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Uncommon Threads: how Ben Pentreath recoloured the heritage world of Johnstons of Elgin

Every year sees the launch of beautiful new fabric collections that get hearts racing across the interiors world. Our new series 'Uncommon Threads' looks at the collaborations and creative processes that make the collections possible. In our second episode, we join Ben Pentreath at his Bloomsbury flat to look through his collection for the Scottish heritage fabric house Johnstons of Elgin, long famed for their tweeds, plaids and tartans. Ben's collaboration with the brand has struck out in a new direction of vivid and saturated colour, revitalising these traditional fabrics for a modern interior.

Released on 09/16/2022


[playful jazz music]

I first got the call,

I think it was nearly, sort of,

two and a half years ago from from Johnstons of Elgin

asking if I'd be interested in working with them.

I was aware of Johnstons.

I knew about them.

I love Scotland.

All sorts of ideas came bouncing out of that.

And the main result of that is that we would develop

a collection of about 20 or so fabrics together,

working with the Johnstons' archive,

and then with me bringing in my sense of, sort of,

design and scale and color,

kind of, working with their design studio

to see what we could do together.

The archive room at Johnstons in itself

is kind of an amazing treat to visit.

The archive room is lined

not only with the most incredible kind of order books

and documentation,

but then it's also got a huge archive

of fabrics and patterns.

So every single pattern that they've effectively ever woven.

So one of the things which was wonderful

about, sort of, spending time in the archive,

we discovered this amazing book,

which was, I think, dating to the 1940s

and it's called the Standard Dyed Shades.

And it's got this absolute kind of rainbow shades

of every color you could ever imagine.

Really bold, vivid pinks and oranges,

like bright acid greens, and shocking turquoise,

and amazing colors.

We stood and stared at this.

And I was like, wow,

this is where we need to sort of take things.

I think it's true to say

that there was a little bit of a kind of drawn breath,

if I could put it like that.

They were quite surprised that I wanted

to go quite that far.

We'd established our pallettes

which we were going to work with.

And from there, we spent loads of time

with the design studio,

kind of looking at all the millions of combinations

that we could come up with

to see how we can make a new collection of tartans

and stripes and some houndstooths.

We started developing the collection

actually with the idea of working with plaid and checks.

So sort of basically what you and I would called tartan.

This is not a traditional Scottish palette,

but these colors were all in the 1940s book.

This is the sort of thing that I imagined

the Duke of Windsor might be walking around on a golf club

in the 1930s in a suit made of that.

But at the same time as, you know, really wanting

to kind of center the collection and ground the collection

with some of these checks and plaids,

if you made a whole collection out of tartans,

you are sort of, kind of,

not really broadening it out enough.

Basically, I've been obsessed for a long time

with finding some wool stripes

in really thick, bold stripes,

such as, I think these are completely sort of like

eye popping.

We then work through a whole collection.

Now, strictly speaking, these aren't quite a houndstooth.

They're false houndstooth

because they've got too many strands of fabric

in each little block,

but anyway, we're calling them a houndstooth

and we've done those in loads and loads

of different combinations.

Here's one which is sort of pink and olive color.

This is what happens when it's green and white.

These are much more, sort of,

you know, much more general use,

incredibly kind of useful, versatile fabrics.

They'll work on almost anything.

When we were playing around with the set designs,

we made curtains out of the tartan fabrics,

which looked extraordinary.

They also work really wonderfully

as bedspreads and headboards.

So there's just so many different ways

that they can all combine together.

So we've actually created a huge, versatile,

hopefully, kind of arrangement,

lots and lots of different choices

for people to play around with and have fun.

What's it all about?

For me, the collection is really the opportunity

to bring together a wonderful and historic

kind of Scottish fabric brand with incredible history

and then to hopefully combine it with my eye

and what I've been able to bring to the design process

in a way that is very innovative

and feels very fresh and contemporary and ready for today.

[gentle jazz music]