We’re living at a time where luxury labels are more visible on the street than ever because the fashion world has been gripped by logo mania. Of course, buying conspicuously branded items is a time-honoured way to demonstrate your appreciation of cutting-edge design, and a personal pledge of allegiance to a label you love. However, it’s also important to appreciate the luxury and craftsmanship of the item that logo is printed onto. So, in a sea of big branding, how does the head designer of a storied 222-year-old Scottish mill create logo-light menswear that still makes waves?
‘We need to keep our consistency of quality,’ says Alan Scott (below), the sleekly bespectacled Creative Director of Johnstons of Elgin. ‘You can’t deviate from that.’
This is at the heart of the historic label he leads. Founded in 1797, Johnstons of Elgin has succeeded where so many of its British brethren have failed, consistently futureproofing itself in terms of materials (in 1850 it was the first mill in the country to import vicuña) and today it stands alone as Scotland’s only vertical mill, meaning that from spinning the fibres to the final garment, all elements of the manufacturing process are carried out on site in Elgin.
However, while they have made fabrics for over two centuries, when it comes to being a ready-to-wear brand, Johnstons of Elgin is a relative start-up. Scott’s task when he joined in 2016 was to translate that provenance into a personality; a challenge he’s risen to by founding his collections in the history of the brand and of our country.
The inspiration for the new autumn line is the early decades of the 20th century: the First World War, Alpine pursuits and the golden age of travel. That means rich seasonal greens and khakis, deep oranges, pillar-box reds and splashes of grey. In the brand’s catwalk show, David Evans (aka Instagram’s @greyfoxblog) strode out in a chunky knit embroidered with a First World War medal. The brand’s Scottish roots are in there, too. This season, coats feature exploded versions of some of the incredible tartans Scott has discovered in the archive.
However, what stops Johnstons’ menswear slipping into the archives and staying there is that the brand has always sought to innovate. Just as the golden age of travel was borne out of huge leaps forward in technology, so too is Scott keen to innovate with luxury.
‘As we’re a vertical mill, we have the flexibility to do that,’ says Scott. ‘There’s a yarn in this collection that looks like a knit yarn, but we can weave with it. It’s actually a thick merino that’s air-spun so it’s very, very light. This means you can use it to create beautiful thick textures for our coats.’
So while we might be going through a time where logos and luxury have become frustratingly conflated, underneath it all, what anyone wants from something luxurious is a product that makes you feel great, and that is borne out of the best craftsmanship; Johnstons has been doing that for 222 years. There’s no better branding than that.
Discover more at johnstonsofelgin.com
The Jackal’s picks
Our Style Editor, Benedict Browne, has chosen five pieces from the current collection which are firmly on his wish list this season. From statement-making outerwear to cosy tracksuits and beyond, there’s something for you.
Johnstons of Elgin ‘Sartorial Chesterfield’ handmade lambswool coat
Because Johnstons of Elgin controls its entire supply chain and weaves its own fabrics, the results are always pretty special. Case in point: this exaggerated checked Chesterfield coat. There’s a real vintage feel to it, which is because Scott dug deep into Johnstons’ archives – which date back to 1797 – to find inspiration. The design and execution is also sublime, with hand-stitched collars, a full canvas construction, and beautifully cut and epically wide peak lapels. This is a statement coat at its finest.
Johnstons of Elgin camel handmade double face cashmere sport jacket
It’s no secret that Johnstons also produces clothing and accessories for a few huge names in fashion, but one thing it won’t give them is access to its double-faced cashmere. As a result of this special and highly innovative technique, the handle on both sides of this jacket is supremely soft. It’s also stronger than a single-faced fabric, meaning it’s completely unstructured. A travel-friendly, super-soft companion you’ll never tire of.
Johnstons of Elgin ‘Amalfi’ high v-neck cashmere jumper
V-necks are coming back with a vengeance. What’s particularly pleasing about this one, though, is that the neckline has a thick hemmed V that gives it a vintage look, which I believe is much nicer than a thin one. What’s more, this jumper has been created on one of Johnstons’ innovative knitting machines. They can do many things, but what’s relevant here is that it can knit – in one go – seamless jumpers which give you an unparalleled fit. It’s hard to improve on that.
Johnstons of Elgin antique white Arran cable and rib cashmere jumper
You can’t go wrong with a chunky rollneck in winter – it’s a great layering tool and can pass as both smart and casual. This traditional Arran knit has heritage written all over it, especially given the fact that it’s in its natural and correct shade of ecru. Pair it with a navy blazer, raw denim jeans and suede Derbys for a chic, dressed-down look. It also comes in rust if that’s more your bag.
Johnstons of Elgin navy merino jogger trouser
Unless you’ve been living under a rock these past few years, tracksuits, (yes, tracksuits) have become office-appropriate. These are a great example and come in soft Merino wool – Johnstons don’t just excel in cashmere. Slightly tapered with cuffed hems and a drawstring waist, these midnight navy trousers will pass the pub test with ease, as well as leaving you smug in the knowledge that you’re far comfier than any of your compatriots.