A Great Highland Fling

Jeffrey Banks’ personal collection of tartanware. Photo by Thom Gilbert.
By Ki Hackney

Everything is coming up tartan these days, including an exceptional new book by Coty-Award winning fashion designer Jeffrey Banks and his close friend, fashion specialist and writer, Doria de La Chapelle.

Tartan obsessed fashion designer, Jeffrey Banks, with his friend and co-author, Doria de La Chapelle.
Rizzoli has been shipping TARTAN: Romancing the Plaid to bookstores across the country for almost a week, and Saks Fifth Avenue is hosting the launch party tonight in the Fifth Avenue flagship.

Weighing in at just over five pounds, TARTAN is filled with sumptuous images from Madonna wearing kilts in her “Re-Invention” world tour to artist Mark Beard’s mural of heroic Highlanders dashing across the walls of the revamped Grill in London’s Dorchester Hotel.

In between are wonderful portraits of Axel Rose, Rod Stewart, Lucille Ball, Prince Charles, Princess Di, Camilla, George V with his sons, Sean Connery, Liam Neeson (in Rob Roy), and even Bill Haley and many more, all in various tartan gear.

And the well-researched, elegant text offers a comprehensive and stylish portrait of this remarkable fabric beginning with its humble 16th Century origins as an unpretentious material used for clothing and bedcovers or, in muted colorations, as the military’s first camouflage material.
Doria’s keychain of the French cartoon character, TinTin, in Scottish Scottish dress.
Needlepoint and petit point pillow of tartan-clad golfers adding Highland flavor to writer Doria de la Chapelle’s living room.
More familiar is tartan’s royal heritage, popularized by none other than Queen Victoria, who commissioned the iconic Balmoral tartan for her castle, and her beloved husband, Prince Albert, designed it. Tartan’s modern usage includes everything from haute couture to home furnishings.

The myriad plaid patterns have global appeal. They are the universally recognized symbol of a country, culture, kinship, and a host of aspirations. Even the astronauts took a swatch of tartan to the moon. And as the authors point out in the book, tartan’s graphic lines have even be read as and put to music.
Linda Evangeilsta wearing a tartan towel from Ralph Lauren and pajamas from Brooks Brothers. Photo: Arthur Elgort/Vogue.
General William Gordon of Fyvie, painted in 1776 by Pompeo Girolamo Batoni. From the National Trust of Scotland/Fyvie Castle Collection, Scotland.
A tartan costume likely designed for a gentleman to wear during George IV’s visit to Edinburgh in 1822. National Galleries of Scotland.
Vivienne Westwood’s tartan ensemble for men from her Autumn/Winter 1997-98 collection. Photo: Niall McInerney.
A tartan jacket, kilt and sporran ensemble, circa 1835.
“The idea for the book grew out of a scholarly little book about tartan by Hugh Cheape called Tartan: The Highland Habit that became our touchstone, plus Jeffrey’s absolute obsession with tartan,” says Doria.

Jeffrey remembers being captivated by plaid uniforms as a youngster, noting that “I had to have something tartan for school.” Doria tells of the day he arrived for design classes at Pratt Institute wearing a navy blue blazer and tartan trousers.
The Duchess of Windsor’s bedroom at the Mill, with her Balmoral tartan dress and jacket designed by Christian Dior. Sccottish National Portrait Gallery.
Ralph Lauren Home collection in the Madison Avenue store.
Murals by painter/sculptor Mark Beard on the walls of the newly revamped Grill in London’s Dorchester Hotel. Photo by Lloyd Bishop.
The design team of Ward Denton and Christopher Gardner blended tartan with velvet, florals and Persian carpeting in the Master bedroom in the Glen Feshie Lodge, the estate used in place of Balmoral in the 2006 film, The Queen, with Helen Mirren. Photo: Thibault Jeanson.
“Everyone else was in hippie dress, of course, but Jeffrey thought that they were the weird ones,” she laughs. Over the years, Jeffrey’s obsession has produced a collection of 150-plus pieces of tartanware (boxes, mirrors, napkin rings, etc.).

Click to order TARTAN: Romancing the Plaid
While Jeffrey’s apartment is all white, at Christmas he goes all out with tartan décor, including teddy bears, tree ornaments, shower curtains, towels, three different tartan patterned china tea services and a selection from any of his 200 different tartan dinner napkins. One year, his tartan invitation invited friends to “Spend the Day at MacBanks Manor.”

Jeffrey’s favorite tartan in Black Watch. “It’s the simplest,” he says. “I have everything tartan from a dinner jacket to silk pumps, duffle coats and Ralph Lauren luggage.”

When Jeffrey looked up the Banks name in the Scottish tartan registry, he discovered that there was a Banks clan tartan, called “Tweedside,” which is just like Black Watch plaid, except that it has a double white stripe. Some things are meant to be, aren’t they?

Of the 1300 registered Irish tartans and 3400 registered Scottish tartans, Doria says she “really loves the Brodie plaid.” And one of her favorite tartan purchases is a petit point and needlepoint throw pillow featuring two colorful Scottish golfers in full dress, kilts et all.
A suit in Westwood’s own Metropolitan tartan from her Autumn/Winter 1993-94 collection. Photo: Niall McInerney.
Denton and Garner-designed scroll-back chairs covered in tartan from the Ralph Lauren Home Collection. Photo by Thibault Jeanson.