Museum celebrates 200 years of Pringle style

The museum's Georgina Ripley next to one of the exhibits. Picture: Neil Hanna
The museum's Georgina Ripley next to one of the exhibits. Picture: Neil Hanna
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FOR two centuries, it has helped shaped wardrobes, lead fashion trends and championed cutting-edge design.

Now the famous Scottish fashion name worn by sporting heroes, Hollywood stars and members of the Royal Family is to take centre stage in its own exhibition.

“They’ve always had a respected place in the fashion world”

James Robinson

The evolution of Pringle of Scotland – founded in the Borders town of Hawick exactly 200 years ago – into one of the world’s most influential knitwear brands is being celebrated at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.

The show offers the chance to trace changing fashion tastes through more than 60 garments brought together for the first time, including cardigans, sweaters, twin-sets, golfing outfits and a ski suit.

Visitors will be able to discover how the company has influenced the style of actresses Tilda Swinton, Grace Kelly and Sophia Loren, won favour as the official knitwear supplier to the Royal Family, and worked with artists such as David Shrigley and Douglas Gordon.

The show is being staged ahead of a dedicated fashion and style gallery opening at the museum next year.

The exhibition traces the development of the company from Robert Pringle’s original business selling luxurious knitted stockings and underwear to its post-war heyday, when the so-called “sweater girls” included Jean Simmons, Margaret Lockwood, Deborah Kerr, Grace Kelly and Brigitte Bardot.

Highlights include a cardigan given by Kelly to her daughter, a twin-set specially designed for Pringle by Swinton, and a sweater and cardigan which the Queen has agreed to loan to the museum.

Also featured are a Shetland wool coat from the 1940s, a set of “gentlemen’s silk and wool trunk drawers” from the 1920s, and a blue cashmere cardigan created by Austrian Otto Weisz, Pringle’s first full-time designer, who joined the company in 1934 and invented the twin-set.

Designers whose cutting-edge work for Pringle is showcased include Glasgow School of Art graduates Stuart Beaty and Wallace Shaw, who worked for Pringle in the 1960s, and Carol Douglas and Anne Davidson, two of the firm’s Scottish models who were hand-picked by the company to become “Pringle Girls”.

The exhibition, which runs from today until 16 August, features striking outfits worn by golfing stars such as Gloria Minoprio, who caused uproar at the English Women’s Championship in 1933 when she wore a sweater and trousers, a cardigan sold in Edinburgh’s famous Jenners department store in 1940, and archive film footage from a 1968 royal gala fashion show in London.

Alistair O’Neill, curator of the exhibition, said: “Most luxury brands operating today would kill to be able to trace themselves back as far as Pringle. At that point, a garment would be one of the costliest material things that you could own. What you wore was very much part of your identity. Pringle still very much believes in that.

“We are entering into a very interesting period when it comes to fashion exhibitions. They are becoming really important crowd-pullers. You only have to look at the success of the V&A’s Alexander McQueen show. People are finding fashion a very accessible form of material culture that they can relate to.”

James Robinson, keeper of art and design at the museum, said: “People may be surprised that we have an exhibition like this, but it’s great timing for us with the new fashion and style gallery opening next year. It really advertises that we are an authority in this whole world.

“The show is almost a case study for industrialisation and retail. Pringle has kept going and adapted according to the needs of the marketplace. They’ve always had a very respected place in the fashion world.”

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