October 02, 2000 12:00 PM

There was Howie Nicholsby, scion to one of Scotland’s leading tartan-kilt-making families, showing up at his sister Emma’s 1996 wedding in…a kilt stitched from shiny silver vinyl? “They thought I was quite mad,” chuckles the 22-year-old.

Though he succeeded in shocking his parents (“I’m a traditionalist,” explains mom Lorna, 50), he soon converted them. Cranking out equally irreverent kilts made from leather, Chinese silk and even transparent plastic, some with pockets for cell phones, the fledgling designer persuaded his father, Geoffrey, 54, to produce his line under the family banner, Geoffrey (Tailor) Highland Crafts. Now his 21st Century Kilts decorate many a hip young Scotsman, at $300 to $1,600 a pop—and so far no one is tossing his haggis. “He’s keeping the kilt alive,” says Scottish fashion writer Kelly Cooper Barr. Nicholsby’s take: “When people say, ‘You’re destroying the kilt,’ I say, ‘No, I’m just evolving it.’ ”

The Edinburgh resident, whose father and grandfather have made kilts since 1946, took up the practice at 18. “I was bored with tartan and wanted to make a statement,” he says. Furthermore, “girls go crazy” for guys in kilts, insists Nicholsby, who met his own girlfriend, Katy Cullen, 22, a model, when sporting one. His latest creation: a floor-length black wool kilt. “It’s quite religious looking,” Nicholsby says with a grin. “Mum hates it.”

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