Dashing Tweeds is celebrating a decade of dressing the modern dandy.
Guy Hills and Kirsty McDougall
Down an alleyway off Kingsland Road in the gritty heart of Dalston, east London, is the Dashing Tweeds weave studio. A compact hive of activity, the single-room studio is filled with cones of yarns from neon green to rich purple, and the walls covered with tear sheets. The space is dominated by a sample 24-shaft handloom, used to produce weave samples for seasonal cloth collections.
This is the domain of Kirsty McDougall, woven textile specialist and co-founder of London-based cloth merchant and ready-to-wear label Dashing Tweeds, which this year is celebrating its 10th anniversary. McDougall met the co-founder of her business, photographer Guy Hills, at her graduation show at the Royal College of Art in 2006. The pair clicked immediately, discovering a mutual love of cloth that puts a subversive twist on traditional tweed.
Dashing Tweeds Parsec suit
“I think what sets us apart is our irreverence, colour and desire to push the expressiveness of menswear,” says McDougall. “It’s about finding the right amount of nuance and colour to make it interesting. For us the cloth is king. All our garments are inspired by the cloths.”
For Hills the inspiration to start the brand came from a desire to fuse luxury tweed with high-tech sportswear. “Tweed is perceived as an older fabric, so the whole point of ‘Dashing’ in our name is to imply modernity and movement, as well as looking good. Dashing Tweeds is focused on merging heritage with innovation.”
The autumn 16 cloth collection features blends of merino wool woven with Japanese cotton and a British Harris Tweed. The cloth has been tailored into a selection of individual autumn 16 ready-to-wear pieces, including a smart green tweed jacket with a hand-stitched leather patch (£3,000) and a belted cornflower blue jacket (£2,500), most of which are manufactured in Tottenham, north London. The clothing is on display at Dashing Tweed’s shop a five-minute walk from Savile Row on Mayfair’s Sackville Street, which opened two years ago.
As well as supplying cloth to Savile Row tailors and developing a fledgling ready-to-wear collection, Dashing Tweeds also works with brands such as Converse, with whom it sold 30,000 pairs of co-branded high-tops in 2011, and most recently Fred Perry. The heritage brand used an exclusive weave of British and Shetland wool with reflective 3M yarn for an autumn 15 collection of bags (£85-£100) and caps (£50).
“We wanted to work with Dashing Tweeds, as the fabrics they create are really different and original, giving traditional tailored fabrics a modern twist,” explains Fred Perry accessories product manager Frazer Cunningham. “They weave all their fabrics in British mills, which ties to our own heritage. The whole process took around 14 months from initial meeting with Dashing Tweeds to us launching the product.”
The Dashing Tweeds store in Mayfair
The inspiration for blending wool with reflective yarn came from Hills’ adventures around London, sampling the colours of capital by chipping up tarmac painted with double yellow lines to find the perfect shade.
“If you want to come up with something fresh, having material to work from is very important,” says McDougall. “I create two collections a year and, as soon as the last is finished, I start thinking about the next one and discussing ideas. There is then a month of work, ordering new yarn colours and speaking to the manufacturers.”
Depending on the design, Dashing Tweeds manufactures between 60 metres and 600 metres for volume production, working with commission weavers across the UK, in particular Drove Weaving in Langholm, a subsidiary of Lochcarron of Scotland.
Savile Row tailor Anderson & Sheppard took its first delivery of Dashing Tweeds fabric in 2006 and appreciates the team’s love of experimenting with colour and texture.
“We like their use of traditional colours and techniques used in a completely modern way,” says vice-chairman Anda Rowland. “The range of cloths is wide and very versatile, from 11oz merino to 16oz British wool.”
With the colours for autumn 17 already developed, the goal for Hills and McDougall is to drive fabric creativity while continuing to grow the ready-to-wear side of the business – a two-pronged attack aimed at giving luxury menswear an injection of character.