Vive le tartan

Stella Tennant in Chanel

The birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots was the setting on Tuesday for an extravaganza staged by Chanel in a ruined palace.

With the Scottish palace lit up like a film set and a retinue of pipers in bearskin hats, the invitation-only event was not a Highland ball but Chanel’s pre-fall Métiers d’Art collection. The event kicked off, in some style, the European pre-fall season – the set of collections that bridge early autumn into winter proper.

It also marked the Paris house’s long association with Scotland’s tweed, wool and cashmere industries, and celebrated Chanel’s October purchase of Barrie Knitwear, the textiles factory responsible for manufacturing its twin-sets for the past 25 years.

The setting, at the 14th century Linlithgow Palace, 15 miles west of Edinburgh, was symbolic of this notion of old meets new. As snow fell through an open roof into a central courtyard, Scottish model Stella Tennant opened the show in a greatcoat trimmed with tartan, a cashmere scarf, and yellow Argyle stockings.

Chanel’s president of fashion, Bruno Pavlovsky, said the label had planned to show its Métiers d’Art collection in Scotland long before buying Barrie. The once-a-year pre-fall shows (collections come into stores in early summer) are unique in the Chanel calendar, taking as their theme and inspiration the craftsmanship of the lacemakers, buttonmakers, feather makers, and costume jewellers who work on its designs.

These small industries have become something of a cause for Chanel; so far the house has bought up nine companies, including the embroidery house of Lesage and hatmaker Maison Michel, grouping them under the title Paraffection. Barrie is the latest to be rescued by Chanel, after it was placed into administration in August.

“It was not calculated,” said Pavlovsky. “We were told of the situation with Barrie in July and the deal had to be done very quickly. Two days after I returned from vacation in August, I was in Hawick [Barrie’s base], talking about buying it.”

To honour this new entente cordiale, the collection shown at Linlithgow featured 28 pieces made by Barrie’s workshops. This was Scotland à la Chanel, inspired by Coco Chanel’s relationship with the Duke of Westminster and her appropriation of Highland hunting garb, tweed and cashmere into her collections – as well as Linlithgow’s historic past. Unsurprisingly, tartan featured in every degree, on fringed bouclé jackets, on denim and kilts, on plus fours and knitted tam o’ shanter hats, the pattern repeated subtly on a leather jacket, or delicately beaded on to chiffon.

Warm enough for a day on the moors, long Argyle-knit sweater dresses were worn with studded leather boots. The mood segued into looks inspired by Mary Queen of Scots, with models in white lace ruffs atop Elizabethan jackets with peplums and exaggerated sleeves. Witty, highly covetable accessories included Chanel logoed sporran handbags and leather whisky flasks on gold chains. In keeping with Scotland’s intemperate weather, silk nightgown evening dresses with kilt-fastenings were worn with white cable-knit sweaters and thick cashmere socks.

Will the fascination with all things north of the border filter through to autumn’s main collection? “Possibly,” said Pavlovsky. “We don’t make comparisons between collections. What we try to have is a consistent story.”

This particular tale tells of an atmospheric fusion of Scottish dress with the house’s distinct codes; a 21st-century update on an auld alliance.

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