A closer look at the creative processes and craftsmanship of one of Scotland’s major design talents: Mairi McDonald. Regular readers will know I’m a keen supporter of Scottish fashion, and I genuinely feel we’re experiencing something of a Scottish style renaissance – I’ve written about it here on numerous occasions as well as for The Times Fashion. With homegrown designers such as Mairi McDonald at the forefront of this design-led revolution, and supporting our heritage of craftsmanship, I have high hopes for the future of Scottish fashion. Mairi’s designs first caught my eye at Edinburgh International Fashion Festival’s vibrant Future Fashion show, where she unveiled her debut collection, ‘Electric Eclectic’. I had followed the build-up to this hotly anticipated moment via social media, and was completely enamoured with Mairi’s unique brand of free-spirited feminine glamour. Recently, she kindly invited me along to her studio in Glasgow to see the designs up close, and we had a great chat about all things fashion. At the Future Fashion show I noted the great attention to detail and precision of Mairi’s designs, so seeing the collection in person was an absolute treat. With sumptuous textures – beautiful Scottish lace, laser cut suede and lamb nappa, delicate knitwear – and stunning finishes, such as hand-beaded Swarovski crystal embellishment, Mairi’s designs really offer something special. Mairi took me through her collection, explaining the inspiration and process behind the finished designs. ‘The collection is called “Electric Eclectic”. It’s the girl with the band, she’s travelling about and wants to add to her wardrobe – it’s California cool, with a dark edge,’ says Mairi. She started by looking to rock ‘n’ roll girlfriends for inspiration, such as Marianne Faithful, and the collection certainly captures this effortless glamour. Mairi describes the collection as pretty but dark, and craftsmanship is an integral part of this. ‘It’s a real process it’s gone through, it’s got to have an edge to it – not conventionally pretty,’ says Mairi. Every design is thought through not only in terms of the highest quality fabrics and finishes, but also the versatility of each piece and the collection as a whole: ‘I like pieces that can translate into a layering look as well, how they could be worn in different ways, like the knitwear – with skinny leather trousers or over a vest or a bandeau dress. I wanted it to be wearable, and that’s probably where my experience comes in as well.’ Mairi’s ultra-delicate knitwear epitomises the strong craftsmanship and attention to detail that are a key part of her aesthetic. She explained the process behind making these stunning pieces, ‘It’s so fine, they’re made one at a time. It’s a sort of viscose rayon, with lurex through it and little beads. I liked the idea of fringing and took this through several pieces.’ The designs are intrinsically feminine with a darker undercurrent, ‘I liked the fishnet idea but it was taking it through in a thick way,’ says Mairi. She describes the finished product as ‘a lace knit, with a sort of fishnet feel’. Mairi also plays beautifully with contrasts, and her largely monochrome collection – with highlights of blue, silver and gold – really emphasises the detail of the designs. The ‘showcase’ knit (pictured above) with ultra-fine weave and hand-beaded crystals is one of the most striking pieces in the collection, and gives a modern spin to traditional Scottish elements – Mairi describes it as a ‘Fair Isle rose’. The rose became something of a motif in the collection, which also incorporates a floral print by an artist in one of the neighbouring studios, ‘I liked the way again it was like a rose but not in a pretty way, it’s got an edge to it’, says Mairi. The designer is also a keen supporter of local manufacturers, and works with the most beautiful Scottish lace. Mairi is clearly passionate about what she does. ‘Everything is thought out from the finishes to the fabrics used,’ she enthuses. ‘It’s all about it being forever pieces, special pieces – it’s not throwaway, it’s not disponsable, it’s not going to date. I’ve tried to make it transcend across age groups – where there’s a leather dress there’s a leather T-shirt of it, so there’s something for everyone.’ This clarity of vision accompanies an expertly edited collection that is a strong statement of Mairi’s aesthetic. It was clear to me that her extensive experiences in the industry – working for Julien MacDonald, Givenchy and Boudica, as well as numerous high street clients – have informed her assured eye for design and confident outlook about the realities of the industry. Last year, Mairi felt the time was right to strike out with her own label, and was offered a place with the prestigious talent hub Fashion Foundry. An intense period of design, business planning, branding and website building followed, culminating in the grand unveiling at Edinburgh International Fashion Festival. ‘I’m happy with how the products came together, it feels like my personality, my signature that I wanted to be on it,’ says Mairi. ‘It does take you a while to get to that stage, especially if you’ve always worked to a brief for somebody – you can bring your style into it but ultimately you’re delivering what other people want – so to find out exactly what it is you want to do and take that forward, it’s a process in itself! It’s very liberating.’ Mairi was recently named finalist of the Scotland Re:Designed New Talent competition, an innovative platform which aims to raise the profile of and gain recognition for our emerging design talent. Tonight sees Mairi showcase her designs alongside the other finalists – Catriona Macallister, Claire Corstorphine and Jacob Birge – and the designers from Fashion Foundry in a catwalk spectacular in Edinburgh’s Assembly Rooms. The standard is incredibly high, and a true testament to Caledonia’s creative talent. I for one can’t wait to see how the Mairi McDonald label evolves. It’s certainly an exciting time for Scottish fashion – long may it continue.
Thanks for having me to your studio Mairi, and for taking the time to answer my questions!