It's the smell that hits you first, strong and hard, in the face, like a fistful of salts.

It’s the smell that hits you first, strong and hard, in the face, like a fistful of salts. Chemical and intense, it lingers between your sinuses and your brain. Then there’s the noise, a background din of trashy radio, football chatter and machinery humming, echoing through this cavernous space. Around the walls bolts of fabric -- red, cream, green and blue -- stand to attention, like soldiers of fashion.

It’s a lot to take in, and since this is my first visit to Mackintosh’s Cumbernauld factory, I’m feeling momentarily overwhelmed. Daniel Dunko, the Scottish company’s managing director, doesn’t even notice this sensory overload. He’s been in here thousands of times. “You get used to it,” he says, referring to the pungent aroma of industrial-strength glue. “I can’t really smell it any more.”

It never ceases to amaze me how at odds factories are from the marketing ideal of their products. Take Mackintosh, for example. This factory, tucked away in an industrial estate surrounded by a dozen roundabouts, is not much to look at -- a grey shell, with a few small windows. Inside it’s a heady, noisy, busy place, filled with about 60 workers wearing replica football shirts, chattering about the latest results and Old Firm controversies.

Then there is the product, in this case the classic Mackintosh raincoat. It was used by the British army in the First and Second World Wars and was once the official British Rail overcoat. It’s a 19th-century invention which became a sartorial icon and is made, just like it was more than 100 years ago, by hand-spreading rubberised glue on to cotton to bond together different pieces. Each coat sells for hundreds, sometimes thousands, of pounds. They’re exclusive, regarded in fashion circles as the outerwear creme de la creme, and I can’t imagine a single person in this factory, save Dunko perhaps, who would have the cash or inclination to buy one.

But that’s fashion, I suppose, the industry in which luxury garments are made by skilled but ordinary workers so that the rich and famous can buy them.

Throughout the past decade, Mackintosh has attracted plenty of interest from the luxury market. Marc Jacobs, Hermes and Louis Vuitton have all come knocking on the door of this company to make them raincoats. Mackintosh also has an eponymous outerwear label sold in its London store.

Dunko, who grew up in Cumbernauld, started work on the Mackintosh shopfloor in 1983, becoming boss in 1996, and has been a key part of this success story. “I always believed what we were doing was old fashioned and not very interesting. I believed there was a market beyond the classic one,” says the 45-year-old, who now lives in Edinburgh with his wife Suzannah and their three year-old daughter Matilda.

“Although we touched base with a couple of companies like Hermes in the 1980s, the coat was always a very classic item. I always believed that, if we turned it into something away from industrial use and more towards fashion, we would have a bigger market and could be very successful -- I always had this feeling that styling things would work. At the time the then managing director was a bit set in his ways. I believed I could do something better. So I bought a 1% stake in the business in 1996, then began to push Mackintosh as a brand.”

The company has gone from strength to strength. It reinvented itself in the early 2000s, ditching the name Traditional Weatherwear in favour of the generic Mackintosh to signify its history and heritage. It opened stores in Japan as well as a joint retail space with Globe-Trotter luggage in upmarket Burlington Arcade in London, before opening a flagship store in Mayfair last year. The brand is now owned by Yagi Tsusho, the Japanese company which bought Mackintosh in 2007. By the end of the year the company will have increased its number of stores in Japan from 60 to 70, while its turnover in the UK is £5 million.

Combine that with the increase in high fashion clients such as Louis Vuitton, a Japanese diffusion range, Mackintosh Philosophy, and a Scottish Fashion Award nomination for Retailer of The Year 2011, and you have a brand in the ascendant.

“One of the best things we did was hook up with Louis Vuitton and Marc Jacobs,” says Dunko. The brand has also worked with up-and-coming designer label Erdem, as well as Balenciaga and Converse. “They [Louis Vuitton] wanted to build their business on icons and for them luggage was an icon and the Mac was an icon. We were the second string to their bow which I thought was fantastic.”

Dunko’s world might be all about designer brands and financial success nowadays, but he didn’t start his career in Mackintosh at the sharp end of the business. “My first job was as a coat-maker. I was glueing and taping, and did that for three years.”

In fact, it was Dunko’s older brother, Mescho, who still works at the factory as a tailor, who got him the job. However, working nine to five, taping and glueing those famous coats together, didn’t appeal to Dunko in the long term.

“I knew I didn’t want to work in the factory. I believed I could do something outwith that and believed the product we made was quite interesting.”

