“I don’t know what you think about when you go outside; I certainly want to be warm, I want to be dry, I want to be comfortable, I want to be cosy. It needs to be practical but it needs to be elegant too, nobody wants to look horrible.”
Isabella Cawdor, a slight, 49-year-old with an ethereal, doll-like face, is describing the genesis of the newly launched collection of outdoor clothes she has co-designed for the gunmaker Holland & Holland with her “great friend”, the model Stella Tennant.
“You’ve got to be able to climb over a barbed-wire fence in it,” adds Tennant of the clothes. “None of this stuff goes with a pair of heels. They’re not cocktail clothes. You want to wear all of this stuff for marching around outside.”
The outdoors is something of a speciality for these particular English roses. A former Vogue fashion stylist, Isabella Cawdor moved to the Drynachan Valley in the Scottish Highlands, in 1994, after her marriage to the seventh Earl of Cawdor. The family settled at Carnoch, a former shepherd’s summer dwelling on Cawdor’s 80 sq mile estate, and she has since helped transform her husband’s ancestral seat into an exemplar of modern aristocracy — with excellent partridge shooting. Tennant, the patrician beauty and 45-year-old granddaughter of the 11th Duke of Devonshire, and Deborah Mitford, grew up in the Borders, where she lives with her husband and four children. When not working or consulting for the great luxury houses of Europe, the two women are experts in “marching around” the great houses of Britain, fending off the worst Hibernian weather fronts while looking wildly chic. Their instruction on the subject of “outside” style is, therefore, invaluable.
While Holland & Holland, the London gunmakers founded in 1835, remains a bulwark of the British establishment, it has a quietly fashionable pedigree. It was bought in 1989 by the Wertheimer family, majority shareholders of Chanel, and although the Bruton Street gunmakers remains apart from Chanel group holdings, the acquisition has prompted gentle expansion: the company launched its first weekend clothing line in 1994 and, in addition to its London and New York flagship stores, will open a concession at Dover Street Market in September.
There was a pleasing inevitability then, when the house approached Tennant, a long-term Chanel associate and house muse, to reinvigorate their clothing range last year. Tennant enlisted Cawdor’s help, and together the pair redesigned the entire collection, for men and women, from the ground up.
“I think they’ve probably allowed us to do what we wanted because they felt we knew a little bit about living in the outdoors,” says Cawdor of the smart utilitarian collection they will unveil next week. It’s big on essentials: deliciously soft Guernsey-style sweaters, lightweight cashmeres with elongated sleeves for extra warmth, fur gilets, stout skirts, walking shoes, loden shirts and, yes, a few plus-fours. Many of the materials were developed with the tweed and woollen mills surrounding Tennant’s home: the collection includes Lovat and Hawick tweeds, and cashmeres by Barrie (the Scottish knitwear brand acquired by Chanel in 2012).
Most thrilling, however, the clothes are as apt for dog walking and urban swanking as they are for deer stalking or grouse shooting. “Gunmaking is the DNA of the brand and that, I suppose, was the starting point,” explains Cawdor. “But there are so many other things that people do when they’re outdoors. These aren’t to be worn exclusively whilst striding the moors.”
Neither are the clothes tremendously fashionable. And deliberately so. “Fashion is something I’ve always struggled with,” says Tennant. “This idea of trends has always been very difficult for me to understand, especially when most truly stylish people have a core identity where what they wear doesn’t really change. In my personal life there are clothes I love and they’ve been in my wardrobe for 15 years.”
This collection is designed to last years, rather than expire each season, with the pair planning to make incremental changes as the range builds and different needs arise. “I mean, I love fashion, of course I love fashion,” adds Tennant. “But I’m absolutely not a fashion designer. I’m absolutely not pretending that I’m doing that. That’s why I feel comfortable doing this work because it’s not about the six-month changeover.”
Regardless of their claims on fashionability, Tennant and Cawdor’s tastes can be seen in every piece. The womenswear has been tailored for a more masculine fit, according to Tennant’s own preference: “I just hate a darted shirt, or a waisted jacket,” she says. And the palette is subtle, with little shots of colour. Tennant is especially enamoured of the “weasel” skirt and the shirting, while Cawdor’s enthusiasm for the navy kilt will convince anyone to reconsider its relevance in the wardrobe: “In the winter it keeps your kidneys warm, and in the summer, when you want to sit down, you’ve got seven metres of fabric around your backside so you don’t get wet. So it’s a practical thing, fantastic for walking.” They have also taken a pleasingly no-nonsense approach to the menswear which features simple sweaters, tweed weekend blazers, parkas and Loden shirts. “We don’t want to confuse them too much,” says Cawdor, matter of factly. “Just give them what they need.”
The collection does indeed give people what they need, and very efficiently, but so does it retain those Wodehouse-Waughian elements of traditional British style that will appeal to the international client (it has been reported that 70 per cent of Holland & Holland clients are non-English, and 50 per cent of those are American).
Just as Coco Chanel was once so instrumental in exporting the English country look to the urban boulevards of Paris, Tennant and Cawdor are hoping this collection will translate as easily overseas. “Of course we’re hoping that people will want to wear it in lots of other environments and certainly, not just in Britain,” says Cawdor. “But the look is very British. It’s true to our own hearts. Because it’s what we both know.”
Shopping: country kit list
For city folk, it’s the cruellest sartorial dilemma. What to wear for a weekend in the country? Has one got the right footwear? Which coat will work in a field? Why does one never pack enough wool? “Well, I’ve never had that dilemma, since I was basically born on a farm,” says Stella Tennant, co-designer of Holland & Holland’s new clothing collection. “It’s not a problem I’ve been faced with, but if you would like us to put together the ultimate weekend country kit list . . . ” (Shooting equipment optional.)
All stock photographs: hollandandholland.co.uk