There was a very brief online discussion yesterday about the “cheapening” and mass-marketing of Harris Tweed between two or three Facebookers who expressed concern at the brand / fabric being over-exposed and potentially going the same way as a brand like Burberry.

My counter argument basically pointed out that, firstly, the complainant was a reader of this here blog and, unfortunately for said reader(s), I dig something up about the tweed almost every day. Especially as the AW season kicks in. It happens every year and then dies off. However, most of what appears here pertains to the Japanese market, so enamoured are they with the clo mhor. As the fine folk of Harajuku are a pretty strong indicator of what’s coming the rest of the world’s way style-wise this bodes very well for HT. But unless you trawl the myriad of nippon style blogs (and I don’t recommend it for the sake of your sanity), or buy their crazy magazines like I do, you’ll never see mention of the products over here. If it’s overkill on my part apologies but best not read the blog in winter! And some people have the double-whammy of being exposed to local island news, which will toot the tweed horn at any opportunity (rightly) and right now there’s a lot going on. Which is good surely?

Secondly, designer clothing brands don’t quite operate under the same marketing model as a legally protected, artisan fabric. And each mill will be working to a different model from each other. So any screw ups in the industry might not shaft the brand across the board. (see Haggas versus HTH for example). Anyway, most mainstream crossovers come about through celebrity endorsement, blatantly overt branding, sloppy distribution and a need for a sub-section of the masses to express or associate themselves with conspicuous wealth and affluence. While it’s entirely possible this problem may afflict Harris Tweed, I suspect its history, huge variety in patterns and colours and lack of obvious ostentation, combined with a very controlled use of trademark by the HTA, would make it unlikely for the brand to end up as a definitive “look” or identity for the great unwashed (kidding). Or translate to ubiquitous teeshirts, baseball caps and loud accessorisation in the same way as RL, LV, Gucci, DKNY, Armani, Versace etc have apparently suffered. And yet these brands, through maintaining high-end couture markets, remain aspirational and successful. Back to Burberry, their own unfortunate chav cross-over was actually due to its adoption by football casuals in the 70’s / 80’s. This is something that many brands actually embrace! Ah, such is the fine line walked by luxury clothing goods. But I think all the HTH collaborations so far have been highly select, limited and high-end. And even the more mainstream Top Shop collab is still very, very, credible and, in my humble opinion anyway, vital right now in re-establishing the brand with a new generation.

Regardless, given the amount of time I spend looking for news and images of the stuff, I’m not convinced there’s a problem with over exposure. I’ve not seen a TV ad or billboard anywhere, no newspaper backpages either and I’m pretty sure Primark haven’t brought out a range yet. The Dr Who thing though, granted, I’m sick of. It makes for a good story sure but it’s the transcience of it that’s the real worry here. Allying your brand to one particular person or identity in the populist zeitgeist is fatal. If one falls from favour, and it will, so too does the other. Who wants to be holding hands with a character who reincarnates himself every few years anyway? And if you have to do so then better a Pharrell than a timelord surely?

To whit, we hark back to the oft-trumpeted Nike collaboration with Donald John Mackay that made headlines the world over.

Harriman Steel are a well established advertising and design agency, specialising in film making, art directing, interactive developments and much more. They have worked with Nike for many years, helping design for many of their campaign visuals. When Nike and Harris Tweed came together a few years ago to re-create The Terminator shoe, they embroidered both the Nike x Harris Tweed logos on lengths of the material, which would be used in stores and shop windows for international promotional events. That’s about as mainstream a joint branding exercise as you are ever likely to see. And yet here we are on the brink of 2011, five years on from all that huge exposure and Harris Tweed is still considered a textile of great cache and very much in high fashion.

The point, to cut a long blogstory short, is that if the tweed can survive joining forces with a mighty multinational like Nike and emerge with its catwalk credentials intact then there’s little to fear. Maybe doomsaying is ingrained in the island mentality after decades for being kicked in the proverbial stones by the outside world, but until such time I see Wayne Rooney on the cover of Heat magazine in an Orb print baseball cap, or up-tweed-skirt paparazzo shots of Sadie Frost as she stumbles out of the Groucho and into a cab, I have more than a little faith in Harris Tweed, with the right people at the helm, staying the course…

(Hmm…on re-read that was all a bit meandering and diatribic. What do I know anyway?!)