Sunday, 18 November 2012

Tartan History and Trend Formation

Autumn-Winter Season 2012-2013 is overwhelmed with tartan pieces. The story of tartan goes all the way back to 18th century and originally gets associated with Scottish and Gaelic Culture. There has always been a particular interest in dress making and design to tartan pattern, and I would like to touch upon presence of tartan in current sub-cultures and show why this pattern still stays popular over 50 years.

Historical and Cultural Influences. 
Tartan is a fashion chameleon: it is preppy and rebellious.Tartan (plaid) became popular in the 60’s, but the biggest push it got in the 70’s with the emergence of punk fashion. Punks of 70’s were wearing tartan as a “protest to fashion” but the fabrics itself could be seen in the media too. The paradox of tartan is its mystical power over luxury designers and fashion rebels. 

70’s: Roots of Punk Culture
Punk culture itself is defiantly interesting topic to talk in the fashion perspective. Why? Because punk culture initiated as a protest against society, protest against fashion and became fashion itself.Punk was an early manifestation of deconstructionist fashion, which emerged in UK in the early 70’s.  The mother of punk is Vivienne Westwood who appears to be one of the biggest fashion influential figures. Punks chose tartan as one of their attributes in the 70’s but wide recognition it got in the 80‘s and 90‘s with the launch of Vivienne Westwood brand and growth of the culture itself. Across the ocean, the main influential on punk culture was Andy Warhol. His pop-art, acid colors and Velvet Underground definitely added some weight to how punks dressed. And how can we forget Edie Sedgwick? Her style is not exactly a punk-diva, but she has that rebellious charm that makes every outfit a defiance. 
Key Figures: Andy Warhol, Velvet Underground, Edie Sedgwick, Sex Pistols, Vivienne Westwood, the Ramones, Sid Vicious. 

90’s Grunge: 
I personally find it interesting how such a short lived movement in music made such a huge influence on fashion. 90’s fashion is very similar to 70’s in terms of trend denial and fashion opposition. It is, again, very fascinating how “NO” becomes “YES, PLEASE!”. Tartan got a lot of attention, but transformed into a lighter version - plaid. Grunge as music was short-lived, but we cannot underestimate its influence on the fashion world. Autumn/Winter 2012 brought us layering, awkwardness, quirkiness and androgyny of the 90’s and tartan is one of the key pieces to stay cool without really trying. 
Key Figures: Nirvana, Kurt Cobain, Courtney Love, Kate Moss, Johnny Depp, Erin Wasson. 

Designer Affairs
Tartan has always been a part of Fall-Winter trend for past 30 years at least. It was transformed and enlightened, changed the color and fabrics, but still was clearly distinguished and marked as a “tartan trend”. It is no surprise designers took the full advantage of such a noticeable and fun print. The designers that I want to talk about, have very special relationship with it, which goes beyond the trend. These people are Lee McQueen and Vivienne Westwood. There is some resemblance between them: both were named as “punks of the fashion world” and both got inspiration from historical costume design and patten making. The main difference between them is that Lee McQueen was more of the introvert of fashion: his ideas were coming from his own impressions and dreams that he wanted to transfer to the audience by clothes. Unlike McQueen, Vivienne’s designs are extravert: they have very strong historical references with adaption to modern fashion and punk edge. 

Alexander McQueen: Highland Rape Autumn-Winter 1995-1996 & Widows of Culloden, Autumn-Winter 2007-2007
A tartan of McQueen's own design, appears in several of his collections. For McQueen, tartan—the visual signifier of clanship throughout Scottish history—was a reference to his own Scottish heritage as well as to Scotland's turbulent political history. McQueen intended the term "rape" to signify the nineteenth-century "rape" of the Scottish Highlands by profit-driven English landlords. For the show, the runway was covered in heather and bracken, and many of the outfits, made in McQueen tartan, referenced nineteenth-century bodice shapes. In the breast-exposing, tartan-trimmed jackets and figure-hugging tartan bodices topped with "decimated" lace, McQueen's tailoring expressed the barbarism meted out to the fragile Highland way of life and its ecology.

McQueen tartan reappears in his later collection Widows of Culloden (autumn/winter 2006–7). Here he revisited the earlier anger of Highland Rape, referencing the doomed Jacobite Rebellion that ended on the bloody field of Culloden, as well as more recent conflicts such as World War II—some models wore battle dress jackets with model Spitfire airplanes in their hair.McQueen used his tartan to suggest how the traditional dress of the Highlander had become commodified and Anglicized as fashion, a point he drove home by presenting in the same collection bustled Victorian ball gowns, 1940s suits and dresses, and skinny trouser suits all in McQueen tartan. (Jonathan Faiers, Reader in Fashion Theory at Winchester School of Art

Vivienne Westwood - Anarchy in the UK
She was a central figure in the London Punk movement in the mid 1970s and has gone from being a shop owner to the most influential figure in British Fashion. She was a centre of Punk culture establishment in the 70s, and there is no surprise to see a lot of tartan in her collections. Westwood drew a lot of international attention to British fabrics, including tartan, throughout her career and was awarded the Queen's Award for Export Achievement in 1998. Her own words: “I very much enjoy parody and this English sort of lifestyle ... and I really am in love with the fabrics”

Anglomania (Autumn/Winter 1993–94)
From the original description to the collection: Vivienne believes that fashion is a combination and exchange of ideas between France and England, “On the English side we have tailoring and an easy charm, on the French side that solidity of design and proportion that comes from never being satisfied because something can always become more refined.” Locharron Textile Mill in Scotland created a special tartan for Westwood called the 'McAndreas'', after Westwood's second husband and co-designer, Andreas Kronthaler. It was in this collection that Naomi Campbell, wearing a royal blue velvet jacket, tartan kilt, tam-o'-shanter and slippery cream rubber stockings, fell from her 10-inch, super-elevated, blue 'mock croc' platforms. 

Tartan in Vivienne's collections has a strong and consistent presence. It could be said, that tartan is her signature material. To back up my though, I analyzed all past collections from 2006 up to 2013, and there are always tartan pieces for Fall/Winter season and sometimes for Spring/Summer. It is not necessary to put them all up, but there are a few: 
Vivienne Westwood F/W'12 via

Vivienne Westwood Red Label F/W'11 via

Vivienne Westwood F/W2009 via
Where would the future take us?
Tartan trend has never been completely out, if you look at the past years collections. It became a Fall must, as military, leather or black. Of course, it gets through transformations and experiments, but having at least one tartan or plaid piece in a wardrobe is a must. I personally own a vintage tartan skirt that belonged to my grandmother. Over 50 years it stays as current as it was in the early 70s. Generally, tartan gets associated with the Fall, because it’s a very rich and somehow heavy print, but designers love breaking fashion stereotypes. Tartan smoothly moved into Spring/Summer 2013 and got brighter in color, lighter in fabrics and and lost some threads. Next season, we will see a renovated tartan with a mix of classics: some designers stick to the original print, but the majority transformed it into checks and crossed lines to make it more futuristic. When in comes to the cultural influences, the preppy side of tartan gets exposed: pay attention to 60s inspired pieces in bright colours. 
Cacharel S/S'13 via
Marni S/S'13 via
Topshop Unique S/S'13 via
Marc by Marc Jacobs S/S'13 via
Dries Van Noten S/S'13 via