Who can resist a double take at the sight of a fine pair of legs extending out of a tartan kilt?
Fashion designers amongst the rest of us, it would seem, as traditional tartan goes high fashion and sashays down the catwalks this season.
Jean Paul Gaultier and Alexander McQueen have championed the fabric for years, while back in the ‘70s it was de rigueur for any self-respecting, rebel-hearted punk.
But with its roots firmly established in Scotland, and its dynastic history, (and latterly on wee tins of buttery shortbread), it’s been in and out of fashion for decades, if not centuries, until this year.
Yes indeed, it’s become the stuff of high fashion as everyone from Chanel to Versace is enjoying a fling with this symbol of the Highlands.
Inevitably, interiors are keeping up, celebrating the versatility of the pattern and it’s application beyond the Scottish baronial piles from when it came.
Which makes it rather hard to envisage how it might translate into something suitable for the more modern and, possibly, compact home without turning it into the set of Brigadoon.
The urbane Ralph Lauren, famed for his chic coastal inspired interiors is a fan, using the look sparingly against his airy and lightsome interiors, so take a leaf out of his look-book and you can’t go wrong.
Often called plaid in America, tartan works for both masculine and feminine tastes in traditional and period properties — and as a conversation piece among more neutral contemporary décor and furnishings.
The latter approach is embodied by French brand Roche Bobois’ Profile range of sleek modern chairs, sofas and ottomans, and also by a selection of soft cuddly cushions designed by none other than France’s main exponent of the pattern, Jean Paul Gaultier.
Cushions and throws are your best friend if you want to change or freshen up a look with minimum exertion on your wallet.
Soft pure wool tartan blankets where the fringe detail has been retained, are fashioned into cuddly cushions and sold on-line by Totally Tartan (12” cushion €25 each plus p&p) in authentic and ancient designs such as the multi-coloured and complex interweaves of the McLaine, Buchanan and McLeod tartans.
Closer to home, Avoca brings a modern touch to its range of blankets which can double up as throws, although they may be more box check than traditional tartan, with fresh and lively colourways that include mauve, pink and green, and a soft orange interwoven with yellow, detailed in fine patterning and multi-coloured fringing (from €49). www.Avoca.com
Cushendale Woollen Mills’ throws (€99.50) must be the ultimate in cosy comfort, using brushed mohair dyed with the warmer tones of winter, ranging from orange to purple patterns with a subtle suggestion of tartan. www.Cushendale.ie
If you’re in the market for an upholstered bed head check out fabric ranges from high-end manufacturers like Colefax & Fowler and Zoffany. With roughly two metres of fabric sufficient to do the job at prices starting at €50 per metre, it won’t hurt your wallet
Zoffany’s offering in particular, is subtle with muted pink, green, yellow and orange.
So too with cream and beige neutrals, and in-vogue greys for the monochrome look which takes some of the busy aesthetic out of the pattern. ( Ken Jackson Interiors and O’Mahony Interiors).
Bed linen is affordable and easy to change without major commitment to a look.
Even Ikea – they of the white Scandinavian minimalist look – have managed to incorporate tartan into the Kustruta duvet cover and pillowcase set in a blue and white colourway, (€40).
Wallpaper hasn’t escaped the tartan trend either but it’s done in as subtle a fashion as possible by international product designer Marcel Wanders, who has mixed it with grey— the new and in-vogue neutral— for Graham & Brown.
It’s a discreet tone on tone interpretation of the pattern which is also available in a darker charcoal, or chocolate for a little warmth. There’s even a red option for more adventurous decorators, (€50 p/roll).
So while tartan has associations with rebellion, it’s also about comfort of the cosy variety which Gaultier described, rather surprisingly, as like meeting a dear friend you know is always there for you.
And it certainly is a friend when applied to home interiors, mostly from the point of view of practicality, it being a fabric that women of my mother’s generation would have called ‘serviceable’.
In other words, it’s forgiving when sticky fingers and spillages come into contact with it and maybe that is why so many of the high end upholstery fabric makers have indulged in it this year.