It is as intrinsically Scottish as shortbread and bagpipes.

Tartan is said to have been fashionable at court during the reign of King James IV, from 1488–1513.

Centuries later, the Bay City Rollers were kitted out in Royal Stewart trews before Vivienne Westwood upped its hip credentials, using the fabric in her now iconic Anglomania show in 1989.

Now, an exhibition celebrating tartan’s “universal and enduring appeal” will be staged this year to mark the fifth birthday of Dundee’s V&A  museum.

‘Tartan’ brings together a dazzling selection of more than 300 objects from over 80 lenders worldwide through iconic and everyday examples of fashion, architecture, graphic and product design, photography, furniture, glass and ceramics, film, performance and art. 

The Herald:

The fabric has been used by designers throughout history, with some of fashion’s most innovative and rebellious minds exercising their refined cutting skills on the fabric.

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This will be reflected with pieces by Chanel, Dior, Alexander McQueen, Vivienne Westwood and Comme des Garçons, alongside the work of contemporary designers inspired by tartan including Grace Wales Bonner, Nicholas Daley, Louise Gray, Charles Jeffrey, Owen Snaith and Olubiyi Thomas.

The spectrum of how tartan has been worn is covered in the exhibition, from an eighteenth-century tartan dress coat for the Ancient Caledonian Society, to a significant photograph from around 1908 of Scottish Suffragettes proudly wearing tartan sashes and Sir Jackie Stewart’s racing helmet with its distinctive Royal Stewart tartan band.

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A fragment of tartan worn by Prince Charles Edward Stuart will be on display as well as a pair of Bay City Rollers trousers, handmade by a lifelong fan. 

Even the humble but iconic tartan shortbread tin has been considered.

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To commemorate this landmark exhibition, V&A Dundee has commissioned Kinloch Anderson to design a new tartan to be used as the museum’s exclusive tartan and developed a range of merchandise in collaboration with designers in Scotland.

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V&A Dundee has also asked the public to contribute to the exhibition, which opens on April 1, with objects and memories that will spark recognition, joy and nostalgia.

Paintings, including Christian Hook’s oil painting of actor Alan Cumming and Gerard Burns’ portrait of the late former Scotland International rugby star Doddie Weir OBE, sit alongside the seventeenth-century image of Lord Mungo Murray by John Michael Wright.

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The exhibition will also feature exhibits from museums including the Tate, V&A, National Museums of Scotland, National Trust for Scotland, National Theatre of Scotland and the Highland Folk Museum and more, many of which are being shown together in Scotland for the first time.

Leonie Bell, Director of V&A Dundee said: “To mark our 5th birthday we are celebrating and challenging the history and contradictions within Scotland’s most iconic design.  

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 “Everyone knows tartan, in Scotland and across the world, and it is linked to a hugely diverse range of identities. 

The Herald:

“It is at once the pattern of Highland myth and legend, forever entwined with Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobite uprising, as well as being the pattern of 1970s punks and contemporary Japanese fashion influencers.  

“Tartan lives in the worlds of high fashion and tourism souvenirs, military uniform and palaces, football stadiums and concerts. 

“It is adored and derided, has inspired great works of art and design, and somehow can represent unity and dissent, tradition and rebellion, the past, the present and the future.”

The exhibition is laid out in five sections where visitors can immerse themselves in the material in all its forms and uses.

Tartan and the Grid looks at the basic structure of the fabric, introduced through textiles from around the world and positioning it as a set of rules to be disrupted by designers. 

In Tartan and Identity, tartan’s global fascination including its importance to diasporic communities is examined as well as the appeal tartan has held for those who express themselves through their clothing, from the traditional to the radical. 

The Herald:

Tartan and Power shows how it disrupts and conforms. A force of pride and might, used to push boundaries or maintain control in war and peacetime. 

Mhairi Maxwell, a curator at V&A Dundee, said: “Tartan has inspired designers, artists and its consumers a world away from parochial pastiche. 

“It is a global phenomenon, expressing diverse ideas of belonging, kinship, nationalism, unity and resistance.”

Entry to the exhibition is free for members and 18s and under. 

Tickets are now on sale at