Thursday, 7 October 2010

Fair Isle Sweaters and Slipovers

It must have been around 1970 when I left school and home to set myself up in the attic flat of a Georgian terraced house in Old Clifton, an area of Bristol which is similar to Bath (but was a little less gracious at that time).

Close by was a small boutique which sold clothes (in those days nobody spoke of brands) that came all the way from London, which of course I found very glamorous.

One day when passing by, displayed in the window were a pair of Oxford bags made by Cockell and Johnson of Kensington Market fame, teamed with a hand knitted Fair Isle slipover (more commonly known as a tank top). It bared the label Jean Howell, whose sister went on to create one of our most revered English brands, Margaret Howell.

Needless to say, I had to have this slipover. After all, people like Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney and Donovan were all wearing them. As far as I was concerned it was new, modern and groovy.

I had never heard of Fair Isle, which happens to be one of the Shetland Isles off the coast of Scotland. Nor was I aware that local knitters made these beautifully coloured and intricately designed slipovers from remnants of wool, or that they were worn mostly by peasants.

It wasn't until much later that I learned that the Fair Isle had once been a fashion item long before I hit upon it. The Duke of Windsor caused uproar when he wore one to play golf. But within no time golfers up and down the country were adopting the style.

As fashion tends to run in cycles, it comes as no surprise to see that the Fair Isle sweater is making a comeback - indeed, at Hackett we're offering Fair Isle-style tank tops as part of our men's designer knitwear range for Autumn Winter. The honest handmade, homespun look of Fair Isle fits with the times of 'make do and mend'. I wonder at the next Ryder cup whether we can convince the teams to wear Fair Isles when they take to the Fairways.

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