A Country Cloth…
With autumn bearing in, we ponder tweed: what it is, when to wear it and how and where to find it – with a little help from Andrew Musson of Andrew J Musson Ltd
Article by Adrian Peel
A heavy woollen fabric developed over centuries that has never really gone out of style in this country, tweed is regarded as an essential item of clothing for any true gentleman – especially one who enjoys traditional countryside pursuits such as hunting, shooting and fishing.
Designed and made so one can still cut a dashing figure in the harsh winter weather that seems to descend on our nation for much of the year, tweed is probably a more worthwhile investment for a UK resident (especially one who rarely travels abroad) than a linen suit.
The best known manufacturer is Harris Tweed – hand woven and based in the Outer Hebrides. In the Republic of Ireland, the centuries-old Donegal tweed is the epitome of quality by which all others are judged.
To discourage less bona fide firms from trying to pass off their inferior products as the real thing, The Harris Tweed Act of 1993 defines the brand as being “hand woven by the islanders at their homes in the Outer Hebrides, finished in the Outer Hebrides and made from pure virgin wool dyed and spun in the Outer Hebrides.” When splashing out on Harris Tweed, always look for the Authority Orb Mark, a true sign of authenticity.
Surprisingly for a make of this calibre, genuine Harris Tweed jackets can be bought for under £200, if you shop around, and respected retailers like The Edinburgh Woollen Mill and Walker Slater do a fine line in tweed jackets for under £300. Charity shops are well worth a visit too, as you never know what you might find.
Today the overwhelming popularity of tweed (due in part, no doubt, to series such as Downton Abbey) has been further boosted by events like the Tweed Run, an annual get-together where suitably-clad cyclists ride en masse through the streets of London. This display of woollen-suited panache, which first took place in our capital back in 2009, has since spread to other cities around the world including Stockholm, Vienna, Tokyo, Chicago and Chihuahua, Mexico.
As with many fine examples of British excellence, the British Royal Family’s relationship with tweed goes back a long way. Prince Charles’ trend-setting great uncle, Edward VIII, was a keen devotee of the timeless material (the aforementioned Walker Slater stock a brown Herringbone Harris Tweed ‘Edward Jacket’ in his honour), while his great nephew and fellow tweed enthusiast visited the Donegal tweed factory with Camilla as recently as May 2016.
An aficionado of all things Scottish, it was actually Queen Victoria, a regular wearer of dresses made of tartan or tartan-inspired fabrics, who introduced Highland dress into royal circles during her nearly 64-year reign.
Her beloved husband Prince Albert wore kilts when at Balmoral Castle, the estate in Aberdeenshire leased by the couple in 1847 and eventually purchased by them in 1852 – though it was their eldest son, King Edward VII, who made wearing tweed and Norfolk jackets (similar looking garments with the addition of a belt or half-belt) fashionable.
In 2010, after a meeting with Queen Elizabeth II (attended by other members of the British fashion industry at Buckingham Palace), weaver and textile designer Malcolm Campbell was inspired to develop his own luxury brand he called ‘The Cloth of Kings’ based on two new Harris Tweed cloths, the Callanish Tartan (Scotland’s first ever registered Harris Tweed Tartan) and the Lady Dunmore Plaid. Lady Dunmore, whose husband Lord Dunmore owned the Isles of Lewis and Harris, helped to promote and sell Harris Tweed all over Europe in the mid-19th century.
Campbell was then invited by The Queen to Kensington Palace to view the clothes worn by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. The experienced clothier, who was made a Fellow of The Textile Institute, The Society of Dyers and Colourists and The Royal Society of Arts in 2006, was even given permission to develop the Balmoral Tartan, designed by Prince Albert in 1853 and originally woven solely by Romanes & Paterson of Edinburgh, into a new cloth.
Only the Queen and other members of the Royal Family (with the monarch’s permission) are permitted to dress in the Balmoral Tartan. The exception to the rule is Her Majesty’s personal piper (estate workers and ghillies wear the Balmoral Tweed).
Not having a vast array of tweed myself, I lack knowledge of the material. ‘The Bespoke Tailor of Lincoln’ Andrew Musson who, before taking over the family business in Lincoln, worked for over 25 years on Savile Row – making suits for journalists, fashion designers, city financial dealers and well-known figures such as Ant & Dec, John Frieda, Sir Rocco Forte, Tom Cruise and Boyzone – might know more however, so it’s over to him:
What is tweed? Please could you tell us about the tweed jackets and suits you make.
