Lyle & Scott’s heritage key to enduring appeal

HERITAGE is in vogue as the iconic brand celebrates 140 years of classic designs

Lyle & Scott has evolved and navigated its way through so many different eras and owned so many styles

WHEN William Lyle and Walter Scott set up their namesake company in Hawick in the Borders in 1874, their aim was to produce unshrinkable woollen underwear for Victorian Britain. Such was their success in clothing the nation’s nethers that by 1926 the company was expanding into women’s outerwear and the first of their legendary sweaters were born. Men’s designs followed, especially golfwear, which took on a life beyond the country’s links courses and by the end of the 20th century, were picked up as cool streetwear. Now the company celebrates 140 years with an anniversary capsule collection launched this month that knits together the various strands that go to make it one of Britain’s most iconic brands.

Carolyn Massey, head of design, product development and technology who joined the firm in 2012, says: “The brand has a fantastic archive which felt undiscovered and totally untapped, but is something that now plays an essential role in design research. Located in our head office in Selkirk, we consistently reference it for inspiration and I am very privileged to have the opportunity to rifle through such history every season. Lyle & Scott has evolved and navigated its way through so many different eras and ‘owned’ so many styles that it gives us a great licence today to be creative.”

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Archive highlights include Christian Dior designs from the 1954 women’s cashmere sweater collaboration and the 1967 Golf Wear range that saw the likes of Gary Player, Sandy Lyle, Bob Hope and Ronnie Corbett all sporting the new golden eagle logo on their woollies. Such was the success of the golfing styles, that by 1986 Greg Norman was wearing a grey and yellow Lyle & Scott colour block knit to swing his way to the Open title at Turnberry. Then in the 1980s the brand took to the streets when it was adopted by style-conscious “casuals” and its further spread across youth culture through the music scene was assured when unofficial ambassadors such as Pete Doherty and the Arctic Monkeys gave the brand street cred in the Noughties and beyond.

'Casuals' adopted Lyle & Scott in the 1908s. Picture: David Corio

Today’s limited edition 140 Made in Britain Collection references classic designs from Lyle & Scott’s history, reworked in a contemporary way, with slim-fitting, silhouetted polo shirts and sweaters that echo the golf-inspired palette. This summer’s collection included retro tops that harked back to the bright underwear of the 1970s, remembered in particular by Hawick-based Alistair Butler. As well as working for Lyle & Scott for 35 years in production management, the 61-year-old’s duties included an impromptu stint as underwear model, his chief memory of the shoot being “embarrassment”.

Bright and bold was always intrinsic to Lyle & Scott, and this vibrant colour palette attracted fans throughout the decades, with customers from the US to Asia. With jumpers made in Hawick from wool spun in Derbyshire, and polo tops made in the north west of England, the brand has a loyal following including everyone from golfers to casuals, clubbers and women borrowing their man’s jumper, and even royalty – it has a royal warrant from the Duke of Edinburgh.

“We have a strong identity that a range of consumers connect with for a variety of reasons,” says Massey. “Our Instagram is real testament to this, illustrating all the ‘style tribes’ that buy into the brand and the way in which they wear our product. I now find people in the most unlikely places wearing the brand and see it styled in such a variety of ways. There is a lot of love for it.”

Massey particularly appreciates the 1950s knitwear styles the company developed, for the elegance and simplicity that gave them a timeless quality. “Be that the womenswear or menswear, or even the designs that Christian Dior did for the brand, the designs were so advanced they could be worn today,” she says. And many of them are, as classic colours and styles come back season after season. The polo shirt, their best-selling product, was introduced in 1952 and was reworked this summer to replicate the 1960s fit, while the V-necked lambswool pullover that originated as the ‘Melrose’ in 1963 has featured every season since.

Just as the 140 Made in Britain Collection celebrates the brand’s heritage by using its original L&S Ltd logo, contemporary aesthetics and seasonal trends are added to each of the collections to keep them innovative.

“We have established an incredibly strong UK, Europe and Asia sales base and we are now focusing on being totally worldwide to continue this success,” says Massey.

Golfwear, jumpers, polo tops and coats, with all of its outerwear proving such a global hit, Lyle & Scott is considering a potential return to underwear. Could those 1970s budgie smugglers be about to burst their way out of the archive once more?

Twitter: @JanetChristie2