The passion for plaid, fast becoming one of fashion’s longest-lasting relationships, is as predictable as tinsel at this time of year.
It was barely two years ago that Nicolas Ghesquière at Balenciaga, Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons, and our own Alexander McQueen all tripped into tartan territory.
Now, here we are again, poised for another round of highland games. The trend, this season, covers all the extremes from the psychedelic plaids of the young fashion pretender Henry Holland and the clash of the tartans in Dolce&Gabbana’s D&G collection to the more muted touch employed by Yohji Yamamoto in his Y-3 range or the upmarket Aspen-meets-Auchterarder approach of Ralph Lauren.
Comme’s Kawakubo also revisits the theme with punk overtones, while Vivienne Westwood has once again subscribed to the revival in her younger Red Label collection.
Tartan, however, does need to be treated with a certain amount of care.
Sassenachs such as the extrovert Jean Paul Gaultier and Madonna on her 2001 Drowned World tour may be able to carry off a kilt, but it is generally wise to start with a pinch of plaid to avoid looking like an extra from Brigadoon or a Bay City Rollers groupie.
The secret is to mix the plaid with the plain. Tartans are traditionally woven from several different colours, so it is relatively easy to choose a complementary shade which works. Bright red or winter white complement the predominantly red Royal Stewart; rich jade-greens or navys are great with Black Watch. And black will also work with many tartans.
As the high street offers an army of stripe-meets-check variations, the possibilities for mix-and-match are endless.
Westwood, who has been associated with tartan ever since she and Malcolm Maclaren launched Seditionaries in 1976 and began selling tartan bondage wear, is often seen as the pioneer of the mainstream fashion plaid. But she is actually simply treading a well-trodden high road explored by a host of designers before her, including Paul Poiret, Jacques Fath, Pierre Cardin and Bill Gibb.
A new book by Jonathan Faiers, Tartan (V&A/www.bergpublishers.com), dates tartan from the 3rd century AD, via the Falkirk Tartan Cloth, a fragment of woven brown-and-olive checked fabric found buried with a hoard of Roman coins. Faiers has also traced a Tartan Timeline with key moments in its extraordinary history: from 1124, when King David the First took the throne, to the fashion sensation caused in 1855 by the Prince of Wales’s appearance in Highland dress during Queen Victoria’s state visit to Paris, and to 2004, when Marc Jacobs had a vintage Balmoral moment in his collection for Louis Vuitton.