Swellboy on… Fair Isle knitwear

The Duke of Windsor solves a knotty pullover problem

Image: Brijesh Patel

We have all been there. You put on a lovely newcashmere pullover and then, without thinking, slip a tweed sports jacket on top. Result: a couple of hours later the cashmere looks like a power sander has got at it, that beautifully smooth surface gone forever under acovering of pilling.

I find it particularly irksome because, while I lovesoft cashmere, I also adore hirsute tweed with an almost equalpassion. However, I may, just may, have found a solution – well, if nota solution then at least a distraction. And the source is, as usual in suchknotty questions of sartorial rectitude, the dear old Duke of Windsor, inparticular that famous portrait with a small dog, a large cap and a Fair Islepullover. It is almost worth learning to play golf just so I can copy thelook.

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I have been experimenting with Fair Isleknitwear recently. I bought a Fair Isle-style crew neck in New York – whether realFair Isle or not I couldn’t tell you, but my long experience of clothing (andthe fact that the label reads “Made in China”) would lead me to suspectnot. Nevertheless, I wore it under one of my old Hunters of Brora 21oz Cheviot-wool jackets while cycling into the West End the other day, and no harm seemedto come to it. Obviously, all the rigours of life on the Shetland Islands (of which Fair Isle is one) makefor a hearty and robust wool. My younger son recently got himself aFair Isle that he wears with no apparent ill effects under a 60-year-oldtweed with the handle of wire wool.

I am, of course, anxious to try the real thing, and haveascertained from Michael Hill at Drakes that he sources his Fair Isle knitwearfrom these remote islands. Given that Drakes is the home of the heavy silkscarf that I wear out and about on two wheels during the winter, I have highhopes for the pullover. Another bonus is the colours. It seems thateverything goes, and as such they are perfect for wearing around town on thebike, their eclectic mix of hues giving ample warning to fellow road users.

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