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History, Tradition, Heritage As related to the subjects of piping, drumming and pipe bands.

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Old 09-05-2019, 06:15 AM   #1
pancelticpiper
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Default Outlander tartans

I think I'm safe in saying that the popularity of the Outlander TV series has impacted us pipers to some extent.

At our most recent Games, Pleasanton, there was an Outlander booth (resembling one the Clan booths).

I know that suddenly Skye Boat Song is the most popular tune I play! (For those not aware, it's used as the opening theme song for the show.)

Every time I break out my pipes I get "can you play the Outlander song?"

Another thing I constantly get asked about is the Outlander tartans.

For any of you who might want to answer this question, here goes!

For the show, Gordon Kirkbright designed five tartans. They're all registered at the Scottish Register of Tartans, and simply called "Outlander #1" etc.

Number 3 is the basic tartan. Number 1 has narrow red and yellow lines added, number 2 has narrow light blue lines added. (Numbers 4 and 5 aren't really tartans per se, but sold dark brown with grey overchecks.)

Here's the plaid or arasaid worn by the main character, Claire. It's Outlander #3, that is, the basic Outlander tartan with no added fine lines.



Now if you're thinking "that tartan looks familiar" you're right. Here is MacKay in "weathered colours"



The similarity is even clearer when the two tartans are seen like this, first Outlander #3, then MacKay





You'll see that all they did to "design" the Outlander basic tartan was to remove the three fine brown lines that occur in the grey in MacKay.

Why didn't they just use MacKay if they wanted that look? Why design their own tartan?

I'm assuming that what happened here with costuming is the same thing that happens with music, in Hollywood.

I've worked on TV shows and films on the music side, and what they call this process is "comping".

The director or showrunner will come to the composer with a recording of some bit of music and tell the composer to "comp" it.

Comping is done so that the show doesn't have to play royalties to whomever might own the copyright. Plus, if anybody steals it from you, you have ownership and you can go after them.

The soundtrack for the original Star Wars film (1977) was mostly comps. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JtRU8cMp0Nk

For the show Outlander I assume that it went something like this:

1) the Art Director, working in conjunction with the showrunners, decided on a muted earth-tone palette for the show.

2) the Art Director found an image of MacKay weathered somewhere online and sent it to Terry Dresbach (the Outlander costumer) and told her to comp it.

OR

2) Terry, with the assigned show palette in mind, located an image of MacKay weathered online.

Either way, Terry (or the showrunners) arranged for Kirkbright to comp MacKay weathered, designing three variants.

The irony of the whole thing is that the "weathered" colour-scheme is anachronistic to the mid-18th century by over 200 years!

Around 1949 the weaver DC Dalgliesh introduced a wholly new colour-scheme for tartan. Prior to that there had been the ordinary Victorian colours (which we call "modern colours" today) and the pastel colour-scheme devised sometime after 1900 which was originally called "vegetable colourings" (which we call "ancient colours" today).

Dalgliesh dubbed their new colour-scheme "reproduction colours" and claimed that it was based on an ancient fragment of tartan dug up in 1946. In "reproduction colours" the following changes occur:

blue > grey
green > brown
scarlet > dull muted red

(black remains black)

However inquiries have been made, and the tartan relic has not been produced for inspection, nor have Dalgliesh revealed exactly why they chose the colours they did.

Dalgliesh's "reproduction colours" was subsequently copied by Lochcarron under the name "weathered colours".
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Last edited by pancelticpiper; 09-05-2019 at 06:46 AM.
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Old 09-05-2019, 07:14 AM   #2
Texas Gael
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Default Re: Outlander tartans

"Why didn't they just use MacKay if they wanted that look? Why design their own tartan?"

Probably because knowledgeable folks would have known that the Mackays were loyalists in the '45, providing an independent company for service to the Crown. Outlander is supposed to be about the Jacobites. Also, the Mackays were in Lord Reay's Country (Strathnaver) in the far North, not the Central Highlands where Outlander is supposed to located.

Cheers -

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Old 09-05-2019, 12:06 PM   #3
Armorican
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Default Re: Outlander tartans

Is it not simply a question of owning the merchandising rights (as opposed to avoiding paying royalties)?
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Old 09-05-2019, 10:00 PM   #4
Andrew Lenz
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Default Re: Outlander tartans

That’s what I was thinking!

If they own the rights to the tartan and wannabe Claires want it . . . $$$.

Oh, and nice post, Mr. Cook. I’m sorry that I missed you at Pleasanton.

Andrew
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Old 09-05-2019, 11:38 PM   #5
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Default Re: Outlander tartans

I'd say the copyright issue was the primary factor. However, It seems that Terry is pretty keen to discuss her logic for the costuming, so you could ask her directly on twitter for clarification.


My girlfriend actually made me start watching this show about a month ago. We decided to use it as our Halloween costume inspiration this year, so I've been looking into the costumes and historical context for weeks now. I found this youtube video that explains the costumes really well:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ejLP...&index=16&t=0s


A lot of the design choices seem to come down to practicality. Such as the historically inaccurate boots that everyone is wearing. But the video also briefly mentions why they chose the variation of the tartan as they did (for the wedding, and for ancillary characters, etc.)


