One of the great British success stories of the last decade is Harris Tweed. Before its revival, and adoption by fashion brands and high street outlets, the historic industry was in a terrible state with a reputation for providing little more than itchy and scratchy jackets for elderly Church of Scotland ministers, and material for jokes about the ultimate punishment in the Western Isles being an order to wear Harris Tweed underpants.
A band of dedicated individuals turned it around. Scotland’s Gaelic Mafia, the most charming, disarming and ruthless offshoot of the liberal elite – rallied. Thank goodness. A new professional body was formed. Production rocketed and international designers flocked to buy the distinctive patterns. Exports boomed. It is a genuine British feel-good success story in a sea of middle class post-millenium, organic, knit-your-own-yoghurt fakery.
And it was all going so well…
Then this year the new UKIP leader, Paul Nuttall, started being photographed wearing tweed overcoats.
It is obvious what has happened here. Nigel Farage had his trademark covert coat – an item he has discredited for years to come – and Nuttall’s advisors recognised that their man needed an equally silly gimmick to make him stand out. They chose Tweed. On the campaign trail in the Stoke by-election Nuttall is never without his tweed overcoat and tweed flatcap. Far too much tweed per square metre is involved.
Someone on Twitter noted the other day that Nuttall is to Harris Tweed what the unfortunate actress Daniella Westbrook was to Burberry. A decade or so ago the popular press credited her ungallantly with giving Burberry a “chav” image, a charge which is rooted both in downright snobbery and truth. Burberry had a rethink and became a fashion giant again.
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Harris Tweed will now have to do similar. The Scottish government and Nicola Sturgeon will have to pay Nuttall. To stop wearing tweed.