Heritage, history and home life merge for the Temple family,owners of Magee in Donegal where a new generation ismaking its mark
Patrick, Charlotte, Elizabeth and Lynn Temple of Magee, at Salthill Gardens, Mountcharles, Co Donegal. Photograph: James Connolly/PicSell8
M agee is the name and tweed is their game and they have been at it in Donegal for nearly 150 years, wool and weaving being part of the county’s DNA. The drapery shop John Magee founded in 1866 still dominates the Diamond in Donegal town. Today, tourists and locals alike are browsing through jackets and coats of sleek silk, linen and wool, all bearing the Magee label with its discreet wolfhound logo.
It was Magee’s cousin, Robert Temple from Ballybofey, who took over the company in 1900 and brought in his son Howard to develop tweed’s potential. It was to become – and still remains – a fabric with a long history, associated internationally with Irish excellence and craftsmanship.
Heritage companies worldwide are exploiting the power of their past to drive sales. Harris has done it in Scotland and Chanel has invested in a Scottish cashmere company. Magee is no exception. “Heritage is now contemporary and we are benefiting from that and using our own cloth in a much more exciting way,” says managing director Lynn Temple, Howard’s son. Magee not only weaves cloth for haute couture and luxury brands (though coy about naming customers), it is developing and improving its own clothing and accessories, as well as operating retail outlets. A new website was launched in January.
A fit 60-year-old who cycles to work every day from the family home in Mountcharles on a top-of-the range titanium bike, Temple demonstrates vividly how styles have changed. Donning a six-year-old Magee linen jacket before replacing it with one in silk Donegal tweed from the current collection, he points to the differences in shape between the two. “The length, shoulder and skirt of the jacket six years ago are completely different. The new style is slimmer, shorter and narrower. That is the effect of design on a basic man’s jacket. The changes are always subtle,” he explains. With sales up 30 per cent in the first six months of this year compared to last, public response has been positive.
Fortunes have fluctuated in recent times, he readily admits. “We went through three very difficult years and struggled to get out of the mould everyone had cast us in. But we have gone from basic tweed and rather conservative suits and jackets into exciting fashion aimed at the 30s-plus,” he says, guiding me around the shop and its stylishly revamped cafe.
In the headquarters, Gill Mudie, who heads up the textile design team, displays some of the bold, colourful and intricate new fabrics heading to the Première Vision fabric fair in Paris and to private customers. These samples have names such as St Brigid’s Cross, Patchwork, Parquet and Urban Grid, with many aimed at avant garde tastes.
The young Irish designer Alan Taylor, for instance, is making waves in London proudly using Magee tweeds.
“We sell to traditional Savile Row tailors who use them in the traditional way and we sell to designers who use them in a completely different way – it’s how they perceive the fabrics, and our job is to inspire,” says Mudie.