SPOTLIGHT STORY

Charles Macintosh and his Famous Coat

Meet the man behind the Mac

Today we're celebrating the 250th birthday of Scottish inventor Charles Macintosh, the creator of the famous 'Mackintosh' raincoat!

Scroll on to meet the man and his iconic creation...

Who was Charles Macintosh?

Charles Macintosh was born in Scotland on December 29, 1766.

At the beginning of his career, Macintosh worked as a clerk for a Glasgow merchant, but by the age of 19 he had already given it up to pursue his true passion: chemistry. At 20 years old Macintosh opened up his own plant in Glasgow that worked on innovative new dying methods. While experimenting with the chemical naphtha (an oily liquid by-product of tar), Macintosh stumbled across something that would change how we dress - and relate to our environment - forever.

In 1823 Macintosh patented his new process. By sandwiching a layer of liquid rubber (made with naphtha) between two layers of fabric, Macintosh had created a new material that would be resistant to water while also remaining flexible and wearable. Resistant to wet and rainy conditions, the new fabric was perfect for making coats.

The Mac was born!

Charles Macintosh, JG Gilbert (From the British Fashion Council collection)

How did the coat take off?

Although today the Mackintosh coat (the 'k' of 'Mackintosh' has been added over the years) may be a timeless classic, when it was first sold it was a technological breakthrough.

In the early 19th Century, when the synthetic fibers we have come to rely upon weren't available, the water proofing of clothes was a continual struggle. When Charles Macintosh patented his superior method of rubberising fabric he created a new product that became an instant success.

Early Mac coats had problems with smell, stiffness, and a tendency to melt in hot weather, but these were largely solved by the patenting of a new innovation: the vulcanising of rubber in 1843. 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. The Mackintosh coat became ubiquitous and its name came to define an entire category of clothes.

British Policeman in Mackintosh Riding Coat (From the British Fashion Council collection)

How is a Mac made?

Mackintosh still produce coats with a surprisingly simple process that uses the same technology as the original Mackintosh coat.

Mackintosh Flagship Store, 2012 (From the British Fashion Council collection)

The core material in a Mackintosh coat is still the bonded cotton that is made using a process originally patented by the company founder Charles Macintosh in 1823. This 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.

Craftsmanship of Mackintosh Coats (From the British Fashion Council collection)

Each seam is glued and taped by hand. 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.

The blobs of glue are tight and rubbery and skillfully applied by the worker’s finger. When the solution on the coat is dry, any excess can be removed by roller and brush.

Sealing of the Seams of a Mackintosh Coat (From the British Fashion Council collection)

Each finished Mackintosh coat will have been hand cut, glued and sewn in the same factory in Scotland. Skilled Scottish craftsmen and women use techniques that have remained largely unchanged for almost 200 years since Macintosh's original process.

Mackintosh Spring / Summer 2017 Lookbook (From the British Fashion Council collection)

Why is it important?

The Mackintosh coat is an icon of British fashion. The first Mackintosh coat was sold in 1823 and since then the Mackintosh has come to define classic British style for close to 200 years. Throughout this time Mackintosh has been a part of British life; clothing not only the most elegant but also providing waterproof and durable clothing to the British Army and Police. Today Mackintosh still makes clothes in Britain but its popularity has become truly global. From humble beginnings in 1823, the Mackintosh has become known the world over.

Mackintosh Coat (From the British Fashion Council collection)
Mackintosh Coat (From the British Fashion Council collection)

Thanks Charles Macintosh, for keeping us warm and dry for over 200 years!

Learn more about the Mackintosh coat in this British Fashion Council exhibit.

Credits: All media
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