Shetland Jumpers, in Shetland!
The Shetland sheep is a hardy and handsome creature, with a squat build and an amiable personality. A sheep that, so says the Livestock Conservancy, is “calm and charming in disposition, docile and intelligent.” Along with being the kind of sheep that you might want to have a few drams of whisky with down the local, the Shetland also produces some of the best and most distinctive wool around. A long, soft and strong fibre that is, typically, plucked instead of shorn and has put this robust sheep’s namesake home — the rocky and weather-beaten archipelago that juts unforgivingly out towards the maw of the North Atlantic — on the map. The outer, outer… outer reaches of Great Britain.
Given the state of the weather on the islands (wet and windy), the Shetland sheep is smaller and tougher than other breeds, and produces a softer and lighter fibre, hence it’s reputation for wooly excellence. During our visit, the island’s most famous residents were a constant presence. Sheep outnumber people 20 to 1. They line the roadsides, cling to steep and dramatic hills and peer over cliffs. Their likeness is emblazoned on shopfronts, pubs and biscuit tins. We didn’t see too many Shetland ponies, but we saw a lot of sheep.
We recently visited the wild and windswept island to meet and work with the artisans who create our signature Shetland jumpers, including cable knit and sleeveless styles. Ours are made in Scotland at a family-run mill from pure lambswool, with raglan sleeves and a seamless construction for comfort and ease of movement, and a slightly raised neckline for a subtle, nautical finish. The Drake’s Shetland is a piece of knitwear that works under a Games blazer, over an oxford shirt, with selvedge denim and - on that rare occasion when the weather is right - with a pair of shorts and penny loafers.
Knitwear that is both light and rugged with a pleasingly coarse texture that lends itself to all manner of dyeing and pattern processes, Shetland wool is an indelible part of the islands’ culture and menswear in general. It has been adopted by country gentlemen hunting for grouse in the Highlands; is worn by preppy boys in penny loafers and pleated chinos on the leafy campuses of Yale, and is Big in Japan — splashed across the pages of the hyper-influential 60s photographic prep style bible Take Ivy and magazines like Popeye. They're worn in Paris with Paraboot loafers and in London under tweed jackets and Polo coats. Some aspects of Ivy style ebb and they also flow, but the Shetland jumper is steadfast.
So the next time you find yourself on a craggy and beautiful Scottish archipelago, perhaps on the lonely shore of Muckle Flugga - the northernmost point of the British Isles - the stony ground crunching beneath your feet, keep an eye out for a squat and good-natured flock of sheep. Give them a wave and say a little thank you, because without them and some enterprising Shetlanders, menswear wouldn't be the same.