Brian Wilton (MBE) is sometimes referred to as the “King of Tartan” due to his many years of service in the industry. When he was director of the Scottish Tartan Authority, he discovered he had a knack for tartan design and when STA’s registration processes were transferred to the Scottish Government’s official Scottish Register of Tartans, he pursued that and made it his main focus.
Wilton was born in Bannockburn, near Stirling castle. During his career, out of the approximately 12,000 tartans that have been registered, Brian has designed about 250 of them. Surprisingly though, tartan was not a staple in his wardrobe before the 1980s. Since then, he has embraced tartan not only as an expression of culture, but as a tool that can connect modern day life to history.
In true tartan hero style, Brian owns nine kilts, three of which are Fraser tartans from his grandmothers side. He is no stranger to experimental textiles and techniques, and has items in his collection such as a fashion kilt in Harris Tweed, and a brown kilt made from fabric from an upholstery collection. He too is a fan of Houston’s quality Highland wear and in addition to kilts has pairs of tartan trews and trousers. His favourite tartan however, at least amongst the clan tartans, is the 1819 Old Stewart. The rarest piece of tartan he owns is clan tartans hand-woven by the late Jamie Scarlett MBE.
In addition to education, Brian is also passionate about breaking the traditional image of Highland dress. Whilst the origins of Highland dress is linked to Highland regiments and it being part of military uniform, Brian is keen for this not to be the only picture we conjure when we think of Highland dress. He believes such a rigid idea of what a kilt outfit is meant to look like limits people in not only their individual expression but stunts the growth of the trend – for Highland dress to remain part of our culture, there must be room for it to morph and change into a new version.
This desire to dismantle the stereotypical idea of what Highland dress is is fuelled in part by modern fashion. Brian states one of his most enthusiastic campaigns personally and professionally is encouraging major companies and brands to acquire their own tartans and incorporate them into their branding. Many of his design commissions have resulted in just that: Edinburgh Fringe, Nandos, B&Q and O2 are just a few examples.
Brian, as well as being a pillar of the tartan industry, is a forward thinker. He understands the significance of tartan in history as well as the role is can play in modern society. He is not all tartan all the time, however, and enjoys listening to Red Hot Chilli Pipers, Julie Fowlis and Duncan Chisholm. When asked which past or present Scottish dinner guest he would choose, he answered William Wilson of Bannockburn, Donald Dewar and Flora Macdonald.