Introducing the Scottish knitwear designer’s AW13 ‘Birsay’ collection.
Living in Scotland, knitwear is not something to be taken lightly. When you’re likely to be wearing your winter knits from October to May, they’ve got to work hard and – along with some trusty thermals (M&S do the best) – are your best defence against the Scottish winter. Luckily for wool lovers and knitted accessory hoarders like yours truly, recently it seems the fashion world has gone knitwear mad; with so much choice you can really inject some style and personality into your winter look. If you ask me, knitwear is up there with Christmas baking and cosy evenings in as one of my favourite things about the season.
Choice is great but if there’s one designer who really stands out for me, it’s Hilary Grant: her knitted accessories are the perfect antidote to dark winter days, combining high quality craftsmanship and beautiful design, they are seriously cosy to boot. The independent designer is based in Orkney and all her wares are designed and made in Scotland from the highest quality, deliciously soft two-ply Scottish lambswool. I’ve written about Hilary’s winter warmers before but couldn’t resist sharing the gorgeous autumn/winter 2013 collection with you, and when I received the loveliest surprise parcel from Hilary containing a pair of mittens and a headband for me to style, I couldn’t wait to get snapping.
For AW13 there are a few new styles to join the range of staple lambswool accessories: a brand new knitted headband (my personal favourite, above), a tiered reversible collar, a skinny edition of the best-selling circle scarf and a new fisherman’s style beanie. One of my favourite things about Hilary’s designs is her clever combination of vivid hues, bold pattern and rich texture. This season the new colourways were a real highlight of the collection for me – especially the new AW13 ‘cinnamon’ hue, which Hilary described as my ‘signature oxblood’!
Hilary’s stunning Orkney setting continues to provide rich inspiration and the natural hues and textures of the landscape permeate her designs. Hilary recently moved her studio to a remote farmhouse in Birsay, which influenced the collection considerably: ‘The colour palette was inspired by industrial machinery and fishing equipment,’ she explains. ‘I live near a harbour and so there are often so many beautiful fishing boats and huge metal crates and machinery painted bright primary colours.’ The shades contrast wonderfully, perfectly capturing the character of the Scottish landscape – especially during the colder months. ‘The colours and shadows on the land and sea are far more dramatic when the sun is so low,’ says Hilary. ‘I live and work in a house right next to the sea, so it’s really exposed and it’s quite exciting to watch the sea whipping up on a rough day.’
Drawing on Scotland’s rich knitwear heritage and textile traditions, Hilary has made her medium contemporary and relevant. High quality craftsmanship underpins each collection, with every piece made exclusively in Scotland. ‘The headbands are knitted in-house on a hand-operated knitting machine and then linked, and the knot is knitted separately and linked. We’ll do these in batches, around 12 of one colour at a time, so they all fit into one wash,’ explains Hilary. ‘After the headband has been washed and dried it is pressed and assembled and we hand sew our labels by hand as well. It’s quite a laborious process as it all requires a person to make it by hand, it’s not automated at all.’
‘The other products – hats, mittens and some of our scarves – are produced with a luxury knitwear manufacturer in the Borders,’ continues Hilary. ‘They produce for fashion labels all over the world, and work with really exciting designers, so it’s a real honour to work with them. The knitting is more automated, but all the finishing is done by hand by their extremely skilled craftspeople. They have decades and decades of experience behind them.’ It’s clear each piece is made with loving attention to detail and has a real story – knitwear as it should be. It is a slightly higher price point than your average, disposable high street fare, but Hilary’s knitwear is something to be cherished and shown off winter after winter.
Hilary Grant belongs to the growing crop of Scottish designers I think are putting Alba on the style map, with clear vision and ambition and a great eye for design without compromising on quality or a personal touch. ‘It’s a really positive and exciting time,’ Hilary enthuses. ‘It’s great to see so many people championing Scottish and British manufacturing and designers making jobs for themselves. I hope we’ll see continued support through programmes such as Fashion Foundry, Scotland Re:Designed and Textiles Scotland.’ I asked Hilary if she had any advice for those interested in making a career in fashion design. ‘For those designers starting out, you just have to be prepared to work your socks off. Working long hours will be the norm so you have to be passionate about your product. And don’t be afraid to ask people for help.’ Hilary’s own passion is something that shines through for me, and certainly translates into her unique, stylish designs.
The headband is a great, versatile addition to the collection, perfect for keeping ears cosy on a blustery day (you should have seen the outtakes from this post!). The mittens haven’t left my paws since my parcel arrived – just as the weather took a turn for the worse – they’re so soft and cosy and the warm, neutral shade goes with everything. I asked Hilary what her favourite piece in the collection was. ‘I haven’t been able to take my headband off since October!’ she replied, ‘I’m also going to gift myself a Fisherman’s Pom Hat this year as a Christmas present to myself; it’s a really practical style as you can wear it with the cuff down as a slouchy beanie or with the cuff up – it’s a bit of a Weir’s Way tribute!’ I can’t think of a lovelier Christmas present than one of Hilary’s gorgeous knits – you can order up until the 22nd December for Christmas delivery from Hilary’s website, and, if you’re in Edinburgh, Grassmarket boutique (and magpie heaven) Hannah Zakari stocks the collection – so go go go!
What will 2014 bring for Hilary Grant? For starters, she’s already working on her AW14 collection: ‘We’re going to be incorporating a little bit of leather into AW14 and working on expanding the range so it’s more trans-seasonal, looking at different fibres, not just lambswool. We’re also looking at a collaboration with another creative who’s not in the field of textiles… but it’s in early stages at the moment so all a bit vague!’ I for one can’t wait to see the results.
I wanted to reflect and emphasise the lovely earthy tones of the ‘Birsay’ collection in my outfit, so paired my Hilary Grant mittens and headband with a khaki, subtly sparkly jumper and leather midi from Whistles and my Next tweed crombie coat. Hilary’s designs are all about the detail so my COS scalloped collar (it’s detachable and a serious wardrobe wonder worker) and Mulberry broach (a bargain from the Mulberry outlet at Bicester Village) added a finishing touch – and my oxblood Cambridge satchel to match my headband, of course.
How would you style the knits? Have you got a favourite Scottish designer? Thanks again to Hilary Grant for very kindly sending me this beautiful knitwear.
What I’m wearing: Dash Headband in Cinnamon & Vole c/o Hilary Grant; Dash Mittens in Vole & Ecru c/o Hilary Grant; Whistles Annie jumper; Whistles Katia skirt; COS detatchable collar; Next Crombie coat; Clarks Macay Holly Boots; Mulberry brooch; Oxblood Cambridge Satchel with silver embossing.