So he worked his way up through the company, taking a job in sales before being promoted to look after Mackintosh’s British and international sales division. “I went to exhibitions in Florence at Pitti Uomo [a trade fashion exhibition], which we still do twice a year, then began to build the profile of the company, pick up the reins in terms of designs and colours, and started to push that to the forefront.”

Rebranding was a big part of the business plan. Indeed, until 2000, there was no fashion label called Mackintosh. Just the fame of a clothing icon, the Mac, which was made using the same fabric invented by Glasgow-born chemist Charles Macintosh.

“The company changed its name because that was a better way of marketing ourselves. It was quite difficult to register the name because it was a generic term and we had to prove there was a connection. The facts were that we made hand-made Mackintosh raincoats as Charles Macintosh invented, we were based in Scotland and the heritage of the brand was all there. It still took us quite a few years to get registered trademarks though.”

Confusingly, it would appear that Charles Macintosh didn’t actually invent the famous coat, but created a way of applying rubber to cotton to make it waterproof in 1823. After that a number of tiny companies and tailors ordered his fabric and, using the same method, made their own coats colloquially dubbed Macs. According to Dunko, it wasn’t until about 10 years later that Macintosh set up the Charles Macintosh India Rubber Company in Manchester and started to make his eponymous coats.

While, as Dunko understands it, that company traded for only 20 years, many of the smaller companies using his methods and fabrics survived. One of them, Talworth Ltd, which was established in 1895 in England, traded successfully until 1963 when it moved to Scotland. In 1974 that company became Traditional Weatherwear Ltd, which then became Mackintosh Ltd under Dunko’s guidance.

It’s a confusing lineage, and one which Dunko doesn’t like to dwell on too much. “It’s a linear line by-process [of making the Mackintosh raincoats] but not by the company -- everyone assumes it was, and you let people assume what they want to. But the fact is that it’s not a straight line from his company to ours and you can’t get away from the facts.”

Despite a complex heritage, the Mackintosh raincoat remains an integral part of Scottish fashion heritage. A little like cashmere and tweed, it’s part of our contribution to the fashion world.

Dunko is also keen to play up the Scottish connections, even if it means changing the pronunciation of his name from time to time. “My father was a displaced person from the Ukraine. He arrived as a 20-year-old at the end of the Second World War. His name is actually Dynko. They would spell it that way and say it June-co, but when he arrived in the UK they heard the name and spelled it Dunko. I obviously now go out of my way to say it Dunko, like Glencoe, to play on that Scottish thing. When we open the shops, I always get my kilt on. I always wear my mother’s tartan.”

Putting Mackintosh back on the map has been as much a personal career journey for Dunko as it has been about reaching corporate goals. However, he admits to being surprised by his own achievements. “I don’t actually think about it but sometimes it takes me by surprise. You forget about things, because you get focused on how to keep the work going, the factory busy, but if I reflect back, we have come a long way.”

He puts some of his success down to family support -- becoming the boss of his brother could have been difficult, but Dunko has not encountered any friction. His sister-in-law and nephew also work for the company as a machinist and coat-maker. “It was strange at the beginning [to employ his family] but it comes to a stage when he’s here and I’m travelling and doing different things. I’m also very lucky that he’s also one of the best at making the jackets, one of our most productive. The difficulty comes when that’s not the case, then you have family issues. Fortunately, the family members are good at their jobs, which is great.”

After 15 years at the top of the company, Dunko is now allowing himself to contemplate a life without continuous world travel and boardroom meetings. And, in a somewhat surprising turn of events, he’s decided his future might be at the workbench.

“I miss the physical side of the business because that’s how I started my life and, if there’s something different for me in the future, that’s what I’ll go to. The future is the past for me. It’s great that we’ve established Mackintosh now and we’ve established it well and I think I’ve been a catalyst in making that happen.

“But if it’s about Daniel Dunko individually, for me, in the future I’d like to work on smaller projects. I miss being more physically creative. I like joinery, I like DIY and I like decorating, and I try and do as much of that as possible.”

Dunko’s even considering trying his hand at making a Mackintosh raincoat again. But it will be for one very special customer -- his daughter Matilda.

“That’s something I want to do myself. I want to make her a coat when she gets a little bit older. My wife has one. The only person who doesn’t have one is my daughter, because she’s just three. We still have some old children’s coat patterns that we used to make, so I’m going to make her one, one day.”