Since 1797 Johnstons of Elgin has been creating some of the world’s finest cashmere and woolen cloths. And Since 2012 Wingtip has been proud to work with Johnstons on select products in our emerging Gentleman’s Basics line, namely, the black cashmere turtleneck sweater [below left] and the navy v-neck cashmere sweater. We got in touch with Johnstons of Elgin’s Managing Director of Knitwear, Nick Bannerman, to discuss the company’s heritage, adaptations to the shifting marketplace, and their recent recognition in the form of a Royal Warrant from His Royal Majesty, the Prince of Wales.
Could you explain the concept of the Royal Warrant? Who gives them out, to who, and what does it signify?
The Royal Warrant Holders Association was established in 1840 and represents individuals and companies holding Royal Warrants of Appointment. These are a mark of recognition of those who have supplied goods or services for at least five years to the Households of HM The Queen, HRH The Duke of Edinburgh or HRH The Prince of Wales. Royal Warrants have always been regarded as demonstrating service, quality and excellence, and are highly prized. There are around 800 Royal Warrant holders, representing a cross-section of trade and industry ranging from traditional craftspeople to global multinationals operating at the cutting edge of technology. Regardless of size or specialisation, Royal Warrant holders are united by their commitment to the highest standards of service, quality and excellence. See www.royalwarrant.org
What does the idea of luxury Scottish textile mean to someone from the UK versus someone in the United States or even Japan?
In our view the US and Japan place more emphasis on the importance of luxury heritage textiles from Scotland. The taste levels in the UK market can be varied and certain categories of consumers are less inclined to put great store in where a product is made compared to overseas consumers. Being so close geographically perhaps lends itself to a slight complacency as well. The UK thinks of tartan and not always favourably when luxury is mentioned, as they don’t always see the two as appropriate bedfellows, whereas the US and Japan have an interest and passion for the heritage of Scotland and how tartan weaves itself through the luxury offering we produce.
What can you tell us about the Fall/Winter 2013 plaid designs that Johnstons created for Patrick Grant’s E Tautz label?
The AW 2013 collection [example at left] took its inspiration from the Johnstons cloth archive and the heritage of Scottish tartans. We transferred the vintage cloths into heavy weight wools, to which we added a contemporary twist by over-sizing the checks and livening up the grey muted story with punchy overchecks in bright orange and aubergine. Compacted wools were made even heavier by the addition of fancy floats. Geometric plaids with complex hair lines provided a busy foil for the more classic and spacious giant tartans. The qualities were milled in finishing to enhance the weight and sculptural properties of the fabrics, in turn allowing for the architectural looks as seen on the catwalk by E Tautz.
In addition to everything else, you opened a new vistor’s center recently. What can tourists expect from a visit there?
We’ve had a visitor centre in Elgin for many years, and opened our new centre in Hawick last May, transforming the front of the ground floor of our factory into a Johnstons shop selling our cashmere and fine woolens, including jacketing and home interiors items plus a children’s section. We also have a small theatre showing our company DVD, shich is fabulous. From here visitors start their guided tour of the factory to see our cashmere knits being made by our staff and have the chance to see, firsthand, exactly how we make our wonderful knitwear with staff always happy to answer questions from visitors. We also boast the “Eastfield Cafe,” where delicious hime baking coffees, and lunches are served in our five star visitor attraction as granted by Visit Scotland.
Visitors to Scotland can find more information about visiting Johnstons at their website.
Cheers to Nick Bannerman and Jenny Stewart at Johnstons of Elgin for taking their time to work on this interview.