IT’S bold, beautiful, historic yet modern, it displays allegiances so it divides and unites. One material embodies Scotland, it’s iconic and loved. It’s tartan.

There are many reasons to visit Dundee, but 2023 sees a celebratory fifth birthday of the V&A Dundee, and it’s making waves with an exhibition showcasing Scotland’s signature textile. More than 300 objects from more than 80 lenders worldwide grace the exhibition, with names ranging from Chanel and Dior to the National Trust for Scotland and the Royal Collection.

To explore tartan’s rich history and tell its story, the exhibition is split into five sections: Tartan and the Grid looks at the basic structure of tartan; Innovating Tartan investigates the fabric’s development; Tartan and Identity explores self-expression, and Transcendental Tartan aims to transport visitors to new tartan possibilities and features an intriguing and challenging specially commissioned installation called Intersectional Family by Olubiyi Thomas.

The National:

Tartan and Power is the fifth fascinating concept, as tartan has been the backbone of protest and passion for centuries. It’s associated with Highland warriors and rebels, and in the 20th century, Scottish Suffragettes proudly wore tartan sashes in green, purple and white, before the rock and roll/punk rebellion embraced tartan in the form of the Bay City Rollers, Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren. But tartan is also the fashion choice of the establishment in the form of soldiers, Royalty and nobles. Such concepts are represented with exhibits such as a kilt worn on a First World War battlefield, stylish David Sassoon designs for Princess Diana, and punk bomber jackets and bondage trousers with detachable kilt.

Ultimately the exhibition is about fashion because tartan is the ultimate fashion darling. Highlights include a Zandra Rhodes peplum dress with glistening gold from her Indian collection, Alexander McQueen’s “Widows of Culloden” and “Joan” dresses, and Vivienne Westwood’s dashing “Anglomania” suit of jacket, waistcoat, kilt and trews. Even a super-cute tartan summer playsuit is on loan from the unlikely sunshine destination of Aberdeen City Council.

READ MORE: What to expect from the new V&A Dundee tartan exhibition

In addition, ordinary Scots will be contributing to the exhibition via The People’s Tartan, where ordinary folk put forward personal objects and memories that spark recognition and nostalgia summing up what tartan has meant to them over the years – expect See You Jimmy hats and adorable tartan draft excluders. And, having studied tartan so passionately, the V&A staff clearly wanted a piece of the action as the museum has commissioned its own new tartan to celebrate.

Alongside Tartan fever, Dundee is a Unesco City of Design and has a lot to offer locals and visitors alike.

The Verdant Works celebrates another material essential to Dundee — jute. In restored mill buildings the story of this textile is brought alive and, like tartan, it’s been embraced all over the world. Find it in everything from car linings and upholstery to deckchairs and rugs. Jute canvas covered the wagons of folk settling the American plains, linen hosepipes helped in the construction of New York skyscrapers, and during the Crimean War, jute was used in tents, horse blankets, gun covers and bags. In the museum, volunteers take time and pleasure explaining how raw jute that resembles a rough blonde wig is lovingly transformed to become a product ubiquitous around the world.

The National:

For further global stories linked to Dundee, an essential stop is Discovery Point. It’s possible to step aboard the original RRS Discovery, a ship built in Dundee and launched in 1901, for daring Antarctic exploration under Captain Scott. Peer inside the sleeping quarters of legendary explorers such as Ernest Shackleton, and imagine life on deck during the treacherous journey that spanned three years.

In the cupola of Discovery Point investigate the newly opened Discovery Dome. It features spherical artwork “Gaia” by artist Luke Jerram, and a narration featuring actor Alan Cumming covers topics from Dundee’s history to climate change. The views from the Dome over the water and the city are another highlight.

Also take time to stroll along the waterfront, look out for Dundee’s 22-ton whale sculpture, water fountains, street art and man-made beach. And when the day’s exploring is done retreat to the Apex City Quay Hotel, within walking distance of the V&A and Discovery Point. Book its Tartan Package, which includes an overnight B&B stay, a “Kilt Lifter” cocktail, two tickets to the V&A Tartan Exhibition, and a surprise V&A gift in the room. Expect contemporary bedrooms, a swimming pool with steam room, sauna and whirlpool, the indulgent Yu Spa, and feel free to wear tartan to dinner if you wish! – The Tartan Exhibition runs until January 14, 2024