In a secret green space off of Edinburgh’s Grassmarket, Paul Walker’s studio is packed with tweeds of every imaginable pattern, colour and texture.
The Walker Slater founder and designer thinks the hand-loomed textile can become as diverse a fabric as the Italian denim.
“Tweed is almost becoming the denim of Scotland. The Italian’s do denim very well and Scots do tweed very well,” he says.
Traditional Harris tweed lends colours from the countryside – mossy greens, ocean blues and rugged mountainous browns are on every rail in Walker Slater’s two Edinburgh stores.
Aesthetics to the side for a moment, Paul remarks how tweed is equally functional and beautiful.
“It’s warm, it’s water repellant and it’s carelessly elegant,” he says.
Paul and business partner Frances Slater – a textile designer from Edinburgh – came together to “produce a melange of textiles, a partnership that you know now to be Walker Slater.
Originally working from the Highlands, he helped focus their efforts into tweed.
He recalls: “There was a realisation we had a great resource on our doorstep that wasn’t being utilised.
“I remember going down to the Borders and seeing some of the old Gardener’s fabrics – Gardeners was a mill at the time – and thinking ‘Whoa! These are fantastic’.
“We started making jacketing and it all moved forward from there.”
Borders tweed is generally much lighter a fabric than its Harris counterpart, and the pliable fabric led Paul and Frances to create their first three-piece suit.
Their range of clothing for men and women showcases the versatility of tweed, breathing new life and contemporary relevance into the cloth traditionally associated with country estates and hunting parties.
Milan, Rome, London, Paris and New York designers are all embracing Scottish tweed. Between 2009 and 2012, Scottish tweed output shot up from 450,000 meters to one million meters. Much of this global interest can be linked back to Scotland, designers like Walker Slater and the tweed industry’s own drive to stay relevant.
“The mills on Harris and in the Borders have done well getting the message out to the big players [in fashion] with a product they can buy into,” he says, adding “they buy in to a bit of Scotland with it.”
Walker Slater has enjoyed a boost from several high-profile collaborations with the Ryder Cup, Scottish Football and the Scottish Rugby Union teams, tailoring unique wardrobes for our national sides with homespun cloth.
Paul repeatedly exalts tweed’s rich colours and textures, but he also draws attention to some of its lesser-known charms: “There are things about tweed that you maybe wouldn’t expect.
“As a fabric and as a way of life it has a tremendous heritage. It’s protected by an act of parliament and specific to a sometimes-forgotten region of Scotland. Having been up there, you realise how important it is to the local economy and how it fits in to the way of life there.”
“Sometimes we’ve been notified a delivery might be late due to the good weather allowing Peat cutting to take place. The weavers go outside and cut their Peat for the next winter, so it has this human touch to it.”
Walker Slater designs set out to challenge the traditional tweed ensemble to keep the fabric relevant with modern fashion trends. Of all his experimenting with the cloth, the lavish three-piece suit holds a special place in their history and development.
“We tried a lot of things – the development through from the really heavy tweeds where it didn’t work, right through to the Borders tweed using fine mixes of wool, cashmere and cotton, developing something that was very wearable in the daytime and for evening wear.”
“We keep to trends that help tweed maintain relevance with shapes and fits that fit in with our ethos which is ‘careless elegance’.
“Careless elegance is something which is really important, not a contrived look – you can pull it together, you can mix it up. and that’s where it becomes a bit rock and roll as well.”
- Walker Slater Menswear and Womenswear stores can be found on Victoria Street, Edinburgh.