Published: June 2009
By Shane Mitchell
Tartan is back in style, and Scotland is producing some of the hippest wares around
Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, and Alexander McQueen love it. Ewan MacGregor, Scotland's own box-office heartthrob, likes his in black. Tartan is back, along with its near-cousin, tweed. Bide a wee in one of these emporiums in Edinburgh and the Highlands (listed from south to north).
Anta 32 High St.; 44-131/557-8300. Anne and Lachlan Stewart, the designers behind Ralph Lauren Home's tartan fabrics, prefer an unorthodox approach for their own household line. Anne's woolen blankets with hand-purled fringe are woven on old-style looms, in a contemporary palette that would make Robbie Burns turn 360's in his grave. Their tartan patterns may look as if they once girded the loins of a clan chieftain, but are newly invented. The Stewarts also produce pottery decorated with ancestral plaids.
Corniche 2 Jeffrey St.; 44-131/556-3707. A former fashion designer, Nina Grant has splashed her boutique's walls with orange and yellow glazes, which complement the extreme clothes on the racks, including Queen of Punk Vivienne Westwood's Anglomania kilts. Newcomer Jackie Burke's fur-trimmed Harris tweed riding jackets are totally foxy.
Ness Scotland 367 High St.; 44-131/226-5227. Edinburgh's once-grand Royal Mile is lined with shops hawking Trainspotting T-shirts. A welcome antidote is Ness Scotland, owned by Gordon MacAulay and Adrienne Wells, who search out whimsical accessories made by artisans scattered from the Borders to the Outer Hebrides. Ness carries hand-loomed cardigans, hats, and scarves, but you'll want to snatch up the adorable Dinky bags, made on the Isle of Lewis.
Schuh 6 Frederick St.; 44-131/220-0290. Brave the store's thumping techno vibes to try on the fierce footwear favored by Gen Y Scots: clunky Doc Martens. Local lads attending the national rugby match between Scotland and England as well as the cheerleaders for the local rugby team (Schuh helped design their signature yellow, red, and blue plaid boots) are some of the most passionate fans.
Peter MacDonald Crieff; 44-1764/652-936; by appointment only. Historian Peter MacDonald, a handweaver who served as costume consultant on the film Rob Roy, specializes in researching and designing 18th-century-style patterns for clients as diverse as the Edinburgh Military Tattoo and British Airways (his Benyhone plaid adorns the tail wings of a dozen 737's in their fleet). He'll tell you tartan has been kicking around for a long time: proto-Celtic mummies wrapped in plaid fabrics were recently unearthed in China. Not one to linger in the Dark Ages, MacDonald also creates tartan graphics for Web sites and logos.
Dunkeld Antiques Tay Terrace; 44-1350/728-832. On a bank of the Tay River in a deconsecrated kirk, garrulous David Dytch is happy to show you his treasures—silver agate jewelry, paisley shawls, estate furniture freshly upholstered in tartan fabrics—and discuss their provenance. Some of his rarer finds include centuries-old kilts (ask to see the scrap of Bonnie Prince Charlie's tartan pattern from the 1700's) and plaid Mauchline ware, delicate wooden pen holders, boxes, and containers embossed by a transfer process that was permanently lost when the 19th-century Mauchline factory burned down.
P&J Haggart of Aberfeldy 32 Dunkeld St.; 44-1887/820-306. Since 1801, P&J Haggart has been accepting orders for estate tweeds, adopted by the landed Scots gentry when tartan was temporarily outlawed. In a turreted Victorian building, Haggart discreetly displays its royal warrants, from Edward VII to the Queen Mum. Untitled folk can also find off-the-peg tweed waistcoats, breeches, gun cases, and deerstalker hats. Haggart still operates its own mill, and weaves wool from sheep raised in the Borders. Make no mistake, this traditional cloth is virtually bulletproof; just the sort of hard-wearing textile a Scot loves for stalking game through prickly gorse. Thinking of buying a hunting lodge?Haggart will design your own personal tweed, incorporating colors from a clan tartan or family crest.
Macnaughtons of Pitlochry Station Rd.; 44-1796/472-722. In the 1880's the railroad arrived in tiny Pitlochry, bringing with it Britons eager to share Queen Victoria's passion for Scotland. To meet the sudden demand for Highland fabrics, Macnaughtons set up shop in a former wool shed and was soon supplying tartan rugs to Balmoral Castle (the queen sent a telegram expressing her pleasure). The rambling timbered shop is still favored by Scotsmen requiring custom-made kilts, not to mention brass-cantled sporrans, sgian dubhs (ritual daggers), and tam-o'-shanters. Huge bolts of soft patterned wool are heaped in a corner; impatient customers can also buy ready-made goods.
