Scottish weavers desired to create a denser cloth and by developing the twill they produced what is now known as tweed. The name originated in London, when a cloth merchant mis-read "tweel", the Scottish version of twill.
Due to its dense and hard wearing nature, the fabric is synonymous with men's suiting and coats. The most famous brand of tweed is Harris Tweed, which was created in the 18th century by crofters in the Outer Hebrides. This fabric was then introduced to the British aristocracy by Lady Dunmore in the 1840s for wear during shooting and hunting expeditions.
The Harris Tweed is fiercely protected, in order to deter imitations each cloth is brand with the Harris Tweed Orb Certification Mark. The mark was created in 1909, and is the oldest known mark in British history. The mark reads, "only tweeds woven in the Outer Hebrides would be eligible". Under the 1993 Act of Parliament, the Harris tweed must be "hand-woven by the islanders at their homes in the Outer Hebrides, finished in the islands of Harris, Lewis, Benbecula, Uist and Barra and their several purtenances and made from pure virgin wool dyed and spun in the Outer Hebrides". It is currently the only fabric in the world to be protected by an Act of Parliament. To this day, every fifty meters of Harris Tweed are checked by an inspector from the Harris Tweed Authority before receiving a stamp.This is also the only fabric to still be produced by hand.
Coco Chanel famously borrowed the masculine fabric and created the famed Chanel suit out of tweed during the 1920s. Even though tweed was a cheap fabric and Coco Chanel was selective, she adored the fabric and only used tweed produced by the Duke of Westminster's factory. She then lined the jacket in fur in order to increase the cost and subsequently its status.
It was structured to feel like a cardigan, rather than a restrictive suit jacket. The differentiation were the silk lining stitched directly to the tweed, boxy cut and the three-part construction of the sleeves.
In the 50s and 60s, Chanel reintroduced the Chanel jacket in pastel colors. The jacket quickly became a status symbol for women of the British aristocracy. It is still reworked throughout collections by Karl Lagerfeld.
In order to reduce its "scratchy" feeling, the cloth is now produced in lighter weights in order to allow fashion houses like John Galliano and Vivienne Westwood to create their curvier tailored pieces. The original Hattersley loom was replaced by the Bonas-Griffith double width loom in 1996 to accommodate the softer tweed.
In 2004 the Harris tweed was near extinction from low demand, it was shoe brand Nike who order 10,000 meters of the fabric for production in a line of sneakers that revived interest in the fabric.
Men's tweed suit, Gucci Fall 2010.
Chanel Spring Summer 2009 collection.
Chanel tweed jacket.