Herringbone Hellenism: Tweed in S/S 2014
Along with gothic cathedrals, misty mornings in the highlands and the smell of coal fire, I have always found there to be something enduringly romantic about tweed. This does at first seem ironic, considering that it rose to popularity as a durable, distinctly un-romantic solution for damp Edwardian shooting parties however, when you recognise that contemporary fashion's love affair with the fabric stems itself from a romance, all becomes clear.
Hugh Grosvenor, second Duke of Westminster, met Gabrielle Chanel in Monaco in 1924. Their relationship would go on to last several years, and a great deal of this time was to be spent in and around the Scottish Highlands. Presumably as a result of her exposure to the Duke's Scottish wardrobe, Chanel began to incorporate Scottish materials into her work and, as the fashion house's history shows, went on to fall as deeply in love with the intricate irregularities of tweed as she had with the Duke.
The couple separated in 1930, but Chanel's affair with tweed enjoyed far greater longevity, leaving behind a legacy that included, amongst others, the iconic bouclé jacket. Even after her death in 1971, the Scottish influence endured, with Karl Lagerfeld regularly paying tribute from 1983 onwards.
My love of Chanel, coupled with my own love of tweed and their interwoven (pun definitely intended) history, meant the Paris Fashion Week: Chanel Ready To Wear S/S 2014 show in early October was particularly thrilling for me.
Tweed was everywhere! Magnificent and abundant in neon pink, black and white, and in a plethora of gorgeous shapes. Faithful classics (like the good old bouclé jacket) were craftily re-executed and rendered both modern and delicately erogenous with exposed midriffs, shoulders and backs.
The show took place in the midst of 75 Chanel-inspired artworks, all designed by Lagerfeld himself. Of the exhibition, he said 'Today there has to be a certain lightness and no pretension, and if you ask me, this is what it's all about', and the same could well be said for the action on the catwalk. Everything Lagerfeld offered us was light in a deft, playful manner, effortlessly cool as always and certainly lacking in pretension.
With feathery hems, oversized perspex pearl accessories and spacious silhouettes - everything just eccentric enough to be interesting but also intensely wearable (ironically something of a novelty in a ready-to-wear collection) - the whole event was an epic demonstration of Chanel and Lagerfeld's artistic ability, with more than a hundred looks gracing the 340 metre concrete catwalk.
How far things have come since Coco Chanel first began to experiment with tweed all the way back in 1924. But supposing she and the Duke had never met at the party in Monte Carlo, would Lagerfeld now be designing with completely different aesthetics and materials in mind? Quite possibly. Because even though there was tweed both before and after Chanel, which could quite possibly have been adopted as a medium by other equally competent designers, it takes a special sort of person to create an international something from a niche, national nothing.
As Chanel herself is famously supposed to have said,
'Everyone marries the Duke of Westminster. There are a lot of duchesses, but only one Coco Chanel.'
Just as now, there is only one Karl Lagerfeld. To whom we rightly say 'Bravo, sir.'