Pringle of Scotland was one of the first brands to truly understand how heritage could be turned into something vibrant, living and young rather than a reactionary exercise in preservation. From the 1990’s onwards, the iconic Scottish knitwear manufacturer has persistently elaborated how to take the desirability of high-quality traditional fabrics and production techniques and an archive of instantly recognizable iconography and combine these with sophisticated and fashionable design. Once relegated to the staunchly traditional wearer driven by quality and reputation, the last few decades have seen Pringle of Scotland capture a whole new market with its chic and sexy collections.
Concurrent with this reinvention of its clothing through the design itself, Pringle have persistently forged a brand identity that has only added to the attraction. Collaborations with high-profile celebrities such as Tilda Swinton, who appeal to the thinking audience rather than the unthinking masses that simply consume fashion have been a mark of Pringle’s carefully measured position. Similarly, its patronage of the arts through a range of projects developed in collaboration with some of the contemporary art world’s top talents and commentators has ensured not only the brand’s increased visibility, but the far more difficult achievement of a fashion brand being credible to traditionally cynical and skeptical cultured cognoscenti.
So, maybe one can view Pringle’s SS11 campaign as being the perfect example of how these deftly managed strands have come together in one stunning campaign. For example, one suspects that the decision of the cult fine art photographer Walter Pfeiffer to undertake his first ever global campaign for a fashion brand had a lot to do with Pringle having earned its stripes at operating in the lofty upper echelons of the contemporary art world.
The Swiss photographer Walter Pfeiffer, now of an age that usually sees retirement in most careers outside the art world, first gained recognition for his unique, idiosyncratic style of photography at the start of the 1970’s. Known primarily for his daring portraiture, he was one of the first photographers to pioneer the no-tricks style of point-and-shoot photography that challenged the tendencies of artifice and intentional seduction that had become synonymous with how the medium was used to capture human subjects. In almost a Brechtian manner, Pfeiffer’s work stripped away the clever lighting and darkroom retouching techniques in favour of an almost documentary approach to the image itself, whilst, as in Brecht’s epic theatre, this was rarely actually documentary: his poses were every bit as much dripping in a theatricality as Mother Courage’s silent scream. The stark, haunting and often opaque results of Pfeiffer’s approach rapidly gained recognition on the fine art photography circuit and soon established his cult status. His influence and similarity of approach can be seen in the work of numerous lauded artists and photographers ranging from Nan Goldin and Juergen Teller to Ryan McGinley and Slava Motugin.
Insisting of complete artistic freedom, perhaps only Pringle of Scotland, through its ongoing collaborations with artists, could have the experience necessary to engage in such a daring venture for something as key as a seasonal global campaign. In this case, it proves a risk well taken. Pfeiffer’s stunning images that feature Scottish actress Freya Mavor as one of the main models proves to be right on the money. Swathed in a murky light that draws the subtle decorative elements of the room into the foreground, almost fusing with the garments themselves, models and clothes become a stark living thing in a room that almost has too little light to sustain life at its edges.