Johnstons (est. 1797) is one of the oldest mills in Scotland. Certainly, its approach to business is up-to-date. Here is a company that recognizes that visitors may have traveled hours to get to Elgin, only to forgo the mill tour in favor of a quick pass through the Heritage Centre before getting to the main objective: shopping. To be fair, the Heritage Centre, launched just one year ago with their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Rothesay (a.k.a. Charles and Camilla) in attendance, does cover all the steps of production in a succinct and polished presentation. Best of all are a taxidermied Mongolian goat (my, what a lovely coat) and a touchy-feely installation comparing the dreamiest natural fibers: cashmere, vicuña, alpaca, merino lamb’s wool, angora, and camel hair.
Visitors can discover at Johnstons’s Heritage Centre a tartan variation known as estate tweeds. Far from the salt-and-pepper variety favored by professorial types, estate tweeds, essentially plaids that are protected patterns in subtle natural shades, are expensive camouflage for hunters and sophisticated woolens for those not swaddled at birth in a family tartan. An estate tweed identifies a place rather than a clan. Johnstons stocks 30 patterns for custom orders, carries a range of clothing as well as upholstered furniture in estate tweeds, and has a bespoke service for custom tweeds. The actual tour of Johnstons’s mill at a bend in the Lossie River covers all the usual bases, and then some.