When attempting to define the future, Caledonian creatives are not afraid to delve into the past
PHOTOGRAPHS: Oliver Pilcher FASHION DIRECTION Nino Bauti
WHEN CONJURING IMAGES OF SCOTLAND, even culturally sensitive types tend to rummage through an abject rattle bag of clichés: sporrans, bagpipes, a wee dram of whisky. At some point one’s mind will flit, however briefly, across a misty highland, a hirsute clansman thundering through the heather, swinging a large sword and hollering, “You’ll never take our freedom!”
Historically, the Scots have been portrayed (by the English, mostly) as an aggressive breed—a portrayal not entirely without merit. The belligerents in Braveheart are based in reality, as are the exuberant thugs (modern renditions of the Scot-warrior archetype) in the novels of Edinburgh native Irvine Welsh. We should bear in mind, however, that Scotland also gave us the philosopher David Hume, Peter Pan creator J.M. Barrie, radar inventor Robert Watson-Watt and, erm, Gordon Ramsay.
This year Scotland is in the midst of an effort to emphasize its status as a repository of high culture and to tease its heritage into a modern context. To this end, 2012 has been designated the “Year of Creative Scotland,” with a series of events and campaigns that highlight the art, architecture, music, fashion and thought that Scotland continues to produce at a remarkable clip.
The images you see here are emblematic of the thinking behind the push to refine Scotland’s image. The photographs were shot in two monumental, old-as-the-hills citadels: Blair Castle and Errol Park. The apparel includes offerings from Scottish designers D.S. Dundee and Belinda Robertson, who employ traditional materials and conceits while maintaining a contemporary look that’s as suited to the streets of Paris or Milan as it is to the Highlands. It is through this mingling of historical and progressive influences that modern Scotland seeks to define itself.
Tessa Hartmann, who six years ago founded the annual Scottish Fashion Awards, says that toying with stereotypes—”the haggis-and-shortbread persona”— has become a trademark of the country’s booming fashion industry. “People come here with images of red hair and tartan,” she says. “So [at the 2012 awards] we had fun with that, using these big, vibrant red wigs.” The old clan colors were also an insistent motif. “Fashion, from punk couture to Karl Lagerfeld, cannot get enough of tartan,” Hartmann says. “It’s about celebrating heritage, taking it and giving it a new look.”
A similar impulse can be seen at The Lighthouse, the national center for design and architecture, in Glasgow. The complex is housed in a 19th-century masterpiece by Scottish architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh, his famous brick tower rising above a modular, hypermodern extension. “The juxtaposition of the old and the new,” says Ian Elder, the center’s manager, “pays homage to Mackintosh, and to his architectural themes.”
While allowing that Glasgow is indeed home to some highly ill-advised contemporary architecture, Elder believes that The Lighthouse points to a more “sympathetic” approach that has taken root in recent years. “The tension is in how to maintain character” while not appearing to be “frozen in time,” he says, adding, “I think we’re getting the balance right.”
Simon Groom, director of Edinburgh’s Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, argues that the old-versus-new debate rests on a false dichotomy. “New things,” he says, “are always based on old ideas.” While many museums segregate their artworks by historical period, Groom prefers a more fluid approach. “We mix up the old masters with young artists who will be the old masters of tomorrow,” he says. “People think contemporary art comes from Mars, but there is a continuous line.”
As he speaks, Groom is getting ready for his museum’s Picasso show—an exhibit that, in a way, illustrates his point. “Picasso, in his lifetime, was a very challenging and misunderstood artist,” he says, then adds, “From my window I can see two huge jet engines by a young artist named Roger Hiorns. He brought them back from Afghanistan, packed them full of antidepressants, and now they lie on our grounds, posing the immediate question of ‘What are we doing here?'”
If Hiorns’ depressed engines seem like a rather strident expression of pacifist sentiments—well, that too is very Scottish. There’s a steely edge to this small, craggy country, one that cuts into the highest reaches of its culture. “Artists who come out of here punch above their weight,” says Hartmann. “There’s a hunger here. Because we don’t live in epicenters of commerce, that makes the drive and edginess slightly stronger than they would normally be.” —CHRIS WRIGHT
Film director, Oli Bowhill; film assistant, Drew Delany; fashion assistant, Billy Hasan; photography assistant, Tom Ayerst; hair and makeup artist, Abigail McGrath (using Kiehl’s hair products and Shu Uemura makeup); hair and makeup assistant, Florence Pilcher; models, Kara Barr/Oxygen, Oliver Bailey/Oxygen, Annemarije Rus/Union Models, Roger Frampton/Re-Model-Me, David Frampton/david-frampton.com, Joel Frampton
SPECIAL THANKS: VisitScotland