John Magee started buying tweed from the Ardara and Carrick markets in Co Donegal in 1866. He opened his first draper’s shop in Donegal Town in 1881 and six years later employed Robert Temple, who had impressed Magee’s brother with his sales spiel in persuading him to buy three woodchucks.
The fifth generation of the Temple family now runs one of the world’s best-known tweed manufacturing firms whose unmistakable wares are used by major international fashion houses. The hardwearing, coarse fabric was handwoven in Donegal by part-time fishermen and farmers and part-time weavers in the late 1800s. Modern Magee collections include wedding and business suits, jackets, blazers, trousers, waistcoats, and overcoats. They have dressed everyone from the Irish President and Irish rugby team to the Aer Lingus airline crew.
Donegal handwoven tweed is instantly recognizable by its bright flecks of color. Heather purples, grass greens, fuchsia pinks, gorse yellows, sea blues, and earthy browns are some of the kaleidoscopes of colors used in luxury Donegal tweed items. Magee specializes in bright, colorful fabrics with intricate designs- check patterns and plain-weave cloth of differently-colored warp and weft.
Classic herringbone and the ‘true Donegal tweed’ – (salt & pepper) garments are still made. The raw, oily fabric still washed in the peaty waters of the River Eske, which flows by the Macgee mill, resulting in a beautifully soft finish. At the end of the eighteenth century, The Royal Linen Manufacturers of Ulster distributed approximately six thousand flax spinning wheels and sixty looms for weaving to Donegal homesteads but not until the 1880s, with the work of Alice Rowland Hart, did it become an all-Irish industry.
Under the leadership of Howard Temple, Magee gained international recognition. Donegal tweed was discovered by the Irish fashion designers, Wales-born Sybil Connolly (1921-98), who worked as a designer for Tiffany, New York, and Co Tipperary’s Irene Gilbert (1908-85), the first woman to open a fashion house in Ireland. They brought eye-catching panache to the brand.
Adding to its 1945 Belfast premises, in 1966, Magee established its Donegal Town factory, manufacturing ready-to-wear men’s clothes. At one time, Magee employed 100 hand-loomers. Power looms were introduced in the late 1970s, although the company still retains a core of hand-weavers for some very specific customers.
The Magee 1866 cloth collection is distinctive, showcasing a mix of traditional heavy tweeds and luxury lightweight cashmere blends. Special attention is paid to the trim details and fit of each garment. Highlights include an online exclusive Donegal Tweed jacket in an oat glen check and popular handwoven jackets. A three-piece Donegal suit retails at £669. Classic herringbone jackets £475. Raspberry Alice Herringbone jacket (£329). Patchwork Salt & pepper Donegal Tweed coat (£539), tweed capes ( £269), and Ards Biker jackets (£415).
The Ards Jacket is a modern cropped biker style with zipped cuffs and slant zip pockets. The light beige Donegal-weave base features characteristic flecks of charcoal, stone, yellow, and white. Style with a silk Faye top and sandy cropped trousers.
Also available are Corrib coats and waistcoats as well as caps, Raroody and Tullagh shirts, and traditional Irish “outerwear.”
CEO Lynn Temple says: “We are proud to support a tradition of weaving and manufacturing textiles in the northwest of Ireland, bringing a contemporary edge to an age-old craft.”
| Photos courtesy of the brand