Innovation, fine craftsmanship and sustainability. Words to live by for our business and key focuses for luxury fashion brands in today's world. Our association with these core values goes back much further though, and now, we have been reunited with a little piece of history that highlights exactly that. An exquisite Johnstons of Elgin scarf gifted to Dame Pattie Menzies, wife of Australian Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies around 70 years ago, is back at our Elgin weaving mill. The historic item reveals that beauty, artistry and longevity have long been associated with our elegant Cashmere designs.
Sir Robert Menzies was the longest-serving Prime Minister of Australia, serving twice, from 1939 until 1941 and again from 1949 to 1966. He was knighted in 1963. Sir Robert’s wife Pattie was appointed Dame Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire in the 1954 New Year's Honours. The official citation read, ‘In recognition for her years of incessant and unselfish performance of public duty in hospital work, in visiting, addressing and encouraging many thousands of women in every State of Australia, including very remote areas, and in the distinguished representation of Australia on a number of occasions overseas.’
During an official engagement in the early 1950s, Pattie was presented with a Johnstons of Elgin shawl, or scarf, sent to Australia by our longest-serving Chairman Edward Harrison. It was described as ‘an article of real interest…probably the lightest ever pure cashmere made’. Dame Pattie would go on to treasure the piece, with family members fondly recalling her wearing it.
Dame Pattie’s granddaughter Edwina Menzies contacted us earlier this year, explaining that she had been helping her mother Heather sort through some boxes of her grandmother’s precious things. Among them was a very fine, lightweight coral pink cashmere shawl and accompanying notes from when it was presented.
Heather remembers her late mother wearing the piece a lot and told us, ‘she loved the shawl’. Heather and Edwina recalled that, in her later years, Pattie wore it around her shoulders as she sat up in bed eating her breakfast on a tray.
Although the scarf was accompanied by information relating to its presentation, the notes give no date. However, it is likely to have been presented around 1949, as the notes reference the 1947 Enterprise Scotland Exhibition.
The lightweight nature of the piece shows that our commitment to innovation in fibres is long-standing. More than half a century on, we continue to push the boundaries with more and more intricate designs in the most delicate of lightweight fabrics.
Four generations after its gifting, our current Chairman Jenny Urquhart is delighted to welcome the return of this beautiful, lightweight shawl from the third generation of the Menzies family.
"We know our products are loved the world over and cherished for generations. However, this particular shawl is an extremely special one,' said Jenny, who is Edward Harrison's great-granddaughter.
‘It’s so super-light in weight; it demonstrates the innovation in our manufacturing capabilities so long ago. It demonstrates longevity, it has been well-loved, well worn, and it's a great reminder of our enduring quality. After all, this was presented at a ceremony of significance to the wife of the longest-serving Prime Minister of Australia.
‘What also excites me about this shawl is the level of detail written in the presenter's notes with relation to the manufacturing process. How this shawl was made was important to the reader and recipient back then. The words take us back to a time when clothes really had great meaning and purpose, long before fast fashion. I am hopeful that we are again moving to a place where sustainable manufacturing really does matter, and it matters the world over – from Elgin to Canberra and back again.’
At Johnstons of Elgin, we know the manufacturing process inside out, from sourcing the world’s finest natural fibres to designing and creating unique, high-quality clothing, accessories and home interiors fabrics. We don't always know as much about our products' lives after they leave our Scottish mills. We are delighted that Dame Pattie Menzie’s shawl was worn and loved and has returned to us with a story to share.
With thanks to Edwina Menzies and her family.