Shirt brand Eton looks to ancient Egypt and Indian trucks for inspiration

The Swedish brand turns to scarabs, hieroglyphics and the art found on colourful lorries for its statement shirts

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Since he was a young boy, Sebastian Dollinger has been fascinated by the mysteries of ancient Egypt. From the sweeping structure of the Great Pyramid to life on the banks of the Nile, it's a place that always held a sense of wonder for Eton's creative director.

It’s that fascination that has inspired the latest collection from the Swedish shirt company, which pays homage to the colours, patterns and materials traditionally found in Egypt. The idea first came to Dollinger in 2014, as he browsed a small bookshop in the Italian lake town of Como. “I found a case study from the 1910s about the colours of Egypt, conducted by two French university professors,” he explains. “The authors had gone to great lengths to actually recreate the colour inside the pyramids to what it might have looked like when it was thriving.”

The vivid images stayed with him, and when he came across similar pictures in a bookstore in Milan four years later, he took it as a sign that the designs needed to be made. The result is Horizon, Eton's autumn/winter 2019 collection, which is one of its most extensive to date.

A leaf from the book that led Sebastian Dollinger to create a collection inspired by Egypt 
A leaf from the book that led Sebastian Dollinger to create a collection inspired by Egypt 

A mix of Egypt-inspired earthy and jewelled tones are apparent throughout the collection, which features the 100 per cent cotton, crease-resistant shirts that spawned Eton’s success in the early 1990s, as well as bold, statement pieces that tell the story of the country’s past.  

Among the collection is a dress shirt decorated with a navy pyramid pattern and motif pocket square patterned to mimic traditional hieroglyphs. The standout piece is a bold statement shirt featuring Egyptian gods and scarabs, all hand-painted by the Eton design team.

A mixture of playful styles and quality staples is what has led to Eton's global success. The brand came from humble beginnings, started in 1928 by husband and wife David and Annie Pettersson at the kitchen table in their house in Ganghester, Sweden. The Great Depression forced the closure of David's sawmill, and Annie began to sew clothes for friends and family as a way to make ends meet. It slowly grew into a business and by the end of the Second World War, the Syfabriken Special (or the Special Sewing Factory) was thriving. But it was after visiting the English town of Eton that the pair's sons, Rune and Arne, helped transform the business into what it is today. There, they discovered an array of quality fabrics that they took back to their parents, alongside a new name, marking the start of a new entrant to the menswear segment. Today, Eton sells more than one million shirts worldwide each year.

Dollinger's own background at Eton dates back to his teens when he worked in the factory's stockroom – a job he got through his father, Jan Borghardt, who worked as the brand's sales and marketing director. That experience led Dollinger to enjoy a successful stint as an Eton sales associate at Harrods in London, before returning to Sweden in his twenties to continue his career at the company. After trying various roles in sales and marketing, he found his true flair in the design team and was appointed head of design at the age of 25. "I'm completely self-taught," he says. "Throughout the years I spent a lot of time in our factories to learn how things are made and to get a better understanding of the full process. I'm nerdy when it comes to learning and I want to know everything."

This drive caught the attention of the company's chief executive, Hans Davidson, who appointed Dollinger creative director just three years later, at the age of 28. Dollinger's creativity is visible in many of Eton's more flamboyant designs that, like the Egypt collection, are often inspired by travel. From the famous tiles of Lisbon to Japanese sumo wrestlers, each collection pays homage to a corner of the world that has left its mark on him. Next on the list for spring/summer 2020 is India, which is set to be one of the most colourful collections yet.

Pocket squares from Eton's spring/summer 2020 collection 
Pocket squares from Eton's spring/summer 2020 collection 

“Our design manager Nicoletta [Grazioli] and our master painter Anna [Canavesi] went on a five-day trip to stay with some friends of mine in Jaipur,” Dollinger tells me during the collection’s launch at Pitti Uomo in Florence. “We ended up categorising and taking a tonne of pictures of all the art that covers all the big trucks in India.” The team also visited the workshop of Brigitte Singh, who is famous for her reinterpretations of traditional Indian wood block fabric printing.

A shirt from Eton's spring/summer 2020 collection 
A shirt from Eton's spring/summer 2020 collection 

As well as being known for its quality, Eton has been at the forefront of the sustainable fashion movement even before it became a marketable catchphrase. Alongside ensuring the shelf life of its garments, Eton works hard to minimise its carbon footprint, ensuring its European facilities are within close proximity of each other, cutting out middle hands and third-party suppliers. "As a Scandinavian brand, sustainability has always been in our DNA; ever since the start in 1928, quality has been central to everything that we do," Dollinger says. "The quality and longevity of each garment is key when working towards a more sustainable clothing industry – an Eton shirt can almost last you a lifetime if you take good care of it."

He says he hopes Eton customers

"enjoy the efforts we put into our products and our obsession with every single detail", and that the Egypt designs spark the same level of interest with customers as the country's history does with him.

Eton is available in the UAE from luxury online retailer, as well as at Bloomingdale’s and Harvey Nichols – Dubai.