A modern success story of the combination of almost 200 years of British craftsmanship with cutting-edge fashion's creativity.
THE MACKINTOSH: A TECHNOLOGICAL MARVEL
Although, today the Mackintosh may be a timeless classic when it was first sold it was a technological breakthrough.
In the early 19th Century, where the synthetic fibres we have come to rely upon weren't available, the water proofing of clothes was a continual struggle. When Charles Macintosh (the 'k' of Mackintosh has been added over the years) patented his superior method of rubberising fabric he created a new product that became an instant success.
Although, Charles Macintosh's process wasn't perfect, and would steadily be improved over time, it was far superior to any other product on the market. Suddenly the Mackintosh coat became ubiquitous and the brand's name came to define an entire category of clothes.
THE MACKINTOSH: PART OF BRITISH LIFE
Early coats had problems with smell, stiffness, and a tendency to melt in hot weather, but these were largely solved by the patenting of another new innovation: the vulcanising of rubber in 1843.
Even though the Mackintosh company would change hands several times over the next 150 years it would retain its place in the wardrobes of the great British public.
Mackintosh's simple but classic styles meant that its outerwear was worn by all classes in Britain. At one time, Mackintosh was producing the work wear for the British Railways as well as dressing the aristocracy of Europe.
BACK FROM THE BRINK
In the 1980's and 1990's Mackintosh was struggling financially for the first time due to the invention of lightweight synthetic fabrics such as Gore-Tex. Mackintosh initial success was due to its own technical innovation but now it looked like it would be forced into bankruptcy by a newer technology.
However, in the mid-1990's, after a management buy-out, the traditional rubberised Mackintosh coat was re-established as an upmarket brand. The company collaborated with leading fashion houses such as Gucci, Hermès, Louis Vuitton, and Liberty. Mackintoshs were suddenly popular again throughout the world, especially in Asia.
In 2007, because of it's popularity in Japan, Mackintosh was bought by the Tokyo firm 'Yagi Tsusho' and the brand's long term future was secured.
MAKING A MACKINTOSH
How is a Mackintosh made? With a surprisingly simply process that uses the same original technology of the first Mackintosh coat and the unique skills of British craftsmen and women.
Pieces of bonded cotton are cut to a pattern and then sewn together before being sealed by hand using special rubber based glue.
CUTTING A PATTERN
In Mackintosh's factory there are both cutters and sewers, with most standing at waist-high workbenches cutting, glueing and sewing.
The core material in a classic Mackintosh coat is bonded cotton that is made using a process originally patented by the company founder Charles Macintosh in 1823. This bonded cotton is now produced by Mackintosh in Japan before being delivered to its factory in Cumbernauld, Scotland.
Once the bonded cotton arrives at the Mackintosh factory a cutter, using an agreed pattern, will cut out each individual piece ready for them to be sewn and glued together.
WHAT MAKES A MACKINTOSH SPECIAL
What makes a Mackintosh coat special is that each seam is glued and taped by hand, ensuring the coats are 100% waterproof. This technique is exclusive to Mackintosh.
As well as ensuring that the seams of each coat are waterproof, this technique makes it easier to join both curved edges and corners. All the seams are stitched and then each seam has the rubber-based glue applied then rolled to make it flat. Following this, the glue is applied again so that tape can be applied on top of each seam, making it completely watertight.
The blobs of glue are tight and rubbery and skilfully applied by the worker’s finger. They can be smoothed onto the fabric, leave sufficient deposit and remain stuck to the workers’ fingers. When the solution on the coat is dry, any excess can be removed by roller and brush.
COLLABORATIONS & CREATIVITY
Mackintosh's processes may be traditional but the brand must continue to innovate to ensure its classic styling remains relevant and desirable to its global customers.
A key part of the brand's strategy to retain this appeal is to work with the most innovative designers and creatives working in fashion today. In fact, fashion plays a key role in the recent success of the brand.
Mackintosh has collaborated with leading fashion houses such as Gucci, Hermès, Louis Vuitton, Liberty and most recently the luxury streetwear brand Vetements. This combination of forward thinking fashion and the traditional craftsmanship of Mackintosh is what sets the company apart.
This exhibit was created by the British Fashion Council in collaboration with Mackintosh and A.I PR. Special thanks go to Naomi Lyon of A.I PR for her help in creating this online exhibit.
All rights belong to Mackintosh unless otherwise specifically stated. All models and photographers have been credited where known.