Checks appeal

From the highlands to the home, tartan rules the roost. Annie Deakin falls in love with tartan. Literally.

Friday 21 November 2008 01:00

Ever since the chunky lumberjacks of my childhood, I've found tartan, the beloved symbol of kin, completely irresistible. It’s with joy I see the Autumn/Winter 08 collections burst with plaid designs formerly confined to bagpipe players, highland gillies and Edinburgh stag parties.

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British designer and self-made It-boy Henry Holland persuaded his best friend, model of the moment Agyness Deyn into a pair of plaid antlers, tartan ball dress and matching eye patch for the catwalk. Dolce & Gabbana, Jaeger, Ralph Lauren and Just Cavalli followed suit. The re-born trend filters from haute couture to furniture.

Home designers Mulberry and Ralph Lauren have sold tartan for years but others like Marcel Wanders, the Dutchman who co-founded Moooi are getting in on the act. He was commissioned by wallpaper merchant Graham & Brown to create tartan couture wallpaper.

Following the examples of Alice Dellal, Mary-Kate Olsen, Kelly Osborne and Peaches Geldof, the trick is to wear tartan sparingly for optimum effect. The same theory applies when dressing the home. Diners should avoid wearing any plaid to the revamped Grill restaurant of London's Dorchester Hotel. It's a paradigm of how not to do tartan. Kitsch and extravagant, tartan covers almost every surface. The yellow ochre walls are embellished with 20ft murals of muscular men in tartan created by painter Mark Beard. The seats are upholstered in tartan which carries onto the carpet. The result? More camp Disneyland than Balmoral.

Like all pleasures in life, tartan - which derives from the French word "tiretaine" - is best served in small doses. Feeling the chill this credit crunch? My design-obsessed colleagues rave about Amara’s tartan daschund draught excluder covered in Mulberry green and pink wool check. "Hamish" as he’s called is not cheap at £95 but we’ve persuaded ourselves it will reduce heating bills. Available at, Mulberry's tartan trays, beanbags and notice boards master the subtle art of tartan in the home.

I’m too young to remember the 70's punk era when provocateurs Vivienne Westwood, Jean-Paul Gaultier and Alexander McQueen had their highland flings. Tartan shot from humble to high fashion. But I do remember Naomi Campbell’s tumble on the catwalk in 1993. It wasn’t her 10-inch blue mock croc platforms - which now reside in the V&A - that silenced me but her dashing tartan kilt.

"The fashion industry has gone crazy for tartan. It's great for tourism because every time someone sees tartan, they think of Scotland. The trend has an impact on the luxury tartan market, for people who want their tartan to come from our mills and say 'made in Scotland'," says Brian Wilton, director of the Scottish Tartans Authority.

"Tartan is wonderfully unisex, as well as cosy and stylish," says decorator Nina Campbell. "It really is a great British classic, up there with paisley and chintz." When she used tartan for a bar in New York’s Grand Central Station, she brightened the colours to scarlet, pinks and yellows rather than heavy blues and reds.

Being stuck on a geographical limb hasn’t stopped the Scots from developing an admirable commercial nous. There are over 5,500 tartans on record with new designs being whipped up all the time. Edinburgh-based David McGill designs national tartans for countries all over the world - he recently received orders for a new cherry blossom tartan for the Japanese market.

Agyness Dean wore it down the catwalk, Queen Victoria festooned Balmoral in it, Madonna paraded the stage in it and William "Braveheart" Wallace fought battle in it. Last summer, when I walked down the aisle on my wedding day, standing at the altar was my Scottish husband wearing tartan. Bagpipes blared as I bagged my very own Monarch of the Glen. And so, my childhood love affair came full circle.

Annie Deakin is acting editor of

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