When people talk of tweed, what do you think of? An elderly country dweller in a scratchy jacket, or a middle-aged lady in a baggy skirt? Or even a 1980s flashback of a Sloane ranger clad in tweed and a velvet Alice band? Well, if that’s the case, I’d urge you to think again. These days, tweed has undergone something of a revival: far from being frumpy and reserved for wearing in the country, young British designers are bringing tweed back into fashion. Now it’s all about fitted tweed blazers or smart tweed and suede miniskirts, with perhaps a tweed-trimmed trilby to top it all off.
Of course, some might argue tweed has never gone out of fashion — it has simply developed a dowdy reputation. There’s a huge difference between a classic tweed Chanel suit and the tweeds you might wear to protect yourself from the elements on a day’s shooting. Some tweed has always been fashionable: the likes of Vivienne Westwood, Yves Saint Laurent and Gucci, as well as Chanel, have continuously embraced the fabric. And Ralph Lauren has made a fortune through his American impression of what an upper-class Brit ought to be wearing — which includes, of course, tweed. The new generation of tweed designers are proud to be British, though, using tweed made by traditional tweed weavers, and promoting British design and workmanship.
Jade Holland Cooper is the founder of the eponymous brand Holland Cooper, which specialises in tweed-based clothing. Despite having no background in either design or business, she saw there was ‘a huge gap in the market’ for tweed clothing tailored for the 21st century. There was simply nothing ‘cool’ on the market for young, country people to wear. ‘I couldn’t find anything myself which had a tailored cut and a heritage feel,’ she explains. So naturally, she decided to start up her own company, making clothes that she and her friends might want to buy themselves.
Why tweed? you might ask. ‘It’s a joy to work with,’ says Holland Cooper. ‘The quality of the fabrics is second to none — you just have to look at it to see that. The fabric is all woven in mills in Yorkshire and Scotland, too — mills that have been working for hundreds of years.’ This part of the tweed comeback is, in itself, a great success story. Many of the brands pride themselves on the fact that they use British tweed and, as a result, tweed mills are booming. Take Harris Tweed, for example. In 2016, 1.7 million metres of the fabric were produced, and the industry is estimated to be worth £11 million. Compare this with the fact that in 2009, only 455,000 metres were made. It isn’t just country folk who are embracing tweed, either. While tweed is still popular at race meetings or out shooting, some of its high-profile fans have helped it to gain popularity in town, too. The Duchess of Cambridge, for example, often wears smart tweed coats and suits on official engagements, and even hipsters have embraced the tweed jacket — albeit in more of an ironic way.
Womenswear designer Liberty Kelly is another Brit who has a love for tweed. Her tailored jackets are all made in the UK, and are popular with a young clientele. ‘People promoting British-made products and British fabrics have really brought the popularity of tweed to a head,’ she says. ‘The more contemporary designs work well with a younger audience, bringing back a stylish way of wearing a traditional fabric.’ And she agrees that the appeal of tweed stretches beyond the hunting, shooting and fishing crowd. ‘I would say that my clientele is actually split half and half between country and town people.’
Perhaps one thing that has helped tweed to attract a wider following is that these brands are using more colourful and exciting patterns, not just the muted greens and browns that were designed to provide camouflage on mountains and grouse moors. Nowadays, tweeds come in pinks and oranges — and black for town. Pale greens and houndstooth checks are popular, as are bold checks, which are proving a high street hit. It’s also the attention to detail that makes the look modern — a contrasting red suede collar, or gold buttons, for example, or a pale pink lining (designed to be seen, of course), which is a favourite at Liberty Kelly.
Young Brits making and wearing British design and manufacturing can be no bad thing, can it? ‘I want to promote products that are British-made,’ Holland Cooper says, ‘and there are not enough labels making original products in the UK. There’s a lot to be said for that.’