Standing in the private showroom, above the New Bond Street store, surrounded by his latest AW19 menswear collection, Alan Scott, looks pleased with himself and deservedly so.
Three years of hard work has got him to this place. (He was made creative director in February 2016). Known for its cashmere and knitted products since 1797, Johnstons of Elgin, has, recently, expanded with the goal of making it a truly global, year-round and full offer luxury brand for both men and women.
This menswear collection features bold blanket coats and zingy neon green knits in the finest cashmere offering a comprehensive wardrobe for any man from London to Lima. Poised to be unveiled at the global men’s showcase, Pitti Uomo in January, where Johnstons of Elgin is taking a larger stand, the new AW19 collection is a stake in the ground for positioning Johnstons of Elgin as one of the world’s finest manufacturing brands.
Britain’s answer to Zegna or Loro Piana, the proudly made in Scotland label also showcased a full womenswear collection at the recent London Fashion Week with another planned for the forthcoming season.
Originally from Newcastle, Scott trained at Kingston University, and “went straight to Donna Karan in 1990. We started that company. She said, “can you do you menswear?” It’ll be 30 years in the business, next year,” says Scott.
Further stops included Loro Piana, Vestimenta, Trussardi, his own label Alan Scott Milan and academic programme leaderships at Northumbria University, Sunderland University, and St. Martins School of Art.
He wanted the job at Johnstons of Elgin because, “I saw the ingredients, it was a untapped diamond. What you could do with this? I thought. I don’t think anybody had connected all the dots by using our own technology to do our own thing in our own way and have it as a unique signature and direction for us.” he says.
Johnstons of Elgin is still family owned and has two Scottish factories: one in Howick, specialising in knitwear, and Elgin, specialising in textiles and woven items. It produces private label product for brands such as Burberry, Hermès, Louis Vuitton and Chanel, but is increasing the visibility and options for its namesake brand.
“I’m based in the Borders, Howick, but I travel each week up to Elgin, I’ve got a team of 20 and I’m coordinating all the different divisions,” says Scott.
“I think there’s an incredible family culture of nurturing skills and technology, and also the investment that they’re making into the brand.” he says. “What makes it special is its history. It’s unique. It’s an absolute original story; full of provenance, original angles, and, over the 220 years, what it’s been involved with, is incredible.
“The scale of what the family has done and the business that they’ve built really supports the town, supports development, supports innovation: trainees, appreciation, the herdsmen in Mongolia. Everything is very, very much curated and taken care of. It’s a caring culture, it’s great,” he says.
Johnstons of Elgin is expanding its retail footprint by opening a new shop showcasing the women’s and men’s collections in Edinburgh in March. Surrounded by luxury neighbours, Gucci and Louis Vuitton, the 2000 sq.ft. store will house womenswear in a clean and streamlined boutique on the ground floor, with a clubby atmosphere for menswear upstairs.
“The Johnstons customer used to be more of a classic customer and, now, we’re moving and shifting the focus into more of a contemporary, younger customer and trying to capture markets we would never have sold into before with a cashmere brand.” says Scott.
“Normally cashmere brands are perceived to be just a winter brand. So, with all this lightweight technology and lightweight product we can move into these different markets, which suddenly opens up that the people who wear those types of products are younger. It’s certainly moving into a younger arena,” he says.
Johnstons of Elgin is a British manufacturing success story. Today, both factories are running at full capacity. The company has grown from 200 people turning over £11m-£12m, in the mid-90s, to over 1,000 people with a turnover of £78m, today.
“I see the future as a very well established British brand, but with a global outlook that can really service everybody’s lifestyle.” says Scott. “We’re giving the tools and ingredients to wear this product in different aspects of your life: whether you’re travelling, whether on business, whether you’re relaxing. The fibre itself is an emotional fibre; you connect to it, so there’s real personal angle to the design and what it should be. You want to have something and fall in love with it,” he says.
Everything from Johnstons of Elgin is made in Scotland apart from the outerwear and tailored goods. Using Private White V.C. in Manchester and tailoring families in Naples and Sicily, they give the flawless finish the Johnstons of Elgin cloth deserves. Stunning unstructured cashmere coats are the best you will find anywhere. While the prices reflect the quality, it also offers value with it being the finest product.
Johnstons of Elgin started working with cashmere in 1850 and was one of the first companies to introduce it to Europe. Being responsible for its most treasured fibre ,three years ago they joined the Sustainable Fibre Alliance with Kering. The SFA is a non-profit international organisation working with the extended cashmere supply chain, from herders to retailers. The SFA provide an independent, non-competitive platform that enables end to end cashmere supply chain, non government and government organisations to come together with a common interest in ensuring sustainability in the cashmere industry.
Johnstons of Elgin’s unbroken family line allows for an archive that influences but doesn’t dominate the brand. They even have Thomas Burberry’s first order for blankets in there.
The brand is stepping up and over anything manufacturers from Italy, France or Japan can offer. When Loro Piana is buying your cashmere fabric, you know you must be doing something right.
“It’s a 220 year old start-up.” says Scott, laughing.