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Alexandra Schulman on tweed designers

The Vogue editor explains how the new breed of designers are playing with tradition

Vivienne Westwood and the Royals

Vivienne Westwood has always used the establishment as her point of reference for reaction. Ten years on from punk rock, Westwood returned to the London catwalks after an absence of five years to show her Autumn/Winter 1987 ‘Harris Tweed’ collection. It is notable that she chose such a classic country look with which to make her returning statement, even naming the collection after this epitome of hard-wearing traditional British cloth. Members of the royal family have worn Harris Tweed for generations and Westwood declared that the colours of the cloth were so vibrant ’they’re like jewels’.

Sometimes referred to by Westwood as her ‘Aristocratic’ or ‘Royal’ collection, Harris Tweed was inspired by Westwood’s memories of the clothes worn by the young Princesses Margaret and Elizabeth. The Queen had already been the object of Westwood's attention during her Silver Jubilee in 1977, when her image adorned t-shirts sporting a safety pin through her nose. Ten years on, however, the antagonistic jibe at the establishment was gone, giving way to an affectionate parody of that most English of ladies and heralding a return to the traditional fit of English tailoring.

Westwood’s interpretation combined the most traditional of Harris Tweed velvet-trimmed jackets and Princess-line coats with all the pomp and circumstance of the coronation: the velvets were printed to look like ermine, and the Harris Tweed was also crafted into crowns. These outfits were completed by fine-gauge knitwear twin-sets, manufactured by stolidly British firm John Smedley, or occasionally an 18th Century corset revived and reworked for ready-to-wear, both teamed with traditional debutante pearls, bringing a whole new look to the country.

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