So here I go, on a Trade Mission to the US of A, in the company of a handful of Scotland’s finest textile producers and designers. Three cities in five days. Wow.
The Mission is to meet some of America’s leading style setters and buyers in the world of Interiors, including famous designers and the folk who create boutique hotels, plus high-end textile showrooms, exhibitions… a pretty packed schedule.
I know that the US is a big place, where self-promotion is more the norm, so here’s a thought: I’m there to show off the gorgeous new fabrics and products coming out of my DC Dalgliesh tartan weaving mill (or plaid, as I quickly get used to calling it). So why not dress for the occasion?
Perhaps a tartan suit? A three piece suit, worn simply with open white shirt, smart shoes, and pocket square. A simple enough plan, really. Okay, I do know that it’s all about dressing-down nowadays, and formal business suits aren’t exactly obligatory. But I kind of want to make a statement.
Oh, boy. It seems I do!
It starts while still in the UK, at the check-in queue. A smart married couple approach me with a phrase I am soon to hear quite often - “We love your suit!” - and wanting to know where I found it. A quick chat later, I’m handing over my business card, and if truth be told am quite aglow with the attention. This isn’t a reaction my normal work wear attracts.
The cabin stewards are next - complimenting me as I come on board, then approaching me one by one during the flight to ask about it. Then the immigration official at JFK, whom I gather have a bit of a reputation as tough cookies, but in my case couldn’t be nicer. Or chattier. Or more enthusiastic that the US Immigration Department should adopt plaid uniforms, because he wants that look.
I perch down to check my hotel details, and a big hip dude in the coolest shades taps me on the shoulder: “Hey, that’s a sharp look man - where can I get one?”.
Then a few more compliments on the way to the taxi rank.
You get the picture.
I apologise here and now to my fellow travelers for my perpetual astonished accounts as the latest gorgeous woman, street-cool hipster, high ranking design guru, group of college kids, or police patrol stops to talk to me about my suit - usually wanting to know where they can buy their own. You have to understand this is so unusual for me. Even discounting the smiles and nods, this must happen over a hundred times in my few days in New York, Atlanta, and Dallas.
It seems to be everyone… from busy businessmen stopping in their tracks, to lobby cleaners at our hotel. Hispanic, Asian, black, white. Young and old. Male and female. Wealthy, or not so much. I explain to one shop assistant that it will be over a thousand bucks if he wants one. “No problem”, he replies. “I must have that suit. I’ll save.”
So what do I learn from this? Well, firstly, that whilst the Interiors mission was a success, perhaps DC Dalgliesh should be focusing a little more marketing effort on its unique capacity to produce stunning tartan suits!
I think the fabric we’d chosen did help - the understated dark look, gradually emerging into plaid as you approach with thin red and subtle blue stripes does look pretty eye catching. But several folk also asked if they could get one in their own tartan, and seemed impressed to hear we’d a choice of over 40,000, or else that they could design their own.
But with hindsight, the biggest lesson for me is one of affirmation. I’d flown to the US with some stunning new and contemporary plaid designs in ‘trend’ colours to show off (neutrals, especially, for the Interiors market). But here I am, an unwitting fashion icon, decked from head to foot in one of the most traditional tartans in existence. If that doesn’t say that even the most classic plaid can be cool, what does?
And the really funny thing? This outfit was nearly my second-most striking look! Our real show-stopper was just designed the previous week so wasn’t quite ready in time…