When Paris fashion house Chanel unveiled its Haute Couture Spring-Summer 2024 collection in Paris, some followers of fashion may well have felt a tinge of déjà vu.

In the front row sat Eighties’ supermodel Naomi Campbell dressed in a mulberry tweed jacket, beside her resplendent in monochrome tweed, rapper Kendrick Lamar.

On the runway, Poor Things star Margaret Qualley, daughter of actress Andie MacDowell, was in a classic Chanel white tweed jacket paired with a soft Pierrot collar, and in the crowd was actress Lucy Boynton in a white, black and pink tweed minidress.

Although last month’s runway show revolved around the theme of the fashion house’s signature double ‘C’ button, it was a fabric first embraced by design legend Coco Chanel as she tramped across a wild Sutherland landscape, hunting, shooting and fishing a century ago this year, that stole the spotlight.

Within a few months of holidaying at the Duke of Westminster’s Reay Forest estate in 1924, the queen of haute couture was making plans to transform the rough and heavy woven fabric, rich in the colours of the Highland landscape and until then only really worn in the great outdoors, into a fashion must have.

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Having worked with the Scottish boss of a Carlisle tweed mill to figure out how to soften the prickly tweed into a gentler, lighter fabric, it would be mere months before it was moulded into the very first Chanel tweed jacket. Next year marks the centenary of Chanel presenting tweed to the fashion world.


The Herald: Dave Free, Naomi Campbell and Kendrick Lamar wear tweed to the recent Chanel Haute Couture Spring/Summer 2024 show Dave Free, Naomi Campbell and Kendrick Lamar wear tweed to the recent Chanel Haute Couture Spring/Summer 2024 show (Image: Stephane Cardinale - Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)

Her 1925 design kickstarted a trend that would survive a world war, be embraced by the rich and famous and become an icon: Jackie Kennedy’s pink Chanel suit, worn when her husband was assassinated in November 1963, was made from fabric woven by the very same tweed mill that the designer had first collaborated with in 1924.

Down the years, Chanel tweed designs would emerge in an array of rich textured fabrics and multi-coloured variations, adorned with sequins and beads, shot with silk, softened with ruffles and sparkling with golden thread, but always rooted in the in the traditional hard-wearing cloth that was once the mainstay of Highland life.


The Herald: Coco Chanel pictured in 1936. The designer is currently the focus of an Apple TV drama based around her wartime associationsCoco Chanel pictured in 1936. The designer is currently the focus of an Apple TV drama based around her wartime associations (Image: Lipnitzki/Roger Viollet/Getty Images)

In recent months and to take the label’s love affair with the Scottish fabric even further, Chanel unveiled Tweed de Chanel, a dazzling jewellery collection of precious metals and gemstones which appear woven in intricate designs intended to resemble patches of tweed.

“Tweed had been around for a very long time before Gabrielle Chanel arrived in Scotland,” stresses V&A Dundee curator Kirsty Hassard.

“It was a high function fabric, heavy and made for the outdoors, for sporting wear and leisure wear.

“She was in a relationship with the Duke of Westminster and was becoming part of the British elite.


The Herald: Coco Chanel (left) with friend Vera Bate dressed in borrowed tweed jackets t Lochmore, Sutherland Coco Chanel (left) with friend Vera Bate dressed in borrowed tweed jackets t Lochmore, Sutherland (Image: Source unknown)

“She was fishing, hunting and playing golf: all things associated with wearing tweed, and Scotland was a big part of that.

“She decided she wanted to make a lightweight tweed, something that hadn’t existed before.

“And she became one of the first to take tweed from this utilitarian use and turn it into fashion.”

Born amid chaos and poverty in a poorhouse in a small town on the banks of the Loire in 1883, Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel learned to sew in a convent and began her fashion life as a milliner.

The Herald: Coco Chanel and, inset, the Carlisle tweed company Linton

She was 40 and rapidly becoming one of the world’s most recognisable clothes designers when she met the 2nd Duke of Westminster, Britain’s wealthiest man, in Monte Carlo in 1923.

The duke, known as Bendor after his grandfather’s Derby-winning stallion,  yet set about wooing Chanel.

Before long Chanel - currently the subject of Apple TV+ series, The New Look, which explores her wartime connections and sympathies - was spending time with him and his wealthy friends at his 100,000 acres Reay Forest estate.

Originally leased by the 1st Duke of Westminster from his father-in-law, the Duke of Sutherland, the 2nd Duke had bought it in 1920 and made it his personal playground, with hunting parties, salmon fishing and well to do guests.


