THE Q&A: Johnstons of Elgin’s Creative Director, Alan Scott

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As the nights draw in, the notion of curling up with a good book and the crackle of a log fire hold a certain allure. The Danes even have a name for this – ‘Hygge’. And while the term has become all too familiar in the mainstream, in fashion, there’s still something to be said for the feel of a luxurious knit. On that front, Scottish cashmere brand Johnstons of Elgin have this season all wrapped up.

Alan Scott, who took over the creative reins earlier this year, can be credited with putting a more fashion-forward spin on things. With an impressive design pedigree spanning 27 years, he successfully launched Donna Karan menswear in the early Nineties.  Other career highlights include consulting for Italy’s Loro Piana and for Barbour here at home.

Next year, the family-owned business celebrates it 220th anniversary so what better time to quiz Scott on what makes him tick and how he intends to drive this historic brand into the future.

BSN: Where does Johnstons of Elgin sit in the international luxury landscape?

A.S: Johnston of Elgin is an incredibly important player in the luxury market, currently producing private label collections for many British, Italian and Paris-based luxury brands. We are also keen to develop the Johnstons of Elgin own brand and keep our social responsibility in our manufacturing sites healthy. It is vital to keep British knitwear alive and on the map by having a broad business model.

BSN: Please describe the current A/W 2016 collection. 

A.S: The A/W 2016 collection takes inspiration from nature, landscapes and foliage and colour combinations that are very ‘Scottish’ in style. Figurative accents in jacquards are presented next to traditional tartans using colours such as fern, granite, Bordeaux and navy.

BSN: Are there any upcoming collaborations or exciting new projects that you can share with us?

A.S: We are looking at showcasing our interior collection in Liberty this Christmas and are currently working with Lock Hatters as well as many private label collaborations with designers and department stores that help to grow our brand awareness.

BSN: Where is home for you these days?

A.S: I live in Scotland, on the snow line up on Ben Aigen. My home is 500 metres above the River Spey with the most incredible view down the valley and is about 15 minutes from our Elgin mill.

BSN: You are also an accomplished artist. What do you paint? 

A.S: I have always drawn since I was a child and have used this gift throughout my fashion career. I still need to draw everything even today. It’s a great way to give original communication and illustrate ideas and concepts.  At home, I love to relax and paint in oil. My subjects are usually equine and my paintings are always hyper-realistic. I love to create paintings that make people look twice.

BSN: How will you steer the brand into the future? 

A.S: This is a very special opportunity for me to fuse all of my experience with this fantastic company. I intend to develop and drive new business and customers by moving the brand forward using our heritage and history to inspire new technology and innovation in all products within the collection.

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Highly Spun: Johnstons of Elgin

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.

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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.

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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!


Discovering Delvaux

With 186 years of heritage under its belt, Delvaux, the Belgian leather goods house, continues to celebrate the beautiful, often exotic skins and full-grain leathers, all made by hand in Belgium and France.

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‘Le Brilliant’ Bag

For those who like their handbag to keep everyone guessing, the allure of a subtle aesthetic is where smaller heritage brands excel. For them, discreet luxury comes naturally.

Delvaux is one such leather house, which has managed to stay under-the-radar and maintain an element of mystique. It is the oldest leather goods brand in the world, having started making handbags and small leather goods as far back as 1829.

At the Bond Street store, which opened last year, Delvaux’s Artistic Director, Christina Zeller is buzzing about the place. A tall, striking blonde, today she is dressed in a white shirt and long cut-off denim shorts. An impressive white Perspex necklace, covering most of her neckline and upper chest completes her look.

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Zeller joined Delvaux at the end of 2011, having previously worked at Karl Lagerfeld, Lacroix, Lanvin and with Riccardo Tisci at Givenchy. The first thing she points out is that she is a businesswoman, not a designer, but she knows exactly how a handbag should look and function.

For Zeller, it’s the little things that count – from the way a bag opens, to a pop of colour or the slight repositioning of a shoulder strap. By refreshing (as opposed to producing new designs each season), each bag remains true to quality, just like a finely tuned Jaguar car. This level of craftsmanship also ensures that each Delvaux design is as exquisitely luxurious inside as it is out. The entirely hand-made process takes between six and 25 hours to make.

No sooner do I blink and Zeller has picked a white ‘Le Brilliant’, one of Delvaux’s most iconic designs, off a shelf. First designed by an architect in 1957, Le Brilliant is composed of 64 pieces and this season features a soft rubber clasp. She then shows me how proportions and fine detailing can transport this classic design from one season to the next. “If you imagine the clasp in gold or silver, it’s an entirely different bag,” she says.

As for Zeller’s part in driving sales she adds: “My challenge is to help reinvent Delvaux, not destroy its past but to bring modernity and irreverence. We don’t make ‘It Bags’, we create a beautiful classic product that can seduce both young and old.”

This may be an old brand but it is up with the times. Recently it has embraced social media, Instagram especially, which is proving successful in reaching a younger audience. And, as if right on cue, a young woman wearing jeans and Stan Smith trainers steps in front of one of the store’s full-length mirrors and tries on a tan-coloured cross shoulder ‘Madam’ bag. “See!” says Zeller, tilting her head in the woman’s direction.

