In 1869 Alex Begg established a business making traditional hand-woven shawls in the Scottish town of Paisley, the place that gave its name to the now-ubiquitous textile pattern. In 1904, Begg relocated his business 35 miles down the road to the coastal town of Ayr, whence it has established a worldwide reputation for luxurious scarves, stoles, shawls and soft furnishings.
If you were seeking an ideal place to site a scarf manufacturer, Ayr would be high on your list. The wind comes in cold and damp from the Firth of Clyde and the reliably heavy rainfall makes the many nearby golf courses, such as Turnberry and Royal Troon, startlingly green.
The unprepossessing Begg factory is in a residential area of the town, which is a lonely outpost of textile manufacturing, a few hours’ drive from the cashmere knitting specialists in the Scottish Borders. Yet Begg in Ayr is now a regular stopping-off point for designers from many of the most prestigious luxury brands from the UK, Europe, America and the Far East. The company uses techniques barely changed in 150 years to produce the most sumptuous cashmere accessories for men and women for a stellar line-up of leading names.
Lambswool, angora and cashmere-silk blends are also specialities for Begg, which offers a massive collection of plain colours as well as sophisticated woven jacquards and prints. Its expertise in weaving and finishing, using the soft and pure local water, makes it one of Scotland’s best-regarded manufacturers. Almost 30% of the production time involves painstaking handwork, including brushing the nap of some scarves by hand with natural teasels, the spiky plant heads that resemble thistles. In fact, the teasels Begg uses are grown to its specifications in Italy.
Despite its obvious concentration on cosy products for the autumn and winter months, for summer Begg Scotland, as the company now styles itself, produces a fabulous super-lightweight cashmere scarf known as the “wispy”, which is woven from a yarn exclusive to Begg. Ideal for travel and using on a plane, the 27.5 x 79 inch (70 x 200 cm) scarf folds into the smallest bag or pocket. The wispy is also great for cool evenings or to defend yourself from the terrors of air conditioning. To locate a retailer, contact the company.
-Text by Eric Musgrave
-Photo by Begg Scotland