Plaid in Fashion and Decoration
“Plaid is perennial,” my friend and aesthete, Josh Van Gelder pointed out recently as were on a regular London field trip to see what is new in the world of design and fashion. Plaid was arrayed in many shop windows, so it was among the many subjects we critically analyzed that day. Josh and I have spoken about plaid before, especially about his collection of vintage shirts made by the Pendleton Mills in Oregon.
We agreed that even though the fabric and patterns are constructed simply, the designs still change with taste, often with great facility. (The design of woven plaids can only be manipulated by changing the color of the threads and their arrangement in the warp and weft.) At the same time, the ancient plaids associated with the Scottish clans and companies such as Burberry do not change and continue to be popular.
Many of the plaids featured this year have a watery quality produced by a close combination of colors. There is simultaneously a disastrous purple plaid story hitting the windows of one international retailer.
In decoration, I like to use plaids for carpets. I think they look good placed on the regular geometry of floors and the design often adds to the architecture of the room. In a custom plaid carpet the palate can be manipulated with multiple colors of threads in a way that is impossible in any other type of carpet, save the most complex hand knotted or needle point styles. One of my favorite plaid carpets is one we made for a 19th-century house at the beach. It was woven in Guatemala with eight colors.
Plaid fabrics look good on smaller pieces of furniture and for pillows. A set of three big cushioned sofas in bold plaids and plaid on mid-century furniture is usually a very bad idea. Two negative, but informative examples of the use of plaid lurk in my memory: a room with a carpet and a sofa in the same large plaid and a pair of Barcelona chairs in Black Watch (a tartan plaid).
I have also seen rooms with walls that have been upholstered in plaid to varying degrees of success. By the nature of the woven fabric, the pattern becomes stretched, and to the great dismay of the upholsterer, does not easily match in the corners. Though obviously, the beauty of the plaid still prevails.
Recently I saw another room published where the same fate occurred, but, in this case, the unmatched patterns could be seen as a quirky asset.
Plaid is perennial.
Image from top: Barney’s New York window, photo by Thomas Jayne; plaid shirts from Pendelton and Uniqlo; a house in Fire Island by Thomas Jayne, photo by Jonathan Wallen; the plaid rug from the house in Fire Island; image from "Tartan: Romancing the Plaid" by Jeffrey Banks and Doria de la Chapelle, Rizzoli.