Johnstons of Elgin’s fabric archive is nestled deep in the Scottish countryside. Its shelves bear the weight of heavy leather-bound tomes, the kind of books you could imagine a wizened sorceress dusting off in search of a potent cure-all. Instead, the weathered pages appear to contain swatches of tweed and handwritten notes stretching back to when this celebrated cashmere and fine wool producer was first established as a family business in 1797. Since then, it has only ever been owned by two families; the Johnstons, and current owners the Harrisons.
Today, with increasing numbers of British designers and international luxury fashion houses relying on it for their cashmere, Johnstons is as much about innovation as it is heritage. Last month saw the opening of a new London flagship – its first ever store outside Scotland – at 77 New Bond Street. Set over five levels, the 230 square metre space houses its womenswear and menswear collections, as well as its home and interior line. Company CEO Simon Cotton couldn’t be happier with the current location. “Bond Street is a destination known and understood throughout the world. Buyers and consumers come here looking for top British brands,” he says.
There are more reasons to be optimistic. Scotland’s cashmere and woollen industry has been on an upward trajectory for some time now, with luxury manufacturers driving significant growth. As a result, Scottish manufacturers such as Johnstons, along with Hawick Cashmere and Barrie (the latter is owned by Chanel) are enjoying somewhat of a renaissance.
“We are very much part of the ‘Made in the UK’ trend in luxury goods although Scotland has its own specialities, particularly around cashmere and other fine fibres,” says Cotton. “I feel that some Scottish companies are gaining in confidence and ambition and have realised they can sit comfortably amongst the very best in the world,” he adds.
Scottish cloth is undoubtedly a unique product, which many attribute to the soft spring waters used in the manufacturing process. This natural liquid asset is said to help the yarns hold their texture. Incidentally, the same water goes into the world’s most celebrated whiskies. Scottish textile producers also have a knack of weaving in the soft muted tones of the Scottish landscape into each and every fabric. Johnstons Spring/Summer 2016 collection for instance is awash with faded blues and cool graphite greys. Lightweight Guernsey knits with exaggerated rib detailing and two-tone waffle knits also feature throughout.
Looking at the year ahead, the company will continue to invest in the latest generation of knitting equipment to meet increasing demand for its woven jacquards. Says Cotton: “Our focus is on continuing to build on our expertise and make even more beautiful and innovative products. Every year our teams surprise me by raising the bar even further and I am extremely excited about the collections we are working on, both for ourselves and other people.”
Whichever way you spin it, this forward-thinking cashmere brand is on a roll!