It’s coming home
The autumn/winter 2019-20 collection is my first for Belstaff, and I still remember how on my first day in the job I told the design team here how much I love this brand. It’s my perfect wardrobe, because it possesses a type of truth, and there is an honesty about the pieces I am creating here. I want people to buy them and love and wear them for a long time. They are investment pieces, and they don’t wear you – you wear them! They may well go in and out of fashion, but that’s the point: they are beyond trends. They’re just great items you will form a lasting bond with.
This collection is all about bringing Belstaff home. About honouring its roots and referencing the remarkable journey it’s been on. Today we are known as a luxurious label worn by celebrities and with stores in the world’s most prestigious shopping destinations. But Belstaff started in the 1920s in the industrial north of England, in Stoke-on-Trent, making uniforms and outfitting early motorcyclists and aviators. I firmly believe that it is this grit, this authentic toughness and functionality that makes us different. When we dress our 21st-century customers in our evolved British designs that are made to last, they feel the rigorous approach and spirit of adventure that has always infused Belstaff.
However, it’s important to say that this is no simple exercise in nostalgia, even though my new collection is deeply inspired by Belstaff’s heritage. I don’t believe people want faux-old. They want something that will grow with them and take on their personalities. That’s what you get with the best leather and waxed jackets – they take on your form, your character, and you treasure them because of that. Also, in creating beautiful pieces that are built to last, we are adopting a genuinely sustainable approach. Belstaff is the opposite of fast fashion.
Unpacking the past
So autumn/winter 2019-20 was shown last Monday during London Fashion Week Men’s “at home” at Belstaff House in Mayfair, where the press was invited to view an installation representing the firm’s present in the context of an unpacking of its past. I used large packing crates to suggest both a spirit of travel and adventure, and the idea of unearthing treasures during a house move or attic exploration. The display actually brought to life what I have been doing here at Belstaff since I arrived – rummaging in the archive.
To get my message across, I’ve focused on four “compass points” that reference Belstaff’s past. All have in common a connection to our history of outfitting motorcyclists and adventurers. All display our commitment to the use of quality fabrics and finishes, such as hand-waxed leather and cotton, suede and shearling. All see us employing the finest, noblest yarns, such as Merino and cashmere. All incorporate technical fabrics too, the modern-day equivalent of the innovatively-treated natural materials that Belstaff pioneered way back in its early days. And in terms of designs, as well as the types of jackets and coats for which we are now well known, I’ve really explored knitwear, which here serves both as undergarments and layering pieces, and also even as a substitute for outerwear.
Belstaff has a long connection with the military, and in particular with the Navy, making uniforms and more extreme and protective kit – for example, the Belstaff Foul Weather Parka was created for the Royal Navy in the 1970s. For this group, the key colours are navy and dark indigo, of course, though there is also a presence of silver and olive; and the key fabric is wool Melton. A long military-style double-breasted belted woollen trench coat (the Milford) has officer class, while a peacoat in a similar style (the Naval Peacoat) is more casual. The thick-ribbed woollen Marine Roll Neck, in navy with contrasting rib patterns, is the perfect accompaniment to these. The Indigo Racemaster and Indigo Trialmaster jackets see two iconic Belstaff motorcycle-jacket styles re-imagined in rinsed, dark raw denim, bringing them right up to date. A hybrid navy blue technical jacket combines nylon and wool Melton, fusing past codes with modern ones, and offers a hood with fur trim for women.
In the 1920s, Belstaff made protective travelling gear and since has had an affinity with the great outdoors and the world of hiking, camping and exploration. In its most extreme expression, this resulted in a Great British Waterproofs collection developed with British mountaineer Sir Chris Bonington in the 1970s. Teamed with chestnut and indigo, a new Belstaff red colour is a key development in this group. It is shown off well in the hooded Wing Jacket, which comes in a new fabric for Belstaff, a dry-waxed cotton that has a canvas feel. The Shearling Car Coat in brown is a substantial, warm piece, while the Journey Biker Jacket in broken-in beaded khaki canvas with heavily stonewashed brown bridal leather trim speaks of hours spent on the road. More luxe is the women’s Earhart Flight Jacket (named for aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart, who wore Belstaff), in soft, lightweight leather-backed brown suede. Lightweight fisherman’s ribbed rollnecks in oat, and old-school undergarment styles with engineered ribs and button necks fit with this look, as do red wool/cashmere sweatshirts with contoured ribbing.
While much of Belstaff’s British heritage is the romantic stuff of adventure, the firm also possesses a down-to-earth functionality. Founded in Stoke-on-Trent in the 1920s, Belstaff was forged in an atmosphere of industrial development in an area dominated by potteries and coalmining. Its founder had supplied technical fabrics and waterproof materials to local factories to make capes and groundsheets for the British Army during the First World War, and Belstaff has never forgotten that its success from the first depended on an understanding of function and performance. Colours for this group are charcoal grey, black and brown. Fabrics are leather, wool and shearling. The look is hand-crafted. The Vincent Biker Jacket (named for the Vincent Black Shadow motorcycle) combines black and brown leather, as does the Danescroft Jacket, which is a black woollen flight jacket with a brown shearling collar. Black cable-knit woollen jumpers take inspiration from Scottish and Irish cable designs and look as if they have been made by hand. A hybrid black wool Melton jacket has black corduroy trim referencing naval uniform details and a detachable black shearling collar, and belongs to the earth, sea and the sky. The Trail Jacket, better known in wax, here gets made over in black wool to dramatic effect.
The machine age
From the very beginning, Belstaff equipped drivers, aviators and, above all, motorcyclists. All had a love of the machines that enabled them to have new sorts of adventures. And of these, it was above all those on two wheels who came to really adopt Belstaff. Over the years, many notable motorcyclists have worn the gear produced by the firm from Stoke-on-Trent, from Che Guevara, TE Lawrence (of Arabia) and Steve McQueen in years gone by, to contemporary bikers like Ewan McGregor, Charley Boorman and David Beckham. In this group, the principle colours are black, bone and blackberry, and the look evokes the idea of a type of urban patrol. The motorcycle references are given a contemporary urban treatment, so a women’s black leather biker cape, the Sidney Cape, has zip openings for the arms, while the full-length black leather Marving T women’s trench coat is all zips and belts. The Patrol Jacket is in black waxed cotton with a black shearling collar, while the brown suede short Cooper Jacket (named for Hollywood legend Gary Cooper) has a checked lining, and the unlined, khaki belted double-faced cotton double-breasted Garrison Coat is hard wearing with waterproof sealed seams. There’s a women’s black-and-white checked cape in double-faced wool in this group, too, and the knitted woollen scarves display modern cables alongside more traditional Irish cables. As befits a collection that is always engineered, the black leather biker boots are supremely tough, with straps and brass buckles, and belts are in thick raw uncoloured leather with brass harness fastenings.