NE Scotland, Orkney & Shetland

South Ronaldsay's 'amazing' horse costumes inspire catwalk collection

Festival of the Horse costumes Image copyright Doug Houghton Orkney / Alamy Stock Photo
Image caption Girls have taken part in the Festival of the Horse since the 1950s

An island tradition where girls dress as horses in elaborate costumes has inspired the latest collection from an emerging fashion designer.

Charles Jeffrey has taken elements from the outfits that are worn on South Ronaldsay, Orkney, and translated them for the catwalk.

He said he was immediately inspired when a friend showed him pictures of children dressed up for the South Ronaldsay Festival of the Horse and Boys' Ploughing Match.

During the event, boys on the island compete using miniature ploughs.

They are judged on ploughing straight and even furrows on a patch of beach at Sands o' Wright.

Festival of the Horse costume and Charles Jeffrey design Image copyright Alamy/Charles Jeffrey
Image caption The Orkney outfits inspired Charles Jeffrey's latest designs

Meanwhile, the girls parade in costumes that are inspired by the decorations worn by heavy horses in the show ring.

Some of their outfits are spectacular, with a collar, hat, belt and feet decorations. A tail may be fixed to the jacket and pom-poms or fringes sewn onto the cuffs.

Charles Jeffrey, the designer behind the Loverboy label, said he vividly remembered the first time he saw images of the costumes.

"I was just like: 'This is literally amazing. I can't believe this is Scottish. It looks almost African. Or Norwegian'."

Charles Jeffrey LOVERBOY design Image copyright Charles Jeffrey LOVERBOY
Charles Jeffrey design Image copyright Charles Jeffrey LOVERBOY
Image caption The clothes were shown as part of Charles Jeffrey's Fall 2020 collection at the beginning of the year

He told BBC Radio Orkney that he researched the event because he wanted to incorporate as many elements of Scottish culture as possible in his latest collection.

It was unveiled in London earlier this month, and described as his "most accomplished" work so far by some critics.

Charles, who is originally from Cumbernauld, moved to London as a teenager to study at Central Saint Martins College. His Loverboy label grew out of the city's club scene, and his work has seen comparisons being made to Alexander McQueen.

Charles said the costumes worn during the festival on South Ronaldsay were "visually rich".

Festival of the Horse costumes Image copyright Doug Houghton / Alamy Stock Photo
Presentational white space

He added: "I was immediately inspired by that, and then started thinking about how they could be translated into pieces which we could put onto a catwalk.

"I was very much drawn to the idea of replicating the embroidery, but trying to use it in a way that would work for us.

"I'm also an illustrator, so I did some of my own motifs and then rendered them in the same aspects that you would find on the Festival of the Horse costumes."

He said the main inspiration for his collection was the theme of giving back to nature, and honouring agricultural tradition.

The history of the South Ronaldsay Festival of the Horse and Boys' Ploughing Match dates back at least two centuries.

Ploughing match Image copyright Festival of the Horse
Image caption Boys are judged on straight even furrows in the sand

Girls have been able to take part since the 1950s, and wear handmade costumes which have been passed down from previous generations.

Moira Budge, from South Ronaldsay, is on the committee which runs the event.

She said she could clearly see elements of the traditional designs being incorporated in the label's cutting-edge collection.

"In one of his designs he has a hoodie and he's put ears on it, which is like some of the outfits which have little ears for the horses", she said.

"He's had feathering on some of the shoes. Braid, and chains obviously, because the horse has a bridle.

"And the one dress with a big heart on the front, because the horse wore quite elaborate decoration on its breastplate."

The Festival of the Horse and Boys' Ploughing Match takes place every August.

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