Anyone who knows me will say I’m fiercely patriotic when it comes to all things fashion. Whether waxing lyrical about Scotland’s sartorial talent in my freelance work, or here on Everything Looks Rosie, I’ve long been a supporter of homegrown design. It’s been a while since this has been a big focus on the blog due to a busy year of postgrad training (thank goodness for scheduled posts) but it’s certainly not something that’s ever gone away, and something I’m keen to give more of a focus to this Summer when I’ve a wee bit more time. The National Museum of Scotland’s latest fashion exhibition seemed a great place to start.
Alba’s knitwear industry is rightly internationally revered, and no company epitomises the manufacturing heritage and prestige of Scotland’s textile-rich history than Pringle of Scotland. Finding its iconic birthplace in Hawick, the Scottish Borders, Pringle was one of the first luxury knitwear manufacturers in the world. These days the word ‘luxury’ is banded around far too frequently, but at Pringle this quality and history is woven into every carefully crafted garment.
‘Fully Fashioned: The Pringle of Scotland Story’ traces the 200 year-old history of the company – one of Scotland’s oldest brands (and surely one of the world’s too). The exhibition follows the history of the company from its bijoux beginnings as a hosiery firm making undergarments to the internationally renowned knit and outerwear brand it is today, via many of the iconic garments, patterns, designs and details – as well as people – that helped make its name.
Pringle’s original role as underwear manufacturer was key not only to the company’s journey to becoming a household name, but also played a part in twentieth century women’s liberation. Gradually elements of Pringle’s fine-gauge hosiery and underwear, made with comfort in mind, developed and transitioned into elements of daywear: Pringle first created its flexible long-line knitted jackets during World War I. This was at least contemporaneous with Coco Chanel’s first use of jersey fabric in her creations, centred on women’s comfort as well as chicness – some even believe Pringle pipped Coco to the post.
The softly supple cashmere knits gave women newfound freedom – they were able to wear something they could move in and be active for the first time. The New Women of the ’20s embraced the fabric, most notably the first women to take on the all-male Scottish golfing world enthusiastically donning Pringle’s Argyle sweaters. The role of fashion in women’s liberation and as a social document of changing attitudes and mores cannot be underestimated, and I’m incredibly proud of Scotland’s socially just, forward-thinking fashion heritage.
From their famed Argyle print to the iconic twinset, Pringle’s designs revolutionised knitted style, creating a blueprint for twentieth century knitwear – and beyond. The rare, beautiful early designs on show hit home how groundbreaking Pringle’s designs must have been, while the archival records, film footage and contemporary catalogues and adverts really brought them alive.
Pringle’s effortless elegance has had high profile champions – whether worn by Princess Grace in the 1960s, or modelled by Tilda Swinton today. And did you know HRH Queen Elizabeth II has received a piece of Pringle knitwear every year since 1947? Alistair O’Neill’s carefully curated exhibiton gathers some fantastic memorabilia to tell Pringle’s story: including a snap of Princess Grace wearing a Pringle twinset from her private album, where she is looking over her own wedding photos, and a sweater made for Princess Anne emblazoned with a Corgi.
To me it’s not those high profile, glamorous champions, but the heart and soul of the company is its capacity to make something so ordinary – knitwear – extraordinary. Ever the lover of all things vintage, the old branding had me at hello, while I was desparate for a ‘fifties pastel cropped jumper or ‘sixties collared cardigan to call my own. In spite of their retro charm, what struck me was how relevant so many of the designs still felt today – surely a sign of the company’s timeless, effortless appeal.
I loved how the exhibition traced Pringle’s early beginnings back to today, exploring the role of knitwear in the modern wardrobe. The textile’s avant-garde potential was highlighted by the contemporary take on an Aran knit complete with 3D-printed panels, made by Pringle’s Massimo Nicosia, and the film clip of a ballet composed by Michael Clark’s company where Pringle’s twinsets were put through their paces (accessorised with pearl necklaces of course). This beautiful addition to the exhibition showed knitwear in motion and brought things full circle back to Pringle’s liberatory beginnings, where movement and freedom came paradoxically from such a disciplined and precise form.
I can’t recommend this gorgeously curated exhibition enough. I’ve long been a fan of both the National Museum of Scotland (a trip to the roof terrace and Scottish history sections are a must if you visit) and Pringle – so this was a match made in heaven for me. Now, if only I could thrift a vintage Pringle jumper…