Born on the Isle of Lewis, Kirsty McDougall may have been destined to weave. Now her edgy tweeds are starring in the collections of the top fashion houses
WHEN Agyness Deyn sashayed down the catwalk for Henry Holland’s autumn/winter 2008 collection – all peroxide quiff, black eye patch, violet kilt suit and serious punk attitude – it marked the beginning of something quite special.
Then there was Holly Fulton’s AW 2011 collection, with its ‘Chanel on acid’ theme of yellow and black bouclé tweed featuring snakeskin, riveted leather and velvet ribbon.
Or how about this year’s classic gents’ brogues by Hudson, made using exquisite Harris tweed?
Holland, Holly and Hudson – as well as exacting customers like Tom Ford, Alexander McQueen and Pharrell Williams’ Billionaire Boys Club – all call on Kirsty McDougall when their designs demand a fabric that combines heritage and technology with a healthy dose of irreverence.
McDougall is one half of Dashing Tweeds – the other is dapper snapper Guy Hills – and together they picked up the textiles gong at the Scottish Fashion Awards this year. For McDougall, at least, the whole thing came as a complete surprise. “It was amazing,” she says. “I know everyone says this but I really didn’t think we’d win.
“I was a bit shocked, really. And though I haven’t lived in Scotland for about 12 years, there were a lot of people there I knew – I’ve worked with Holly Fulton and Louise Gray – so it was really nice to catch up with them.”
It’s possible 34-year-old McDougall was destined to weave. Born in Stornoway – the stronghold of Harris Tweed – though she moved away as a child and grew up in Dunkeld, Perthshire, she returned every year for summer holidays. “My parents had friends who were weavers so I was exposed to it from quite a young age,” she says, “and I recently found out my mum’s side of the family had quite a textile history as well.”
On her father’s side – a maths teacher – she has inherited his love of science, numbers and order. “There are quite complex numbers you have to deal with when you’re designing patterns. And you’re working within a framework that’s quite strict. Because I’m a really messy person, it’s quite good to be contained within that framework.
“In fact, the whole discussion between science and art now is quite interesting because I don’t think they should be as polarised as they are. At school you’re either arty or you’re good at science and maths, but for me weaving is quite a nice in-between thing. I work with quite a lot of scientists as well as designers.”
She studied first at Duncan of Jordanstone in Dundee, trying all the subjects – knitting, printmaking and the like. “But as soon as I started weaving and I saw this perfect thing emerging before my eyes and this system of threads moving up and down, it was quite mesmerising.”
She then moved to London, to do an MA at the Royal College of Art. “I was really interested in taste at that point and looking at irreverence; I wanted to create something that was on the edge of taste because I didn’t really have a lot of respect for things that were seen as ‘tasteful’. I was making big, mad jacquard fabrics.”
She was combining her freelance textiles work with being a buyer in a vintage shop when things gradually fell into place. First she met Emma Freud, who was with Jaeger at the time, and worked with her as well as picking up jobs with the likes of Louis Vuitton, Biba and Liberty.
Then came the meeting that was to kick-start Dashing Tweeds. “Guy actually came to my show at the Royal College,” says McDougall. “I didn’t meet him at the time, and someone on the stand next to me said, ‘A man in a mad suit left a card for you.’
“We have a shared love of colour, pattern, irreverence and humour but other than that we’re completely different. But that’s good, I think. And we’re very serious about our designs, how they’re manufactured, where they’re manufactured. We want there to be a real sense of integrity. I guess what we’re trying to do is look at heritage, but we’re really anti-nostalgia. We’re working with UK manufacture with reference to tweeds and worsteds and that kind of thing but we want to use new materials and make something that is relevant to the time we’re living in rather than a facsimile of a fabric from the past.”
With that in mind, they have developed a range of technologically advanced cycling tweeds, made by weaving reflective yarns into wool. “Both of us cycle and neither of us is a big fan of wearing Lycra or hi-viz tabards,” says McDougall. “If you can have something that’s integrated into the cloth that is reflective, that was what we were trying to achieve; something you didn’t need to change out of; it was more multi-functional.”
With the first ever London Collections: Men now under her belt, she has just finished a large hand-weave couture job for a big-name designer – one she won’t reveal, obviously – and is looking forward to more collaborations – with the film industry, with individual clients and with couture labels. “You feel a bit like the drummer in the band,” she laughs, “but you have to let the fabric go and see what people do with it.”
So whether it be rappers or wrapping up your dashing dog in a hand-made tweed, expect to see a lot more of this name in the future.
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