Tweed is a more leisurely cloth, a rougher, woollen fabric with some form of pattern associated with the leisurely pursuits of the elite, such as shooting and hunting. The original name of the cloth was “tweel,” Scots for “twill,” the material being woven in a twilled rather than a plain pattern.
A traditional story has the name coming about almost by chance. Around 1831, a London merchant received a letter from a Hawick firm, William Watson & Sons, Dangerfield Mills about some “tweels.” The merchant misinterpreted the handwriting, understanding it to be a trade name taken from the River Tweed that flows through the Scottish Borders textile area. The goods were subsequently advertised as “Tweed” and the name has remained ever since.
Being based in Lincolnshire, as you can imagine we produce a lot of tweed garments. We make tweed suits, sports jackets and of course shooting suits for many in the local farming fraternity.
What for you is special about tweed? Is it a material you particularly enjoy working with? Do you wear it yourself?
It is a really great cloth to work with as it tailors well and holds its shape. There are such beautiful tweeds available now, with amazing, bright colours and really bold designs. It is always lovely to work on tweed – such a change from your plain navy or grey suitings…
I have a few tweed suits myself and several sports jackets. Unfortunately, I don’t get to wear the lovely shooting suits we produce as shooting is not a hobby of mine.
It seems tweed is very popular at the moment. Have you noticed an increase in demand for it over the last few years?
Yes, it is definitely very popular at the moment. We get asked about it all the time – even for weddings! We offer suit hire and have had to introduce tweed into our range. This past year we have been inundated with the younger generation asking for it for their weddings.
How should one wear tweed? What advice would you give to someone looking to “get into it” for the first time?
A tweed sports jacket would be the first garment I would recommend having. It can be very versatile, worn either causally with jeans and an open-neck shirt, or you can dress it up with chinos and a smart shirt and tie combination. An essential garment in any man’s wardrobe.
What should a person look for when considering tweed fabric? Do you prefer Scottish or Irish tweed?
Choice is very important and the person’s body shape and size is a big factor. The bigger, bolder patterns seem to work better on bigger and taller people – a smaller pattern or design is a lot easier to wear. It depends on how much of a statement you want to make…
Scottish tweeds are very beautiful, but at the moment it seems Donegal tweed is really in vogue. The little flecks of colour you find in it are perfect for matching shirts and ties to. Subtle designs but with a flash of colour. It’s very easy to wear and I think that’s the reason why it’s so popular.
How much does an Andrew J Musson bespoke tweed jacket cost? How much for a bespoke two piece and three piece suit? What makes your tweed garments unique?
Our tweed jackets start from £1,895, two piece suits from £2,495 and three piece suits from £2,995. An Andrew J Musson tweed garment is unique because of our cut and unique style features.
What would you recommend for someone unable to afford bespoke who would like to invest in an off-the-peg number?
We sell off-the-peg tweed sports jackets and waistcoats here in our shop. We sell two brands, Magee and Bladen, which are high quality and affordable. You can see some of them on the ready-to-wear page on our website. Apart from ourselves, I don’t really know. Sorry I can’t be of more help…
What first attracted you to tailoring and what do you enjoy most about the profession? Are you as busy now as you’ve ever been?
I was attracted to tailoring through my father, but I was always interested in clothes and fashion from an early age. Always wearing something different to school if I could get away with it!
I really enjoy giving my customers the whole bespoke experience and creating that perfect garment that they’re looking for. It’s a great feeling when the customer finally tries on his suit and walks out our door feeling really happy with what we have created.
We are extremely busy at the moment. The last couple of years have been amazing – it’s just getting busier and busier. Customers are coming to see us from all over the country.
Do you consider yourself lucky? What are your proudest achievements?
I consider myself very lucky as I am running a very successful business here in Lincoln. My proudest achievements are winning the Best First Year Trainee Award, forerunner of the Golden Shears Award, during the first year of my apprenticeship at Wells (formerly Wells of Mayfair), which incorporated a one day a week attendance at the London College of Fashion – and taking over my family business.