From the video (and in the words of Terry herself) it seems more like the show runners approached Gordon directly. Himself being well versed with tartans probably came up with the idea of the modified Mackay, rather than Terry. I believe Terry came into the process after the tartans were already designed.


Also, according to the video (which cites a phone interview with Gordon himself), he originally created a version of this tartan for a production of King Henry V.
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Old 09-06-2019, 11:35 PM   #6
uther
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Default Re: Outlander tartans

I know the person that supplied the bonnets the characters wear, totally wrongly, but hey, it's entertainment!
The leatherwork too has provided some work to friends.
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Old 09-07-2019, 03:41 AM   #7
pancelticpiper
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Default Re: Outlander tartans

Quote:
Originally Posted by thePhotopiper View Post
I found this youtube video that explains the costumes really well:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ejLP...&index=16&t=0s

From the video (and in the words of Terry herself) it seems more like the show runners approached Gordon directly. I believe Terry came into the process after the tartans were already designed.
Very interesting. Is there mention of the Art Director? For it is he/she who, in collaboration with the show runners, makes all the decisions as to the overall look of the project including the palette (the colour-scheme of the show).

Outllander's palette dictates something along the lines of "weathered colours" so that choice was obvious.

I wonder how often it happens that the showrunners of a project go over the heads of both the Art Director and Costume Designer and directly do things similar to the creation of the Outlanders tartans. I know it happens on the music side.

Quite early on in the process the showrunners could have seen MacKay weathered (possibly not knowing what it was called) and said "that's our tartan!" The Art Director and Costume Designer would have had to work with this pre-ordained decision.

One thing to be aware of is that the various people involved in a project might say things intended for public consumption. I saw something written somewhere, I don't recall, about the Outlander tartans accurately re-creating the appearance of 18th century tartans, which is nonsense.

About the kilts themselves, the Outlander kilts don't have a selvedge along the bottom edge like 18th century great-kilts and little-kilts did. Also they're doing the same thing the Rob Roy and Braveheart costumers did, creating a fantasy garment that never existed, which appears to be a conflation of two historical costumes 1) the great kilt 2) the little kilt worn with long plaid.


Quote:
Originally Posted by thePhotopiper View Post
Also, according to the video (which cites a phone interview with Gordon himself), he originally created a version of this tartan for a production of King Henry V.
Interesting. Rather than an anachronism of 200 years, why not go for 500?

In any case yes it was all done to be able to have the rights to their own tartans.

Personally I would have preferred the show to have gone with actual tartans, though of course "Clan tartans" per se didn't exist in the 1740s.

Many of the characters in Outlander are members of Clan Fraser and Clan MacKenzie and what I would have done is used these actual tartans in Weathered Colours.

Here is MacKenzie Weathered, which would have been nice for the MacKenzie characters in the show. (Yes I know the MacKenzie Seaforth tartan wasn't invented until 50 years after Culloden.)



Here's ordinary Fraser Hunting with the colours adjusted to fit in with the Outlander palette (there is a Fraser Hunting Weathered but it looks too much like MacKenzie Weathered; better to go with the dark brown Fraser Hunting). (Yes I know this is a variant of a Vestarium Scoticum tartan.)

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Last edited by pancelticpiper; 09-07-2019 at 04:20 AM.
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Old 09-07-2019, 04:21 AM   #8
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Default Re: Outlander tartans

Quote:
Originally Posted by Andrew Lenz View Post

Iím sorry that I missed you at Pleasanton.
I was hanging out at the Outlander booth
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Old 09-07-2019, 04:27 AM   #9
pancelticpiper
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Default Re: Outlander tartans

Quote:
Originally Posted by Texas Gael View Post
knowledgeable folks would have known that the Mackays were loyalists in the '45
I think it's a good possibility that when the showrunners and/or Art Director and/or Costumer decided to comp MacKay Weathered they didn't know what it was called. They might have found an image online that lacked a caption or had a caption that didn't mention the tartan name.

If they did know it was called MacKay they wouldn't have thought much about it.

The Art Director and Costumer are artists, not historians. They live in a visual world rather than a verbal one.
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Old 09-07-2019, 07:02 AM   #10
pancelticpiper
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Default Re: Outlander tartans

Now that I've re-watched the video linked to (I had watched it a while back) I see that Kirkbright had already designed the tartan for Henry V, then "presented" his Henry V design to the showrunners.

I Googled Henry V, looking at images of stage productions prior to 2013, and I couldn't find any showing tartan. So I wonder what Kirkbright's Henry V tartan looked like.

All that stuff on the video (which is hard to watch due to the narrator mispronouncing things) about research into dyes etc is difficult to swallow. How could somebody do all that original research and end up with a tartan that's virtually identical to one already in production? It was obviously "inspired" (comped) from MacKay Weathered.

BTW I had forgot that Terry Dresbach wasn't brought onboard until partway through Season 1. As the video explains the original costumer was Glenne Campbell.
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