Kilts back on the Rise in Edinburgh!
Mel Gibson’s 1995 Braveheart reinvigorated the dwindling world of kilts, eventually inspiring Gordon Nicolson to open the specialist Nicolson Kiltmakers store on the Royal Mile in 2001.
Since then he has not only designed several exclusive tartans, including one for the University of Edinburgh, he has also now opened the largest kiltmaking academy in Scotland … right across the street from us! And he’s had Ewan McGregor in not so long ago to be “kilted” out for Trainspotting 2 – can’t be bad.
If you have even the slightest interest in kilts, you should pop into the academy and watch the students actually hand-stitching kilts at close quarters; we think it’s quite fascinating to see!
Gordon couldn’t really have begun in the industry any younger, taking on a Saturday job in the kilt shop Bowdens on Easter Road when he was just 18. He joined them full time once he left school and has stayed immersed in kilts ever since, becoming National Sales Manager for 52-branch Dormie Menswear before they were bought out by Moss Bros in 1992.
After a few years back in Edinburgh with McCalls on the Royal Mile, Gordon could see that the industry was being flooded by imports, sacrificing quality for cheap prices. In 2001 he put his money where his mouth is and opened his own premises with the mantra quality, quality, quality.
His designs have been commissioned by a number of organisations now and registered among the 1600 odd official tartans. For a tartan to be registered, it must be “sufficiently different” to every other tartan, so quite a tall order.
He designed the John Muir Way Tartan on behalf of Scottish Natural Heritage to mark the 2014 opening of the 215km John Muir Way, which stretches from Dunbar on the east coast of Scotland to Helensburgh on the west coast. The colours used were inspired by the coastline Lammermuir Hills around Dunbar, including blue to represent the sea and sky as well as nature red from the Dunbar tartan where John Muir was born.
He also designed the commemorative Flodden tartan, marking the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Flodden. The design features colours which evoke the battle, and those who fought in it. There is the Tudor green and white of the English Army, plus the golden yellow and dark red of the Scottish Army.
Gordon says that most kilt makers are on the wrong side of 50 and those younger ones coming through have often not been taught well so their standards have been poor. In addition, his own business has grown substantially and he needs more kilt makers himself to keep up with that growing demand for traditionally hand stitched kilts.
So the idea for the Academy was born and Gordon is delighted that the first wave of students has brought a wide range of backgrounds into the industry, from those wanting simply to up their skills, to those looking for a complete change of career.
He’s had a number of independent dressmakers specialising in Scottish National Dancing costumes that were unable to make kilts before. They can now offer the full costume themselves. 15 of the other students are now making kilts exclusively for Nicolson’s, so can build their experience very quickly.
Gordon’s vision of making this SVQ course the industry standard has become a reality, helping the tradition of kiltmaking to thrive in Scotland.