Bespoke tailoring is normally the preserve of Savile Row but now shooting estates are at the forefront of showcasing the best of Scotland’s world class tweed industry.
Although tweed is known as Scotland’s signature fabric, each shooting estate is promoting the tradition of having its very own special tweed, uniquely designed and reflecting the estate’s natural landscape. As such, gamekeepers are measured up for a new set of estate tweeds every year.
This practice supports the Scottish tweed industry and in a recent survey conducted across Scotland’s seven regional moorland groups, the estimated annual spend on estate tweed this year was in excess of a quarter of a million pounds at £268,924.
A new Pace Productions film created by the Angus Glens and Grampian Moorland Groups 'Tweed - Hill to Hill - A Rural Tradition’ celebrates the tradition of estate tweed, its origins and the contemporary master weavers and tailors who are clothing today’s working gamekeepers.
Campbell’s of Beauly, one of Scotland’s top tailors of tweed, often described as the 'guardians of tweed', relies heavily on the estate market and says estate tweed is vital for their business.
John Sugden, owner of Campbell's, said: "All our bespoke suits are made on site, which is a real skill. We work with over 100 estates, making up 60 – 70% of our work in the tailoring department. Our retail business also benefits from the estate market through field sport guests purchasing tweed products in our shop, another very important revenue stream for us. We are closely linked to estates and without their business it would be a very different outlook for us."
The tradition of estate tweed began in the early 1800s, when Queen Victoria and Prince Albert set a precedent by having a bespoke tweed designed for their staff at Balmoral.
The unique blend of colours, patterns and textures of an estate tweed reflects the natural make-up of its surroundings and serves as a camouflage for gamekeepers and ghillies. It also allows the identity and heritage of each and every estate throughout Scotland to live on for generations to come.
Gamekeepers’ tweed on Invermark Estate for example is grey to reflect the natural rock and granite of the landscape, whilst the tweed worn by pheasant keepers on a lower ground estate will be a yellowy green to blend into the farmland environment.
Callum Low, Invermark gamekeeper, said: “Each estate tweed is distinctive with its own use of colours, pattern and chequered work. On Invermark it’s very much a family heritage and it's the same tweed worn by gamekeepers today that has been passed down several generations. It is something that every gamekeeper is proud to wear as their uniform.”
"Tweed is a working bit of gear to us, it's a great fabric which is completely silent – a must when stalking – and although it's not water proof, it is very warm and as each suit is made-to-measure, it is also extremely comfortable. It is highly practical and suits its purpose very well particularly when we have to brave the harsh Scottish winter months out on the hills.”
Tweed is constantly being reinvented for a younger generation of fashion-conscious consumers, national and international buyers and is used in accessories from belts and handbags to iPad covers. Scottish tweed is supplied to Savile Row as well as bespoke tailors throughout Europe and high-fashion designers including Balenciaga, Miu Miu, Victoria Beckham and Vivienne Westwood.
Gordon Covell of Islay Woollen Mill, said: “The demand for tweed from the field sports industry makes up 25% of our business turnover, weaving tweed for 30 estates in Scotland. We also supply tweeds to Savile Row as well as tailors in Italy, Germany and Sweden. Another part of our business has been to produce tweed for big box office hits, with Braveheart being our biggest one yet and notable others including The Life of Ernest Hemingway, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman’s film Far and Away, Forrest Gump, and most recently The BFG.”
Lianne MacLennan of the Angus Glens and Grampian Moorland Group, said: “Tweed has stood the test of time where its integrity remains as important today as it did back in the Victorian era. Field sports are a vital component supporting the local economy and the business estates generate for the tweed industry is paramount. Each estate has its own identity by owning its very own tweed and it is something that every gamekeeper takes pride in.”