The House of Bruar launches autumn fashion collection inspired by Harris and Lewis
They tell us about the newest range
The House of Bruar, near Blair Atholl, is an oasis on the A9.
As soon as you spot it, you know it’s time to pull in and visit their cafe, food hall and gift shop. Or, do some clothes shopping, should you be a fan of their particular brand of countryside style. Alongside brands including Barbour and Dubarry, they also offer their own range.
Since Mark and Linda Birkbeck founded The House of Bruar back in 1995, clothing was always the main focus, and now they’ve launched their latest AW22 collection, which was inspired by the islands of Harris and Lewis.
Mark Birkbeck and his son, the creative director, Tom Birkbeck, tell us about the range.
Who is your fashion customer?
TB: The House of Bruar customer is predominantly a more established female, but over the past decade our design and buying from leading UK brands has given us an extremely diverse customer base. We aren’t fashion led – however if fashion hits us, it’s a definite bonus.
We design clothing to suit so many different sizes, silhouettes and occasions – country to smart, field sports to walking the dogs. We also focus on natural fibres.
What were the inspirations behind the AW collection?
TB: It’s a paean to the traditions of Harris Tweed, the Isles of Harris and Lewis and the raw untouched nature of the landscape. Dark browns, deep greens and beiges of the moorlands and peat, rusts and browns of the beaten corrugated roofs across the island, the deep blues, sand and vibrant turquoises of the world famous beaches. All have inspired the new shades of British Tweeds, hand-woven Harris Tweeds and the colours of velvet, cashmere and lambswool.
We are really proud of our new Autumn Madras fabric, which is styled into a shirtwaister dress, shirt and a skirt. It is a brand new fabric which captures all the beauty and intricacies of tweed but in a beautiful floaty wool rich soft fabric – the colours that are woven through it match the landscape it was photographed in perfectly.
Other stand-out pieces are our Stretch Brushed Cotton Safari range and our new Italian linen. We’ve got a completely new design in the shape of Tweed Dungarees, which use beautiful gun club tweed in a comfortable, unique way. Our smarter chiffon shirts, dresses and skirts and the opulent velvets capture the depth of colour you can find in the landscape of the Outer Hebrides.
What were the exact AW shoot locations and were there any challenges?
TB: We visited the Harris Tweed Hebrides Mill, who we work with closely on cloth production, and the backdrop was all stages of the manufacturing process. Also featured is the restored settlement of the Gearrannan Blackhouses, with their traditional thatched roofs and stone work, the beaches of Dhail Beag and Dhail Mhor, and on a secondary shoot we visited Boat of Garten.
Bright sunshine is, for photography, as detrimental as wind and rain, and our time on Harris was described by a local chef, who was looking after us, as; “the only Maldives week Harris has ever seen, it normally rains or blows 360 days of the year”.
The ideal photographic conditions are slightly overcast with a touch of breeze to create movement in the fabric and hair. In the past 12 years, I can count on one hand the days with perfect conditions and we do 20 days of location photography a year.
There are always challenges because we choose to use the Scottish landscape as our backdrop. It’s one of the most stunning, inspirational and expressive countries in the world but also very harsh and raw.
Are there any staples that you bring back every year?
TB: Our Cheltenham and Shooting Coats in British Tweed, but each year they are reinvigorated in new colours. Our knitwear ranges of lambswool and cashmere, and our Brushed Tattersalls. Our core line basics are of such a good quality vs price they are the backbone of our business.
Do you get a lot of feedback?
MB: We are always seeking that personal interaction with our customers. Key to this is our mail order team. We receive daily comments from customers online, over the phone and via letter – and these will be given to the relevant departments who will respond.
Tom received a letter last year from a lady who bought a double breasted peacoat for her husband four or five years ago and she was looking for the same design in a new colour. He went out of his way to get an item made for the customer, because it matters to us.
We also receive a huge amount of feedback in the store on a daily basis, including the experience customers receive in store both good and bad. It allows us to improve.
Did you sell a lot of clothing online during lockdown?
MB: We really did. Customers were incredibly loyal and supportive, and we worked hard to provide everything despite the obvious challenges of the ever-changing situation – the likes of which the modern world hadn’t faced before. Having our online business and mail order capabilities was definitely our saving grace, in 2020 digital sales accounted for 70 per cent of turnover.
However, nothing beats the experience of a day out at the House of Bruar. We have built grouse butts in the centre of our departments, and have cherry blossom trees in our restaurant conservatory, antiques gracing our clothing and gift halls, an award winning delicatessen and foodhall, and a butchery that has won more prizes for its sausages and pies than we can count.
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