Scotland's biggest celebration of tartan unveiled at V&A Dundee

It spans six centuries and embraces everything from the Tartan Army, Doddie Weir and Eilish McColgan to Bonnie Prince Charlie, Sir Billy Connolly and the Bay City Rollers.

Cutting-edge fashion designs, battlefield artefacts, musical instruments, underwear and political badges are all featuring in Scotland’s most extensive celebration of tartan.

The V&A Dundee exhibition, which opens on Saturday, explores its global impact, how the pattern and textile has been adopted by the rich, famous and rebellious, and tartan’s evolution as a symbol of Scottishness.

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More than 300 objects have been brought together from around the world, including loans from members of the public who responded to an appeal for personal memorabilia. These include a Tartan Army scarf from Scotland’s ill-fated trip to the 1978 World Cup in Argentina and a pair of tartan trousers home-made by a Bay City Rollers fan.

Classic tartan pieces by Chanel, Dior, Vivienne Westwood and Alexander McQueen can be seen alongside work by contemporary designers like Grace Wales Bonner, Nicholas Daley, Louise Gray, Charles Jeffrey, Owen Snaith and Olubiyi Thomas.

Highlights of the exhibition include portraits of the Scottish Hollywood and Broadway star Alan Cumming and the late rugby legend Weir, the tartan kilt worn by McColgan at the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham last year, and one of Sir Jackie Stewart’s tartan racing helmets.

Some of the most historic objects on display include a fragment of woollen textile recently identified as “Scotland’s oldest tartan”, which is said to date as far back as 1500, an outfit worn by Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor, in the early 1960s, a kilt worn by Private James Calder, of the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders, in the First World War, and tiny fragments of tartan believed to have been worn by Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745.

Among the more unusual exhibits are a tartan-covered Xbox controller by designer Gordon Nicolson and kiltmaker Helen McDermott, a spoof tartan phone box created by artist Michael Sanders and a Hillman Imp car made at the Linwood car plant, near Paisley, in the 1970s.

V&A Dundee's new exhibition Tartan runs from 1 April till 14 January. Picture: Michael McGurkV&A Dundee's new exhibition Tartan runs from 1 April till 14 January. Picture: Michael McGurk
V&A Dundee's new exhibition Tartan runs from 1 April till 14 January. Picture: Michael McGurk

Film footage includes clips from the classic 1945 romantic drama I Know Where I’m Going!, which is set on a Hebridean island, and the National Theatre of Scotland stage play Black Watch, which premiered in 2006.

Sir Billy and Cumming are among the stars who have been interviewed for the exhibition, which will coincide with the museum’s fifth anniversary in September and run until January. Curator James Wylie said: “Tartan is a material, a pattern and a textile that we all ascribe our own meanings, commemorations and celebrations to, weaving in our own stories of identity.

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“We cover a very broad spectrum of creativity at V&A Dundee and we really wanted to capture that. We think it will have something for everyone and we have also deliberately tried to break down any hierarchies.

"Every object is part of the story of tartan, which has never really gone out of fashion, but we’ve tried to group them in themes rather than tell that story chronologically to conjure up curiosity and connections.

"I think a lot of Scots will come in expecting what to see and will have their expectations confounded, while international visitors will be amazed by the creativity tartan has inspired.”



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