House of Bruar Hwy. A9; 44-1796/483-236. You may find that this new emporium—the closest Scotland comes to a one-stop shopping experience—oversells the baronial manor look a bit. Then again, if the Duke of Atholl invites you to a shooting party, head here for rooms brimming with Johnstons of Elgin cashmere, Mackintosh coats, rubber Hunter Wellingtons, and Magee hacking jackets. Pick up a waterproof Black Watch plaid picnic rug, which rolls up with a leather harness; then hit House of Bruar's food hall to fill a hamper with oatcakes, Dunlop cheese, and a flask of single-malt whisky for a hike in the nearby Grampian Hills.
Caledonian Bears Neptune's Staircase, Banavie; 44-1397/700-520. In 1930, the dwindling population of St. Kilda made the decision to abandon its remote Hebridean island. Although their cottages are now empty, black-and-white photographs remain to document the crofters' spartan lifestyle. Cass and Alex MacDougall and Ian and Morvern MacKenzie use these images to create the rough traditional plaid garments that dress their endearing teddy bears, handmade from Harris tweed. Each bear resembles a St. Kilda crofter, fisherman, housewife, or child. Some wear hand-knitted wool jerseys, others tiny bonnets and kilts. (The fabrics are so tempting, you'll wish for bolts to make human-sized garments.) A converted stone shed next to the Neptune's Staircase lock on the Caledonian Canal serves as the studio and shop.
ISLE OF SKYE
Shilasdair Carnach, Waternish Peninsula; 44-1470/592-297. At a small croft on a bay overlooking Dunvegan Head, Eva Lambert raises her own flock of sheep. When you drive down the narrow track, listen for the tinkling bells. Hung on the shop's rough plaster walls are intricately knitted sweaters, vests, jackets, and hats—suitable protection against the blustery North Atlantic winds. Lambert collects lichen, heather, seaweeds, and wild roots to concoct small dye lots. A best-seller is the Eccentric Tweed pattern, which duplicates a houndstooth check in knit form. Her cottage industry is a literal one: many of the sweaters have been knitted by elderly ladies in the nearby village of Carnach; check the label to see who worked on the garment you select.
WILD WILD WESTWOOD
Cutting-edge designer Vivienne Westwood knows her Royal Stewart from MacDonell of Glengarry. She also has an eye for fine craftsmanship, which is why she journeys to the remote Hebridean island of Lewis to buy outlandish fabrics for her collections. Head there yourself and, in the village of Melbost by Stornoway, you'll find her surprising source, Ian Sutherland, rattling away on his hand-operated Hattersley loom. Visit his island outpost for cloth caps, hand-knitted sweaters, and bolts of his glorious wool/silk and wool/cashmere blends.
Breanish Tweed, Isle of Lewis; 44-1851/672-349.
WHERE TO STAY
The Bonham 35 Drumsheugh Gardens, Edinburgh; 44-131/226-6050, fax 44-131/332-9631; doubles from $256. A 48-room Victorian town house, with one of Edinburgh's hippest new dining spots. Don't miss chef Pelham Hill's black-pudding beignets.
The Balmoral 1 Princes St., Edinburgh; 800/223-6800 or 44-131/556-2414; doubles from $284. Recently renovated, the Scottish baronial-style hotel has great views of Edinburgh Castle.
Airds Hotel Port Appin, Argyll; 44-1631/730-236, fax 44-1631/730-535; doubles from $317. The former ferry inn, with 12 handsome rooms overlooking Loch Linnhe, dates to the early 18th century.
Kinnaird Dunkeld, Perthshire; 44-1796/482-440, fax 44-1796/482-289; doubles from $445. An impeccable nine-room hunting lodge on a 9,000-acre estate overlooking the Tay Valley.
Kinloch Lodge Sleat Peninsula, Isle of Skye; 44-1471/833-214; doubles from $165. Ask for a room overlooking Loch Na Dal in this lodge owned by the hereditary chief of Clan Macdonald.
Three Chimneys Colbost by Dunvegan, Isle of Skye; 44-1470/511-258, fax 44-1470/511-358. A delightful six-room crofter's cottage, with a restaurant.