Mrs Mac is back

It is a design classic that has never been bettered and it was born in Scotland. The Mackintosh, to give the raincoat its Sunday name, was pioneered by Charles Macintosh, a Scottish chemist who experimented with ammonia during the course of his endeavours to find a way to make rubber pliable in 1822.

Fortunately for the modern guardians of his technique, the eminent scientist decided that naphthalene, a by-product of coal tar, was a better and less smelly option to soften rubber, so he went with that. And, while the technology might be 180 years old, it is still used to make the classic mac product beloved of designers the world over.

Alistair Porteous of the Cumbernauld-based company, Traditional Weatherwear, reels off a client list containing what seems like every designer you have ever heard of. "We deal with Gucci, Hermes, Louis Vuitton and Yves Saint Laurent, as well as making pieces for our own label which is simply called Mackintosh."

It is clear that the appeal of the mac has not been damaged by the passage of time.

Famous mac-wearers include style gurus such as Audrey Hepburn, who was the epitome of elegance in Breakfast At Tiffany’s. OK, Columbo wore one as well, but let’s not dwell on that. Traditional Weatherwear has only been going since 1974, but company’s workers follow Macintosh’s historic formula to the letter.

It takes four years to learn how to create a Mackintosh from beginning to end. Garments are hand-stitched before seams are taped over with thin strips of fabric to ensure they are completely waterproof.

There are many imitations. Modern macs are made from everything from polyurethane laminates, to patent PVC, industrial-strength nylon and tactile microfibre.

For those who have managed to get through life without a mac, so far, or confirmed mac-wearers whose current raincoat is on its last legs, this weekend Traditional Weatherwear is holding its first factory sale in five years. Porteous says: "The bottom line is that we are expanding and we need to create some factory space. We have a joint venture with a company in Tokyo and we are opening in London, too, so we really need the space."

The Cumbernauld factory produces 18,500 garments a week and has diversified into luggage and accessories such as hats. The workers in Scotland specialise in hand-made products and the managing director of the company sees it as more Hermes than Burberry - that’s to say, dedicated to a niche product with high retail prices and high margins, rather than aiming for fashion mainstream.

And if the majority of fashion-conscious Scots don’t realise that such luxury garments are being produced in Cumbernauld then that’s all right, too.

The traditional style remains a classic buy, chosen mostly by the kind of man who replaces items in his wardrobe rather than innovates. Throughout his entire life he will always own a wax cotton jacket, a blue blazer and a mac.

However, the actual growth in the mac market in recent years has been led by women.

Porteous says: "We now have many different shapes and colours and these are to satisfy women who want to have choice. The traditional mac has a raglan sleeve, but the new designs have a much narrower silhouette. Some women find the original look too bulky and roomy for their tastes."

So, what of the bargains? According to Porteous this is the weekend to buy one.

The traditional Mackintosh coats, which normally sell for 350 in department stores such as Selfridges and Jenners, will be on offer for around half price at 175. Quilted jackets, so beloved of Italians in sunglasses at football matches, will be sold for 15, a considerable reduction from the normal 100 price tag. Mackintosh bags to match the coats will be priced at 30, down from 95, and there will be a selection of wool coats, which normally retail for 295, marked down to 80.

Is the mac back? Actually, it’s never been away.

The designer rainwear factory sale will be held in Cumbernauld tomorrow at 10a Blairlinn Industrial Estate, between 10am and 3pm, and also in the George Suite of The Roxburghe Hotel in Edinburgh on Sunday, between 11am and 4pm.

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