The Herald:  Chanel coat made in pinky brown tweed, 1955 Chanel coat made in pinky brown tweed, 1955 (Image: Kurt Hutton/Picture Post/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The couple spent time at one of the estate properties, Lochmore Lodge, a 52-room granite mansion complete with Victorian Gothic turrets and stunning mountain views, or Rosehall near Lairg, which Chanel decorated with handblocked wallpaper and classic furnishings.

Or they’d retreat to Stack Lodge on the River Laxford, a wood-panelled Highland haven with stag antlers positioned above the roaring fire and accessible only by a stone bridge over the river.

Chanel embraced the country sporting life, reflecting: “on the moors of Scotland, the grouse are ready to be shot, or the salmon to be fished…”

While leather-bound volumes of fishing records in the estate office revealed her skill with a fishing rod: her name appears in May 1925, alongside details of her 9lb salmon catch followed that September with a 17lb haul.

In one 1924 photograph, she is smiles broadly, dressed top to bottom in the Duke of Westminster’s tweed hunting jacket and flannel trousers, long sleeves and cuffs rolled up, sturdy boots, cardigan and cravat.

Before the year was out, she had formed a collaboration with William Linton, the Scottish owner of a Carlisle tweed producing mill.

The Herald: Tweed Couture Necklace (Photo credit: Chanel)Tweed Couture Necklace (Photo credit: Chanel) (Image: Chanel)

And next year, the first Chanel designed tweed women’s suit was being shown in Paris.

According to Brian Hilligan, a Selkirk-based artist and former fabric designer who worked for Linton Tweeds designing fabric destined for Chanel, the collaboration was at a unique time for change.

“It was around the time of the equal rights movement for women, and Chanel took the influence from masculine style to free up women.

“Edwardian clothes were restrictive and meant to be worn a certain way. Women had to ride side saddle and be corseted up.

“What she did with the tweed jacket was introduce freedom. Women were starting to wear trousers, and she designed leisure wear.

“She was not the only one, Paul Poiret is not so well known but he was ahead of his time as a man in the 1920s taking male garments and making them into clothes that women could wear.

“It was a movement, and Chanel was right at the forefront.”

The Herald: President Kennedy and wife Jackie, wearing a pink Chanel tweed suitPresident Kennedy and wife Jackie, wearing a pink Chanel tweed suit (Image: Cecil W. Stoughton)

Her use of tweed was groundbreaking and placed Scottish-produced fabric at the very height of fashion, securing work for mills and their workers and making use of abundant wool supplied by white-faced Cheviot sheep.

Chanel had become enchanted by the patterns that could be achieved by the weavers’ looms, the colours achieved using dyes from native lichen and wildflowers and which reflected the Scottish landscape and the heritage.

“Ghillies and gamekeepers would wear the ‘estate tweed’, coloured according to where in Scotland they were,” says Brian. “In Balmoral, for example, it’s quite a grey tweed because there’s a lot of granite, with a soft red.

“Whereas the Lovatt colours were green and soft blues that matched the fauna of the estate.”

In the Outer Hebrides, tightly woven Harris Tweed was brighter than the muted shades of the Borders and Highland mills, with mossy greens and earthy browns – ideal for gamekeepers’ camouflage.

Tweed had received its name by accident in 1826 when a merchant’s label on a package of wool ‘tweel’ intended for a London milliner was confused with the River Tweed.

As railways opened up the movement of produce and new techniques made dyes more vibrant, mills sprung up: there were more than 20 producing tweeds between Hawick and Galashiels, making use of the soft waters of the Tweed to wash the wool and power the mills.

The Herald: Models dressed in Chanel tweed in January 1968Models dressed in Chanel tweed in January 1968 (Image: Photo by Frank Albert Charles Burke/Fairfax Media via Getty Images)

These days only a handful remain – among them some which still supply some of the world’s leading fashion houses, including Chanel.

With fashion trends kept tightly under wraps, it remains to be seen if tweed makes a significant appearance on March 5, when Chanel unveils its Fall/Winter 2024-25 women’s wear collection – 100 years on from the design house’s first tweed outfit.

“She was quoted as saying ‘It was me that taught the Scots how to make lightweight tweed, and I promise you, I had a tough time convincing them’,” adds Kirsty.

“It was her ideas and her initiative. But she needed the experts and the tweed.

“Everything came together.”