Canine Companion

houndstooth-illustration5 by Gabriel Bell
The houndstooth check, long found on the wide shoulders of high society's grand dames, has been cropping up in less traditional places: Roland Mouret's runway, Harijuku's sidewalks, Gwen Stefani's backside. While applications for the ancient textile have been more flirty than in past seasons, this toney twill has always been ready to play.
Lost to history is the second-millennium Scot sartorius who first wove the striking highland pattern that graces many of our widest shoulder pads. Like numerous fine twills, houndstooth was a creation of high-latitude Britons who weathered the chill as they tended sheep, played golf and... well, tended sheep. Such dense, all-weather textiles were a lightweight seal against the elements that allowed Scots to go commando until being forced into undergarments by invading English. As twills evolved in complexity, weavers tightened popular horizontal weaves with diagonal torsion, creating the jagged pattern that gives houndstooth its name.
During the Industrial Revolution, members of the aristocracy and the newly invented middle class had a surplus of time, money, and complacency, which they spent on such challenging pastimes as fowling, driving cars, and walking. In the hunt for tasteful sportswear, houndstooth became a popular option, particularly for women who found the pattern more feminine and sophisticated than the drab tweeds of their Mustachoed escorts. Despite initial clucking from traditionalists, these athletic fashions became as common at upper-crust fetes as $200 sweatpants at movie premiers.
Around the same time that a growing female workforce adopted houndstooth for the office, Gabrielle "Donat Call Me Coco" Chanel was transforming twill into a high-society second skin. In the 1920s, the future 400-pound gorilla of fashion visited Scotland with the Duke of Westminster. So taken was Coco with the local textiles, and so taken was the Duke with Mademoiselle, that the he bought her a Scottish mill, Linton Tweeds of Carlise, which has been weaving for Chanel ever since.
Recently, designers like Stella McCartney and Véronique Nichanian for Hermès have taught this old dog new tricks by respectively loosening up its usually structured look for ladies and shrinking it down to create almost iridescent menswear. Wherever it's used, houndstooth stays classy when paired with jeans, crafted into a Galliano gown, or cut into cheeky lingerie. Woof!
Illustration by Pepin Gelardi,
Noted for its impeccable pedigree and fine coats, one familiar breed of twill is winning best in show this season.

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