The Trump family name is not usually associated with high fashion. So news that the tartan associated with the clan of Donald Trump’s Scottish mother, Mary Anne MacLeod, has appeared in one of the biggest campaigns this season might be met with raised eyebrows.
Known colloquially as “loud MacLeod” for its vibrant yellow and black colours, a variation of the Lewis MacLeod clan pattern has been used on a Balenciaga skirt and shot as part of a series of ironic paparazzi images, which captures models climbing out of cabs and exiting restaurants in mocked-up moments of surprise. Balenciaga was recently named the most influential label in the world by Lyst, the global fashion search website.
Variations of this pattern are a familiar sight in fashion, sported by singers Rihanna and Justin Bieber, and by Alicia Silverstone in hit film Clueless, and, of course, on Ivanka, MacLeod’s granddaughter. Indeed, tartan as a pattern is a “perennial of fashion” says Brian Wilton, a tartan expert formerly of the Scottish Register of Tartans.
But given Balenciaga’s use of Bernie Sanders’s political logo last season, it marks a shift in how fashion is using this historic pattern as more of a statement than a mere fabric.
Glasgow-born designer Charles Jeffrey is known for “drunken” tailoring and theatrical shows for his Loverboy label. He has just launched his first womenswear collection, including a green tartan check suit. It’s inspired by his homeland – “there’s a lot of looking back where I come from,” he says. An accompanying film shows women singing over the “fulling”, or cleaning, of wool.
Elsewhere, there were micro tartan skirts at Prabal Gurung and tartan dresses and tabards at Miu Miu, while the traditional beige Burberry check, which had been almost completely phased out following a difficult public relations issue, made a comeback on oversized bags, cuffs on long gabardine coats and caps.
The Danish designer Astrid Andersen cited “quality and provenance” as reasons for including tartan for the first time in her spring/summer 2018 show.
It was via designers such as John Galliano, Alexander McQueen, and, of course, Vivienne Westwood that tartan became a mainstay on the catwalk. Westwood used it to define the punk aesthetic by embellishing tartan suits with safety pins and tulle, merging various class signifiers in pre-Thatcher-era England.
However, it was Westwood’s own tartan, the McAndreas – which made its debut in 1993 – that reinvigorated others, such as the Red Stewart. That pattern became one of the most popular in modern fashion.
Red Stewart is associated with British society in Victorian and Edwardian times, and remains the favourite of recent designers: Dilara Findikoglu’s spin on the classic print has pushed its punkish symbolism further still.
Given its history, the ubiquity of tartan might seem surprising. But while around 150 new designs are registered with the Scottish Register of Tartans each year, existing clan tartans have no copyright. “Sometimes brands will change a colour and still call it the same name – though this is a false claim,” says Wilton.
Wilton believes the resurgence in popularity of tartan reflects something deeper than a designer’s heritage, or even colour scheme.
“It represents rebellious youth but, at times of uncertainty, people want to feel like they belong. Tartan is a good visual identifier – and provides a sort of security.
“Which is, perhaps, ironic given what is going on – politically.”