For too long Johnstons of Elgin have been referred to by the menswear industry as ‘the brand behind the brand’. They have been called upon by monolithic high-fashion houses because of their incomparable skillset in weaving and knitting the most exquisite cashmere garments and accessories. However, the tide is turning for the Scottish company that was founded in 1797, survived two world wars, and prospered through potential business-ending devastations and the demands of globalisation.
“Although it might look like a lot of change, I really don’t want us to act like a start-up,” Simon Cotton, the Chief Executive, tells The Rake. He explains that they cannot afford to forget Johnstons’ foundation. “Everything is designed to be incremental to it,” he says. And in doing it this way, Johnstons have cracked the code that so many family-owned heritage textile manufacturers miss when they introduce their own label and aim for greater contemporary relevance.
The past 10 years have been particularly telling, with two appointments making a difference. The first was Cotton’s: his conservative business plan and leadership have been described by Jenny Urquhart, a non-executive director and family member, as “transformational”. The second was the hiring of Alan Scott as creative director. Under Scott’s stewardship, Johnstons made their men’s and women’s debut at London Fashion Week in 2018 to critical acclaim, and their lines can now be found on Harrods’ revamped luxury menswear floor alongside other leading players in the industry. “Harrods gives unbelievable credibility to any brand, and I am extremely grateful for the confidence they have shown in us,” Cotton says of the partnership. Together, Cotton and Scott have injected a new sense of modernity into the company. With investment also made in Elgin, the weaving mill, and Hawick, the knitting mill, Johnstons have a set-up fit for the future — and an eco-friendly future at that.