Some see it as a stalwart heritage mill, others as a beacon of luxury, but to the puritan design lover Begg & Co. is the quintessential craftsman. One of the most noteworthy textiles names north of the border, Begg has been a byword in the manufacturing of impeccable wools and cashmere for more than 150 years. The biggest change however, has occurred in the past five.
In 2012 Begg the manufacturer – and one of Scotland’s oldest mills – became Begg & Co. the contemporary brand. This proved to be a prescient move. Decades of pressure from cheap overseas material and a lack of innovation cast the Scottish manufacturing industry adrift. In its heyday, the local knitwear industry employed 9,000, for example. Today it’s less than 1,000.
Despite the industry’s modest size, Scottish heritage mills are a bastion of quality in luxury circles. Fashion tends to follow the flock; with a who’s-who roll-call from Chanel claiming a stake in Barrie Knitwear, while closer to home Burberry and Vivienne Westwood continue to capitalise on the economic benefit of the ‘Made in Scotland’ label.
One perk of pared back scale is that the industry can focus on upping the quality, expertly crafted. And at Begg & Co. that focus is sharply concentrated on scarves, wraps and throws. That’s what makes a Begg & Co. piece so special: a laser-sharp focus that marries innovative products delivered by the hands of the most experienced craftsmen. At Begg & Co.’s Ayrshire mill, craft begins by harvesting the finest raw materials of lambswool, cashmere and angora yarns. To achieve the softest touch, cloth is pummelled in traditional ceremony, using a century-old wooden milling device with cutting edge machinery. The brand’s signature ‘ripple effect’ occurs after brushing the wool with specially grown Italian teasel plant heads, whetted with a sprinkle of Scottish water before application. Then the highest-grade fibres are spun into yarn, washed, brushed and meticulously finished. The final product is pressed using brown paper infused with strands of copper, which gives each Begg and Co. piece its distinctive glossy sheen, before being inspected inch by inch by two in-house craftsmen. The result is a labour of love that’s part time capsule, part wearable art.
"It's a labour of love that's part time capsule, part wearable art"
There are several Scottish mills such as Loro Piana and Johnstons of Elgin offering refined wool accessories, but Begg & Co. has the edge because of its strong directional style and the only brand of note to make a contemporary fashion crossover, as covetable brand in its own right.
With every garment, it seems the material comes first, design inspiration second; and provenance third. An aesthetic trinity working in unison. In fashion, there has been a seismic shift towards transparency in provenance and collaborators coming together in pursuit of a blurring of visions. Handcrafted pieces boasting intricate workmanship imbued with artistic merit are becoming highly valued commodities.
Echoes of art and nature are sewn into the very fabric of a Begg & Co. design. Look closely and you’ll see the electric blue reminiscent of Yves Klein in the Women’s Arran Classic Cashmere; hints of the muted colourways of modernist hero, Alexander Calder’s Constellations in the men’s Ombre Oversized scarf; and green hues evoking woodland moss in the Women’s Wispy Hanover. Every item hints at a sense of place that stretches from Scotland to Italy to the US and back again; as binding as the 5 miles of yarn that goes into the Superfine Cashmere scarfs. It’s a fitting journey for a philosophy of ‘modernising traditional inspiration’.
"Look closely and you’ll see the muted colourways of modernist hero, Alexander Calder"
In the past year the brand has partnered with celebrated abstract painter, Michael Wall, who translated his signature aesthetic into several large-scale canvases, forming the backdrop to the A/W limited edition collection. Such savvy art collaborations give each product a sense of relevancy by offering a subtle cultural dimension. The brand’s combination of artistic insight, historical weaving techniques and the best in cutting edge innovation has cultivated a discerning global following. Every detail, inspiration and output is delivered with dedication and devotion – with hundreds of years of practice going into each piece. It’s not easy switching from being a manufacturer to a brand – and many have stumbled along the way – but the stylish accessories label seems to have completed the transition seamlessly.
Product imagery courtesy of Begg & Co.
A scarf for all seasons
A Begg & Co. piece is to be enjoyed year-round. Check out the brand's silk and feather-light designs to sashay straight into spring.