Belfast Telegraph

No run-of-the-mill Fashion Week in Paris as unique Northern Ireland linen wows on the catwalk

Master beetler Sam Anderson at work
Master beetler Sam Anderson at work
The Alexander McQueen collection using the linen
The Alexander McQueen collection using the linen
Claire McNeilly

By Claire McNeilly

It is not every day that Northern Ireland gets to shine in the international fashion spotlight.

But that is what happened when beetled linen from Upperlands stole the show at Paris Fashion Week.

William Clark and Sons played an integral role in the 2020 spring summer collection for UK fashion house Alexander McQueen, and it was its beetled linen which opened and closed the show, held at an orangery in Luxembourg Gardens in Paris.

The first item was a puff sleeve dress in ivory linen, bleached in fields by the sun and moon, while the final of more than 40 outfits in the collection was a jacket draped in toiles in beetled black linen.

William Clark's creative director Duncan Neil, who was in the French capital for the "absolutely amazing" show, told the Belfast Telegraph he was the "key point of contact" for McQueen, who's famed for making Kate Middleton's wedding dress.

"It was a very busy summer because we did two things for them," he said.

"We produced cloth by the metre, which is how we normally produce beetled cloth, so they used some of what we would normally create, but then they also sourced the specific linens they wanted us to beetle for them.

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"But what was really amazing was that they beetled garments, so rather than just making cloth up out of beetled fabric, they sent us dress and panel pieces and jacket pieces to actually beetle.

"The first four items in the Paris fashion show were items that we'd worked on and they opened and closed the show with beetled garments."

Beetling, according to Duncan, is "a globally unique process and signature product of William Clark" which "involves the pounding of fabric over many hours allowing the base cloth to develop a beautiful characterful sheen".

He added: "As the last commercial beetlers in the world this is a process we are passionate about with the production method remaining virtually unchanged for nearly 300 years."

Mr Neil told how Sarah Burton, the creative director of Alexander McQueen, brought her senior designer team to Northern Ireland for two days last July, learning about the region's historic connections to linen.

He said that for many of the visitors in the McQueen group it was the first time they had seen the 300-year-old process of beetling fabric, which gives the linen its particular lustre and signature sheen.

He added that they found it particularly interesting "when the whole factory floor vibrated" while using a 150-year-old machine.

Apart from visiting William Clark, the oldest linen mill in Ireland, the 15 designers from the London studio also checked out the Linen Museum in Lisburn, Mallon's flax farm in Cookstown and Thomas Ferguson in Banbridge, the last remaining double damask linen weaver in the world.

Burton, who worked closely with the late Alexander McQueen and carries on his name, is known for her perfectionism, craftsmanship, sharp tailoring and, of course, Kate Middleton's wedding dress.

Sam Anderson, master beetler at William Clark, explained how the collaboration with McQueen came about.

He said: "On the research visit in July when the design team at Alexander McQueen asked about beetling garments, I said we have never tried but can give it a go, so long as there are no buttons."

He also revealed how he didn't think anything concrete would come of their many questions.

"I did not expect the passing enquiry would progress to anything but I was wrong," he said.

"It was a challenge working with new linens to commission beetle and particularly developing the beetled garments, but to see the beautiful finished results it was definitely worth it."

For Sam, the results tell their own story.

And to use his words: "Beetled linen used as I have never seen before in 30 years of working as a beetler."

Meanwhile, Mr Neil said it was great finally being on the world stage, adding: "You always knew they were going to create something that was beautiful."

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