A gang of Scottish creatives have banded together to tell their story during New York’s Tartan Week. By Gaby Soutar
Haggis may be banned in the USA, but other Scottish exports and expats are more than welcome, which is just as well for New York’s 17th annual Tartan Week, which kicks off on National Tartan Day, on Monday.
It’s packed with traditional Scotophile events, such as a ceilidh, folk singing and a St Andrew’s Society Pub Crawl. However, this year we’re also being represented by a group who are promoting a more contemporary, anti-Brigadoon perspective.
Those selling Scotland to the Yanks include blogger, Instagrammer, author and general authority on all things Scottish and chic, Gordon Millar of Scot Street Style; brand manager of Edinburgh-based tailor Walker Slater, Vixy Rae; LS (Location Scotland) director Marie Owen; Aoife Behan and Carol Soutar of food event innovators Jelly & Gin, as well as creative director of Harris Tweed Hebrides, Mark Hogarth.
They’ll all be moving, shaking and making contacts across the pond over the course of the week, before they come together for The Gathering, organised by Millar, who also manages to work full time as a nurse. It takes place on the evening of 10 April, at a Brooklyn bar called Kinfolk90, where there will be an invite-only showcase of all things Scottish for local creatives and ex-pats.
Let’s hope the gang won’t be too hungover the next day, when they’ll be taking part in the Tartan Day Parade on 6th Avenue. Most of the group will be wearing a piece in the 5 Boroughs Tweed – designed by Walker Slater and inspired by the girders used to construct the city – with Millar in a military style-jacket as he waves a flag emblazoned with his logo, Onward!.
Marie Owen, director of LS (Location Scotland), 39, Edinburgh
“As a company, visiting New York is a real opportunity. The world’s eyes are on Scotland for heritage reasons, like tartan and family trees, but we’ve got involved because we want to highlight other things.
I met Gordon last year, and LS helped support the most recent Gathering in Glasgow. I’ve got an office in NYC, and contacts, so we thought we could help him realise the dream of bringing one to New York.
Of course we’ll be taking part in the parade. I’ve had tartan trousers made by Walker Slater in a proper Rod Stewart traditional bright red tartan.
The visit is about building up our contacts and awareness, so we’ll do lots of focused media, sales meetings and chat to a lot of people. Everyone I speak to in the US has a warm affiliation to Scotland, though what they know can be different from person to person. If I say I’m from Scotland they always say wow you’re so lucky, and if I mention Edinburgh they’ll say they’ve always wanted to go there.
We have such a strong identity considering our size.
As far as locations go, they might not initially think beyond the Highlands, but that’s what they’re drawn to because it’s so different to what they have. As a company we’ll celebrate how amazing Glencoe is, or the Culllin in Skye or other powerful, epic landscapes but we tell them about loads of other things, like Georgian architecture or beaches in East Lothian, modern structures, interesting streets and different kinds of stone that the houses are made from, and that Edinburgh is a thriving city but so is Glasgow, so is Inverness. It’s like an educational trip every time we go.”
Aoife Behan, event director, Jelly & Gin, 39, Edinburgh
“Carol and I are going to NYC with VisitScotland as part of the Year of Food and Drink, for an event at the Highlands restaurant called Eat Scotland an Edible Exhibition on Wednesday, and with LS and Gordon as part of the Gathering.
There are challenges when it comes to going to the US with food, so we’ve had to rein in our ideas. Hopefully we won’t have any problems at customs and things won’t get damaged. Although we’ve sent over half of the pieces, the other half are coming in our suitcases.
We focused on the Nordic aspects of the food culture here – how rich the landscape is in terms of all the natural resources.
After working with a chocolatier and a confectioner, we’ve commissioned moulds made using a 3D printer, so are bringing some edible mountains across based on Glencoe’s Buachaille Etive Mor. They’re filled with hazel because it’s an indigenous native tree in Scotland. There will also be some lollipops containing herbs, which will be displayed in lightboxes, and savoury canapes made using Mara seaweed. As far as we can do we’re bringing over Scottish produce, but there will be no haggis and no tartan. Everything will be eaten, even though we’ll be presenting the food on plinths, like you’d find in an exhibition.
We have some sensory elements too – we recorded the sound of whisky making in a Jura distillery last year so we’re bringing that along with us so people will get to taste a dram of whisky while listening to a soundscape.
We want to make connections with other businesses over there and do things internationally, because we think there’s a market for the kind of stuff that we’re doing.”
Gordon Millar of Scot Street Style, 45, Edinburgh
“Scot Street Style just blew up very quickly, as there was an appetite to be part of something. We hold gatherings in Scotland – Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dundee – and in the back of my mind I always dreamed of doing one in NYC.
The lovely people at LS (Location Scotland) got on board, as Marie and I share a passion to put Scotland on the map and draw the eyes of the world to the innovators that we have in this land. Last year we had the Commonwealth Games and the Referendum, so there’s all this post-referendum energy floating about and I want to channel it and focus on the skills and talents that we have and export them around the world.
We had a gathering in January in preparation for the visit and Walker Slater got involved. I was wearing a vintage military jacket and they kindly offered to make a replica of it out of Harris Tweed for me to wear in NYC. We have had so much interest in The Gathering that we’ve had to make it invite-only, a wonderful problem to have.
I love NYC and the US – there’s a strong sense of ancestry. Americans are very proud to tell you about their love of Scotland. I think historically we have a sense of inferiority, but that perception of us doesn’t exist around the globe – as soon as you open your mouth people love your accent.
There is more to us than the traditional perception of Scotland and I think they’re embracing it over there.
The best outcome of the visit would be to get people talking about Scottish textiles, design, creatives, production, jewellery, fashion, style and creativity, and to come and see Scotland and work with the people here.”