The heritage of Scottish design, the art of sourcing vintage garments and dressing the modern man
Walking alongside the Water of Leith, the former port brims with character from a bygone era - a reminder of Scotland's rich heritage as a gateway to Scandinavia and beyond. Now a bustling centre for artists, independent businesses and creatives alike, Leith offers a coastal insight into the cultural mores of the great nation of Scotland.
Nestled in the heart of Leith, Kestin Hare's eponymous label has cultivated a unique perspective on Scottish menswear design through a rigorous interpolation of traditional construction techniques, contemporary fabrics and an eye for vintage detailing. Founded in 2015 after cutting his teeth with a plethora of British menswear design greats, such as Nigel Cabourn and Margaret Howell, Hare has carefully built his brand around the idea of producing contemporary garments built to last through the rigours of everyday use. Encapsulating an approach to design that favours detail and nuance over graphic embellishment, the young brand infuse their modern, vintage-inspired garments with a touch of Scottish heritage, paying homage to everything Scotland - from the countryside's dramatic landscapes to the traditional wool production techniques that are synonymous with the Shetland Isles.
Proudly incorporating their national identity into the garments the brand produces, Kestin resounds as a prominent voice in contemporary Scottish design. Sitting down with the designer at his flagship store and headquarters in Leith, END. discuss Kestin's Scottish identity, the art of sourcing vintage garments and dressing the modern man.
Kestin seems to be a brand that is rooted in delivering a modern perception of menswear through the filter of traditional garment design. How would you define the brand and its ethos?
We’re trying to do something that is true to our roots, first and foremost. We’re a Scottish menswear brand that is based in Leith, Edinburgh, and we’re very proud to be that. We are designing modern menswear that is catered to the modern man, combining vintage detailing and great fabrics, creating garments that really pay homage to our cultural heritage.
Having worked with many stalwarts of British design – such as Nigel Cabourn, Burberry and Margaret Howell – was there something in traditional menswear design that you wanted to rebel against?
It’s difficult as those connotations and traditional ideas will always be there, and it can be tough to break away from that old school sensibility. Growing up in Scotland as a kid often involved being forced to wear that traditional form of dress and typically that was enough to instil a sense of rebellion against it at a young age. With that in mind, it was then really important for me to represent Scottish design in a different way, while still using those traditional fabrics and techniques. It frustrated me that Scottish clothing was always seen as classic tartan and sporrans, as Scotland has such a rich heritage of manufacturing cloth and garments, with Scottish knitwear and Harris tweed for example. At Kestin, we take those elements and make them ready for everyday use, modernising them and making them relevant for today. It was then really important for me to represent Scottish design in a different way, while still using those traditional fabrics and techniques.
You’ve often spoken about your use of vintage clothing as a point of reference – what initially instilled your interest in vintage garments?
It is something that has absolutely and fundamentally been drummed into me from my early stages as a designer. The people that I’ve worked for in the past, particularly Nigel Cabourn, implemented vintage garment study heavily as a part of my training as a young designer. That was very much the way he worked, sourcing vintage pieces and bringing them back to the studio for us to look at and decide what we were going to do with them. In Nigel’s case, he’s a purist, and he wanted to create things exactly as they were originally, using the exact same factory, cloth and trims. Being a part of all of that, I then wanted to take those details and evolve them further - combining vintage research with new fabrics, putting our own spin on that way of designing. I’m still inspired by vintage pieces - there is a thrill in finding an amazing detail on a garment and combining that with aspects of other vintage garments. A pocket from here, a sleeve from there, the collar from that piece - merging these different aspects and seeing what comes out in the end.
What is your starting point when researching vintage garments for a collection and how much does it influence the theme of the season?
There are certain collectors who I’ll visit at the start of the season and we’ll have a dialogue regarding the trend or themes of that specific collection. They’ll then look out specific garments that align with these ideas. It’s a combination of that process and sourcing fabric at the same time – these two things merge together and the way they ultimately bond that generally dictates the theme of the collection. The two things are running alongside one another and in turn influence the overall outcome.
I’m very influenced by fabric and fabric technology - it’s amazing to see how fabric develops from one season to the next, and how the sustainable and organic side of fabric development has progressed over the years, becoming more and more affordable. The other side of fabric production is rooted in the two main contemporary trends – technical and performance fabrics, with things like biodegradable nylons. Unfortunately these fabrics are always quite expensive to start with, but I think that the important thing from a sustainable point of view is doing what you can in little steps, which will then develop into bigger steps. Hopefully we’ll then get to a place where we’re making as much of our clothing in the UK with as many sustainable fabrics as we possibly can, which is a goal we’re already moving closer and closer towards now. As a Scottish brand we should be making knitwear in Scotland.
Did this decision to produce more and more of your clothing in the UK come from an environmental or a qualitative perspective?
During my training with Nigel Cabourn, making clothes in the UK was drummed into me early on as a designer, as that was very important to him. Also, when you're starting out as a small brand, you often find yourself forced into making in the UK because they can do small runs. It is more expensive but it is better quality – it’s a way for you to start up a brand when you’re perhaps only getting 50 to 200 pieces made. There’s an element of that as an organic journey that you go on as a small brand, but there is also the sustainable aspect. We think that it is really important to make clothes in the UK for a number of reasons that are not just limited to sustainability, even if that is a driving force behind it too. We have so much important history here and there are so many fantastic factories that still exist in Scotland and in the UK - it is important that we do try to use them as much as possible. It can be difficult as they often aren’t the most sophisticated of factories; you could go and produce clothing in China or Turkey and it would be a lot easier, but the beauty of working in the way we do here is that we source every single detail ourselves. Because they are local factories, it allows us to work with them in a very hands on way – two of the factories we use are only an hour and a half drive away, which makes it very easy to then spend time in these places, and ultimately create a better quality product from that. The two ideas are coming together and have ultimately become a major part of our modus operandi.
The clothing you produce feels practical, but can easily manoeuvre between modes of use – how do you create this balance?
We’re definitely a menswear brand, we’re not an outdoor brand – but we’re inspired by the Scottish outdoors. Our collections often stem from our research into something we came across in an investigation of vintage garments or in our search for fabrics – whether that was simply from a book or a film, or even just an experience of Scotland. It’s taking the reference, or the narrative, of all of that and going on a journey with the collection. For our AW19 collection, for example, we found a book called “In High Places”, written by a mountaineer called Dougal Haston. We started to follow his story, finding out more about his life, before ultimately finding a collector in the North of Scotland who had all of his original kit, which hadn’t been seen by anyone for years. Taking inspiration from the vintage fleece textures, we tried to recreate that aesthetic but transposed it into a more modern framework - examining Haston's simple sweatshirts and walking pants, taking elements and textures from these old garments and applying them to contemporary styles.
For this season, Kestin SS20’s inspiration is based on camping and a famous Scottish hiking trail, called the West Highland Way. The collection has a mix of styles to work for both city and country pursuits, creating a balance between casual wear and practicality. There are light-weight workwear suits, shirt jackets and shorts for days in the city, and windbreakers, smocks, parkas and climbing pants for those outdoor days. The Nevis smock, for example, is inspired by vintage Scottish hiking jackets and colour blocked in the hard-wearing dry waxed mini-ripstop from Halley Stevensons mill, while the Ambleside Parka is a modern interpretation of a 1970s vintage caving Jacket made from heavy weight mill-washed ripstop cotton. Both the city and the country inspires us, and in turn allows us to manoeuvre between these different modes of use.