By  on September 29, 2005

Clare Waight Keller's first official day as creative director at Pringle of Scotland may have been Monday, but the soft-spoken Brit already had been working on a special one-off gown to celebrate the brand's 190th anniversary. The dress will be unveiled at a party on Tuesday night. "The dress is a starting point," Waight Keller said, sitting in the Four Seasons Hotel just hours before the party. "Knitwear isn't just a V-neck or a crewneck. I wanted to take it into a new dimension."

And that she did.

It took four days for Pringle's factory in Scotland to weave the stocking-weight silk yarn into a single 5.5-yard piece of lace, which Waight Keller then draped and pleated around the body to create a virtually seamless dress. For accent, she snaked a natural seed pearl and steel-cut silver bead chain in and out of the gauzy fabric.

Worn by Pringle's guest of honor, Sophie Dahl, the floaty dress was just one part of Pringle's birthday celebration. James Pringle — a descendant of the founder — showed up in full Scottish garb, but declined to reveal what was under his kilt. "That's my secret," he quipped.

The bigger secret, however, was the party's secluded location. Held in a 16th-century cloister hidden from the noisy streets of Milan, the soiree celebrated Pringle's heritage and the arrival of Waight Keller, who was named to her post in May after the departure of design director Stuart Stockdale.

Suitcases packed with vintage Pringle pieces, such as a 70-year-old twinset, were positioned around the English garden of the cloister. Framed pictures of famous Pringle fans — from the Duke and Duchess of Windsor to Grace Kelly and Lauren Bacall — were scattered throughout the box hedges. In an adjacent courtyard, Pringle's creative team had developed a haunting effect by weaving a web of cashmere yarn to and from its pillars, projecting a moving image of a stag meandering in and out of the space.

"It's just very Scottish," said Kim Winser, Pringle's chief executive officer. "The party is a celebration of the brand's heritage and the beginning of its future."

Founded in 1815 by Robert Pringle, the company began as a manufacturer of hosiery and underwear, and developed as one of the first luxury knitwear manufacturers in the world. In March 2000, Hong Kong-based S.C. Fang & Sons purchased the company and set about relaunching the brand. "The first five years [since the relaunch] have been about an emerging brand," Winser said. "The next era is about the whole brand growing up and becoming very global and very international." Winser believes that Waight Keller, formerly a women's wear designer at Gucci, is the person to guide that growth, which includes expanding the brand's accessories collection and eventual store openings in Milan and New York.Waight Keller, 35, will show her first Pringle collection during the men's shows in Milan in January, then show her first women's collection a month later during the Milan fall collections.

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