Oi Polloi

An Interview with Ben Gunn from Lyle & Scott

Published: Sun Nov 29 2020

You're probably aware by now that we've melded minds with Scotland's Lyle & Scott to create a set of mohair cardigans. 

These doozies go online at 10:00am (GMT) on Thursday the 3rd December, but in the meantime, we caught up with Lyle & Scott Brand Director Ben Gunn to learn more about Lyle & Scott's endurance through time and cultural movements throughout it's 146 year history...


First of all, what’s the history of Lyle and Scott? Who were Lyle and Scott?


146 years ago, Lyle & Scott was formed in the small town of Hawick in the Scottish borders – a region famed for its knitwear manufacturing. We started out exclusively making knitted underwear and hosiery. It was only after fifty years of growing trade and the heavy influence of Salesman and future Managing Director Charles Dixon Oliver that we first started making luxury outerwear pieces.


Am I right in saying the golf stuff came a bit later? When did Lyle and Scott get involved in that —and why?


You are indeed! Lyle & Scott first moved into the golf market in 1967, much to the chagrin of our new competitors; they didn’t take kindly to it and tried to have our golf stand thrown out. The move was a natural transition at the time since our luxury knitwear was targeted at the upper and middle classes. Back then, golf was a far less inclusive sport than it is today and lots of our well-to-do customers played. The prevalence of knitwear and bright colours in the also made golf a perfect fit for us.


How does designing clothes for golf differ from making regular knitwear? What were the specific things they were thinking about when making golf gear in the 60s?


In today’s game, we look to marry our ever-present focus on style with the technical elements of the product. This range contains features like stretch panels on jackets and midlayers for freedom of movement, or the Teflon-coated Merino-Acrylic blend used to create water and dirt resistant knitwear that’s both durable and breathable.


When we first moved into golf, our innovation was focussed on revolutionising the dated golfwear style, drawing on our array of yarn choices and time-honoured knitting techniques to modernise the game. In particular, our striking intarsia knits with bold designs and colour palettes were adopted across the sport. They’ve been worn by all-time greats like Jack Nicklaus and Greg Norman as they secured major victories.


Lyle and Scott had a pretty heavy presence on the golf scene—and was worn a lot by people like Telly Savalas in that Pro-Celebrity Golf TV series in the 80s. What was going on back then? Was that an early bit of product placement?


I’m sure there was a little bit of that involved, they were organised and hosted by Bob Hope, a long-time friend of the company; that’s how we became involved. It’s amazing to look back now and see photos of stars like the late Sean Connery with a Golden Eagle on his chest.


Ronnie Corbett was quite a fan too—often wearing Lyle and Scott cardigans on The Two Ronnies. What was the story there? Was he into golf, or was he just into Scottish knitwear?


Both! Ronnie was another great friend to the company; as a Scotsman and huge golf fan, he became one of our most staunch ambassadors. He actually opened the Archive room in one of our old offices in Selkirk!


Golf gear became popular in the late 70s and early 80s way outside of its target market—with young football fans wearing Lyle and Scott jumpers alongside trainers, cords and deerstalkers. What do you think was the appeal of this fairly classic, unassuming stuff?


I’d say it was largely to do with identity. In the same way that Mods used smart tailoring to differentiate themselves from Rockers in the 60s, you can see young football fans in the 70s differentiating themselves from Punks through smarter styles. Perhaps the negative press around violence between football fans encouraged them to smarten up their look and reduce run-ins with the police. As the media furore built up around Casuals culture, it went the other way: smart dress became a way to identify yourself as part of a tribe and not to be messed with.


What was Lyle and Scott’s take on all that? Surely they noticed loads of young lads getting about in their jumpers and thought it was a little strange.


It was quite the shift from the luxury knitwear clientele of the first half of the century, or even the average golf fan in the 70s and onwards. I’m sure it upset some traditionalists in the company but it ensured that we kept progressing as a brand; you don’t get to survive for 146 years if you can’t adapt to the changing cultural zeitgeist and appeal to new customers. The fabric of our heritage is brighter and richer as a result.


What else have Lyle and Scott been involved with over the years? Didn’t you lot make jumpers for Christian Dior in the 50s. What’s the story with that?


The Dior collaboration is another real source of pride for us. During WWII, we were exporting 80% of our knitwear to North America as the European market collapsed. In the post-war period, Christian Dior was revitalising the French fashion industry with his ‘new look’.

The Managing Director I mentioned earlier, Charles Dixon Oliver, brokered a deal with Monsieur Dior to design four seasons of knitwear for the North American market.


There’s a wonderful Christian Dior quote about the collaboration: “Good taste in dress has an international language of its own and although Mr Oliver and I have mystified each other with our respective accents, I am proud to be associated with a venture which, undoubtably, will make an added contribution to the export trade of your country.”


In the years since, we’ve had multiple collaborations; our Golden Eagle logo actually came about after a collaboration with the legendary Gleneagles golf club. From a young Michael Kors in the 80’s, Junya Watanabe & Comme Des Garçon in the 00’s and now yourselves! We’ve had such a range of partnerships, collaborations, and guest designs across the years and we’re immensely thankful for – and proud of – every single one.


Collaborations are brilliant because they stretch the brand, allow our friends to imprint their own personality on the brand, and take us in exciting new directions. We’ll look back on our collaboration with Oi Polloi with the same fond sentiment and pride that we feel towards all guest contributors to Lyle & Scott’s rich heritage.



Moving onto these cardigans… they’re made of mohair wool. For those unaware, what is this stuff? What sets it apart?


Mohair is a soft wool made from the Angora Goat. It’s more of a brushed fibre than sheep’s wool and has a much more involved production process; it’s a premium fabric.


How does working from mohair differ from using normal wool? 


The actual process is very similar: both Mohair and sheep’s wool are cleaned and then spun into yarn to create the fabrics. However, Mohair is brushed into a softer fabric; it’s shinier, stronger and more resilient. It’s considered a luxury wool because it dyes better than normal wool and – very importantly – is gentler on sensitive human skin.


What’s the history of argyle? That seems like another fairly classic golfing design. 


Argyle is very much embedded in Lyle and Scott’s history since we’re a Scottish brand: it’s inspired by the 17th century tartan patterns used by the Clan Campbell of Argyll. The design become fashionable in Great Britain and the US after the first world war and has since become a key pattern in the 21st century fashion industry.


The Oi Polloi Lyle & Scott Cardigans will be available from 10:00am (GMT) on Thursday the 3rd December