Designers going to town with countrified tweeds


When fashion designers looked to nature for inspiration for their fall lines, many came up with tweed.

There is something about a fall landscape and about the crispness of autumn weather that calls for the rugged comfort of tweed.

For this fall, designers are heavily into the classic country cloth. A forest of tweeds for men and women comes from the likes of Chanel, Bill Blass, Adrienne Vittadini, Gucci, Escada, Isaac Mizrahi, Andrew Fezza, Krizia and Ralph Lauren.

And designers have gone beyond the traditional tweed jacket with leather-patch elbows, offering fresh fitted suits, trenchcoats, fisherman sweaters, knit vests and drape jackets (for men and women).

Once upon a time, in the 19th century, tweed simply was a sporting man's fabric, worn to hunt in the Scottish Highlands. Original makers intended to mimic the textures of grass, leaf and bark.

The name comes from a misreading of the Scottish word "tweel" or twill. The nubby, soft, mottled texture is the result of the haphazard way fibers lock together in the milling process.

Tweed can be woven into a variety of colored patterns, including herringbone, checks and tartan. Or it can be plain, flecked with one or many colors. Donegal tweed, hand spun in the county of Donegal, Ireland, is characterized by a salt and pepper effect. Cheviot tweed, usually one color, is the fabric of moss green country suits.

But the most famous tweed hails from the northwest coast of Scotland in the Outer Hebrides Islands. Colorful and durable, Harris tweed still is hand woven and spun by locals. The cloth was introduced to British aristocracy by Lady Dunmore in the 1840s after weavers were asked to translate Lord Harris' Murray tartan into a tweed "sport" jacket.

Lady Dunmore is credited with perfecting tweed patterns, encouraging workers to use the local color dyes and helping to create an industry of the local custom.

Lord Harris, then, might be credited with trying to bring on the age of comfort a bit too soon: Once, he wore his casual tweed suit to the Royal Enclosure at Ascot, where morning dress was required. There, he was greeted by King Edward VII, who mocked, "Mornin' Harris, 'Goin' rattin'?"

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