Plaid: An Iconic Pattern
By Raffa Reuther
What makes a pattern iconic? What makes it timeless and have popularity which spans geographic locations around the world? Starting this week we begin a series about iconic patterns. We chose plaid as a timeless favorite to do a little under the surface research about.
During a photo shoot in the master bath of one of our most beloved clients of 2017, our curiosity emerged about why plaid is so iconic. How has plaid been in vogue for over a hundred years? How does it stay relevant? Plaid is forever morphing through the decades, always reinventing itself in fashion and home decor, often looking back to bygone eras with bittersweet feelings.
A Case Study in Plaid’s Legacy
Burberry, the luxury fashion house based out of London, has perhaps the most iconic plaid there ever was.
But how has it survived the forever shifting tastes of the seasons?
The answer lies in Burberry’s history which is actually more interesting than you might imagine.
The company was founded by Thomas Burberry in 1856, who was a drapery apprentice. At 21 he was a young start-up specializing in outerwear. Their most famous design is the trench coat, formerly called a “tielocken” I kid you not — but really took off due to soldiers in WW1 wearing them in the trenches. The reason they became such a staple of the military uniform is due to the specific fabric Burberry invented called gabardine — which is basically a type of wool that is waterproofed before weaving, making it incredibly resistant to all forms of weather. The inside of these trench coats was the silk lining of the now classic Burberry plaid.
But you may be thinking, WW1 was over in 1918, and the Burberry plaid has been significantly relevant since then! You are totally right, and the more modern history of Burberry is even funnier. An article on Menswear Market describes this as it
“[Plaid is] becoming a victim of its own popularity.”
Basically what happened was reinvention — the leaders of Burberry wanted to find a way to amplify their famous plaid, not just as linings of jackets but expanding to literally everything. What started as a good idea was pushed a bit too far resulting in the famous tabloid image of British actress Daniella Westbrook and her child. #plaidoverdose
Globalization, Counterfeit Luxury Goods and Burberry’s Demise?
We’ve all seen knockoff scarves, trench coats and hang bags replicated as low-quality renditions of luxury brands like Burberry, Louis Vuitton and Coach. This style trend is often called “chavs,” A British slang term for “a young lower-class person who displays brash and loutish behavior and wears real or imitation designer clothing.”
Globalization smirks when Eastern cultures turn the tables and appropriate a Western design like the Burberry plaid and mass produce it. Burberry plaid worked hard not to lose all of its street cred as a luxury brand when it became available to the masses by way of black market counterfeits. Eventually Burberry decided to push its brand back into the ridiculously expensive, barely attainable, minimal brand it is known for today but the history stands as a testament to the long heritage of nobility and (re)invention of it’s designers.