But younger doesn’t necessarily mean trend-led. “We are not a fashion brand that has to constantly churn out new pieces. We are a leather goods company with the luxury of having time on our sides. If we decide we are not happy with something and want to keep working on it indefinitely then that’s what we do.”

 

Bond’s Best

Hermès Limited Edition ‘Dans Un Jardin Anglais’ silk scarf 

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From Grace Kelly to Audrey Hepburn, even Her Majesty The Queen, the Hermès scarf or carré, as it is properly called, is worn by style icons the world over. To coincide with its newly renovated Bond Street flagship, the French heritage brand has launched a limited edition of silk scarves and ties including this painterly take on an English garden (£310) by Alice Shirley. In addition to creating prints here, the British illustrator who graduated in fine art from Central St Martins in 2007, also writes and illustrates her own children’s books.

The original Hermès flagship first opened in 1975 on the ground floor of the iconic Time & Life building. The latest refurbishment doubles the original space to encompass two storeys. Architectural highlights include the sweeping Italian staircase and the “home universe” space. The latter houses the home and furniture collections in a chic apartment-like setting. French doors open out onto a private inner garden, which features Henry Moore’s ‘Draped Reclining Figure’ sculpture. It is the first time that this original masterpiece has been on view to the public. Feast your eyes on it!

Hermès, 155 Bond Street.

Bond’s Best

LONGCHAMP’S LE PLIAGE HÉRITAGE BAG

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As far as feelgood factors go, Longchamp’s neon yellow heritage bag is on a par with seeing spring’s first crop of daffodils. The signature design, which forms part of the new spring/summer 2015 collection, boasts curved handles, a side strap and is available in two sizes; small (£660) or large (£770).

The French luxury label has also produced a short film to mark the launch. Click here to see Alexa Chung, brand ambassador and stylish girl about town, marching around the rooftop of MAMO, Centre d’art de la Cité Radieuse in Marseille. Set against a backdrop of Daniel Buren artworks, Chung pairs heritage bags in a variety of eye-popping colours, with equally bold pieces from Longchamp’s spring ready-to-wear collection.

Longchamp 28 New Bond Street

 

The Q&A: AMANDA WAKELEY

Amanda Wakeley launched her eponymous womenswear label twenty-five years ago. Today, the former model-turned-designer has a brand new flagship at No.18 Albemarle Street. As for her Spring/Summer 2015 collection, think white – as in crisp white shirts, kimono jackets and plenty of soft tailoring. This is the woman who coined the phrase ‘clean glam’ after all.

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What is your earliest memory of fashion?

I had a very glamorous mother and I remember being fascinated by her wardrobe. At first I started to intuitively create clothes. My first piece was my costume for our school play when I was about nine-years old. I was barely tall enough to use the sewing machine and made my costume out of my mother’s cast off fabrics.

Are you self-taught or did you take the fashion school route?

I started to create my own clothes when I returned from the US because I couldn’t find the chic pieces I had fallen in love with in New York here in London. I started designing for myself but gradually my friends kept asking me to create one-off pieces for them and so it all started there. I have been self-taught right from the beginning and I have learnt many lessons along the way!

What makes you tick creatively? 

I always love to read inspiring coffee table books on design, interiors, architecture, travel and nature as well as fashion.

How has London shaped and inspired your work?

I love the diversity of London’s design scene but I think my inspiration comes more from nature than from the city.

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London, Paris, Milan or New York?

Whether you’re looking for a vintage piece from a stall in Portobello market, or you want to experience the luxury of shopping in a designer store – you can find pretty much anything in London. That’s what makes it so unique. I take a ‘London/cosmopolitan’ attitude towards my designs so even though London is the home of the brand I think the Wakeley woman definitely has an air of European glamour about her.

 Describe your new flagship on Albemarle Street.

My store is an absolute labour of love! I have always wanted to design the interior of my own store and create a homely, warm and inviting environment and have been lucky enough to do that here. I also wanted to fuse some of the inherent architectural features of this beautiful two-storey townhouse with a modern touch to create a mood that is both timeless and current. I love so many parts of the store from the bespoke draped chain chandelier to the petrified wooden sink – it’s hard to pick just one.

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Where are your favourite hangouts?

I often hold meetings at Brown’s Hotel, opposite my store. You always receive the most amazing, impeccable and charming service there. I love people watching at Scotts, or for an intimate cocktail I’ll head to The Fumoir at Claridges.

How essential is a basic white shirt in a woman’s wardrobe?

I always have white shirts that feature in each of my collections. There is nothing better than a perfectly crisp white shirt and every woman should own at least one.

Bond’s Best

La Perla’s Pizzo Lace Bodysuit

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What girl wouldn’t want to discover this lacy little number in her stocking this Christmas? Crafted from the finest Italian lace and lightly boned for extra support by seamstresses in Bologna, La Perla’s luxe bodysuit (£484) is too good to keep covered up. Wear it peeking out from underneath your tux jacket during the party season and you’ll be right on fashion’s lingerie-as-outwear trend.

Other frilly delights such as the new Filigrane bra (£6,500) and matching briefs (£1,300), which are embroidered with gold macramé yarns can also be found at the lingerie specialist’s new Bond Street flagship. Set over three levels it features an entire floor dedicated to its newly launched VIP Made-to-Measure service. Here, each piece can be viewed in complete privacy from behind a swish sliding door. Sorry, no peeking here!

La Perla, 9, Old Bond Street