene. She looked lovely."

In 1987 Vivienne Westwood, erstwhile queen of punk and grande dame of British fashion, entitled one of her most memorable collections Harris Tweed. "My whole idea for this collection was stolen from a little girl I saw on the Tube one day. She couldn't have been more than 14. She had a little plaited bun, a Harris tweed jacket and a bag with a pair of ballet shoes in it. She looked so cool and composed, standing there. Everyone around her was being noisy and rowdy but she looked quite serene. She looked lovely."

In Westwood's hands the seed of this idea soon blossomed into the famed hunting-pink Harris tweed jacket photographed by Snowdon for British Vogue on a model surrounded by the Horse Guards at Buckingham Palace and, of course, the by now iconic tweed crown. The designer was using tweed first and foremost to parody the British upper classes and the monarchy in particular, "but I really am also in love with the fabrics", she said. And so fin de siècle designer fashion's love affair with a decidedly scratchy weave more readily associated with uptight Sunday best than anything even remotely stylish was born.

Although tweed has been used, to a greater or lesser extent, by all the big names ever since and, certainly, always by Westwood, the past year has seen demand soar. This time round, blame Miuccia Prada. The designer's autumn/winter 2003 collection featured not only Forties-style tweed day suits but also Harris tweed handbags and even high-heeled, peep-toed shoes, a witty twist on tweed's stuffy image if ever there was one. And apres Miuccia, le deluge. Twelve months later, the designer is still turning out the only slightly frumpy take on the British aristocracy that she seems to understand so well but now everyone else is in on the act too, from Alexander McQueen to John Galliano and from Stella McCartney to Marc Jacobs. Dolce & Gabbana's autumn collection features Helmut Newton-inspired vixens in hour-glass tweed suits, Louis Vuitton's take on the same theme is more sexy secretary in flavour. Jean-Paul Gaultier's debut collection for Hermes used tweed to highly fashionable and horsy effect. Even the avant-garde can't resist tweed's traditional allure, apparently. Japanese designer Junya Watanabe will soon offer the world tweed leotards - or bodies, as Donna Karan used to call them. Quite how these feel against the skin, however, is perhaps best left a mystery.

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