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Community / Crofter’s Fair Isle design picked out of 500 entries in Vogue jacket competition

Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart has congratulated Rachel Challoner with a Scottish Parliament motion after her design was one of five finalists

Photos: Nigel John

IT IS thought to be a rare sight – Fair Isle knitwear, actually made on the remote island, featuring in fashion magazine Vogue.

But that is what has happened after a jacket design from Fair Isle crofter and knitter Rachel Challoner was picked out of 500 entries in a Vogue competition.

The magazine sought entries for a redesign of a Barbour jacket in honour of the 100th anniversary of ‘re-waxing’ – a technique to ensure longevity of the company’s jackets.

Challenor submitted a design featuring Fair Isle knitted lining and storm cuffs, while the outline and coordinates of the remote island took pride of place on the back of the jacket.

While she did not win the competition, she was selected as one of just five finalists – bagging a spot in April’s edition of British Vogue.

But it does not end there; the finalists’ jacket designs have gone on display in Selfridge’s in London for a month, and a reproduced version of each will then be sold to raise funds for the Prince’s Foundation charity.

In addition Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart has congratulated Challoner with a Scottish Parliament motion, adding that it was a “remarkable achievement”.

The jacket design featured wool from Jamieson’s of Shetland which Challoner handknitted in Fair Isle.

She entered the competition to raise the profile of Fair Isle and its small community, and “introduce it to an audience who may never have even heard of it or know where it is”.

“I was knocked for six when, in September, I was invited down with four other finalists – out of 500 entries – to an appointment at Barbour HQ where we got to tour the Barbour factory, try our hands at re-waxing jackets and pitch our ideas to their design team,” Challoner explained.

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She came home to Fair Isle with the paper patterns for the jacket lining and cuffs, and she then had about a week to knit her panels to those exact measurements.

“At the end of November the finalists were all invited to Brown’s Hotel in London where we got to see our jackets ‘made up’ for the very first time and then gave a presentation to the judging panel, made up of VIPs from Barbour, Vogue magazine, Selfridges and The Prince’s Foundation,” Challoner continued.

“One of the things commented on was the parallel between Barbour being a multi-generational, family-owned business the same as Jamieson’s of Shetland, whose fantastic wool I used to knit the lining and cuffs.

“All the jackets were then featured in an article in April’s issue of British Vogue magazine.”

The islander does not seem too despondent that she did not win the top prize, which included £5,000. Instead, she is just happy to have raised the profile of Fair Isle a little further in what she described as an “incredible experience”.

Challoner added that every autumn and winter “you can guarantee that all the fashion magazines will feature what they call ‘Fair Isle’ jumpers and have dozens of photographs of examples – none of which are ever genuine ‘Fair Isle’ knitwear”.

“So, it’s really exciting to see actual Fair Isle knitwear – that has been knitted here in Fair Isle, using traditional motifs and pure Shetland wool – featured for once and it got me wondering whether this was the first time that genuine Fair Isle knitwear has made it onto the pages of Vogue.”

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