Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Chanel, Scotland and Tilda Swinton: A Story of Craftsmanship

          Tilda Swinton has today been named the face of Chanel’s Metiers d’Art Paris-Edinburgh collection, which debuted spectacularly in the misty ruins of a Scottish castle last December. 

          Set in the secluded Linlithgow Palace, with a guest list so exclusive that many bloggers and minor editors were left out in the cold, the collection was a celebration of Scottish heritage, craftsmanship and the longstanding intimate relationship between Scotland and Chanel. Described as a ‘truly exceptional show’ by British Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman, the collection was a classic Karl interpretation of traditional Scottish dress:  well-structured and precisely edited, the collection highlighted both the talent of the head designer, and the exceptional skill of the legion of craftsmen which support him.

          In this collection, fabric was not in short supply: tweed was layered, draped and folded against the Scottish chill, showcased in a variety of bright plaids and chunky Fair Isle knits. The classic Chanel bouclé jacket was lined, unusually (Chanel originally celebrated unlined garments to give an ease of movement) with traditional Scottish plaid. The Chanel chains were transformed from bag handles to embellish hats and sporrans, and the strings of pearl semiotic of the house were developed into the chunky collars and drop earrings reminiscent of the jewellery that would have, once upon a time, been worn in Linlithgow Palace.  Nods to Mary Queen of Scots can be found in the sumptuous shirts, ruffs, Tudor-style jackets and layered bell skirts all embellished with heavy lines of pearls and gemstones. 

     So why the sudden focus on tweed, plaid, leather and everything else that Scotland has got to offer through its long manufacturing history? The Metiers d’Art (pre-A/W ’13, in other words) was designed as an annual celebration of the craftsmen, ateliers and specialists who are both the driving force of Chanel and provide the many, many hours that go into crafting both the Prêt-a-Porter and Couture collections.

       The collaboration between Chanel and Swinton is perhaps unsurprising choice; Tilda has for years been the face of Scottish knitwear label Pringle and has been described as ‘a modern woman, a timeless icon of elegance’ by Chanel creative director Karl Lagerfeld.In my simple opinion, her ethereal, unusual beauty conjures up the mysticism of Scotland. 

      Chanel as a label and as a person has had a long standing history with Scottish tweed. Chanel, who used to visit Scotland regularly in the 1920s to stay in the Duke of Westminster’s rugged pile, sourced her original bouclé tweeds from Scotland, introducing it as one of the house’s defining fabrics in 1927. In 2012 the fashion house acquired the specialist factory Barrie Knitwear, which has made luxury tweeds for them for the past 25 years. 

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