Celebrating: 100 Years of Belstaff

Celebrating: 100 Years of Belstaff

CELEBRATING:

100 YEARS OF BELSTAFF

As the historic British brand turns 100, journalist Odunayo Ojo, aka Fashion Roadman, takes a look back at Belstaff’s enduring legacy.

WORDS: Odunayo Ojo

To celebrate its 100th anniversary, Belstaff has released a book – Belstaff: Our First 100 Years - co-edited by British fashion journalist Charlie Porter and Belstaff’s own Global Brand Director, Jodie Harrison. Focusing on the culture, people, and iconic pieces that have helped cement Belstaff as a leader in the outdoor clothing space, it’s the ultimate tome for collectors of the brand and fashion fanatics alike.

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Despite the brand's reputation in fashion as "the stylish brand that you can wear anywhere,” its use by A-list celebrities, such as Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, and its appearances in multiple Hollywood blockbusters, the origins of the brand are a lot humbler…

Back in Stoke-on-Trent in 1924, Belstaff was founded by Eli Belovitch and his son-in-law, Harry Grosberg. Belovitch used his prior experience running a business specialising in reclaimed fabrics and rubber goods, and his expertise of supplying the British army with waterproof fabrics to develop waterproof outwear for Belstaff. Since its inception, there has been a clear focus on attention to detail and appreciation for pushing the limitations of outerwear.

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The timing of the brand was perfect, coinciding with the boom of British motorcycling. At the time, there weren't many options for a durable jacket that could handle the outside elements you’d encounter during a motorcycling trail run. Enter Belovitch, who developed garments using high-quality Egyptian cotton fabrics with a wax coating to create outerwear that was waterproof, breathable, and more abrasion-resistant than traditional rubber garments.

One of Belstaff’s most iconic jackets called the “Trialmaster” was first produced by Belstaff in 1948 and was engineered to withstand the harsh conditions and gruelling physical demands of the Scottish Six Days Trial – one of the most extreme off-road motorcycling events and now the oldest event of its kind in the world. It was designed to be weatherproof and comfortable and was developed and made famous by trials rider legend Sammy Miller. Miller wore Belstaff for the first time when he competed in his first SSDT in 1954. After writing to the company and asking them to sponsor him, Belstaff responded by making him a made-to-measure jacket based on his specifications and requirements. He often jokes that Belstaff won him his numerous trophies. The Trialmaster gave him a competitive advantage as it kept him dry when the other riders were soaked through. When wearing his Trialmaster, he said: “I rode better. The rest of them were like drowned rats. I used to pray for rain, softened them up. Easier to beat them.”

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Unfortunately, the decline of the British textile industry and an economic crisis would almost lead to Belstaff closing down until its Italian distributor Melanotti acquired the brand. This turned out to be one of the most significant acquisitions in fashion because of how the brand was revamped.

New leather technology being used to make motorcycle jackets had caused a subsequent move away from wax jackets, which were less abrasion-resistant and more difficult to maintain due to the frequency of re-waxing required. The Melanotti era of Belstaff led to the introduction of modern padding being added to Belstaff jackets, as well as updating the fabrics to keep up with the competition. The brand also focused on the classic heritage pieces and rebranded as a more fashion-forward brand. This constant innovation of the brand was continued through the Labelux Group, who acquired the brand in 2011, and JAB Luxury GmbH, who acquired the brand in 2014. The brand is now owned by INEOS who acquired the brand in 2017.

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Today, Belstaff remains the cool brand loved by motorcyclists, fashionistas, celebrities, and athletes. And has made its way into Hollywood blockbusters, like Mission Impossible 3 and I Am Legend.

As a motorcycling enthusiast myself, what I think makes Belstaff stand out amongst the rest is how stylish their products are. The issue with modern motorcycle technology and clothing is that they make you look like a space-age astronaut. Yes, it is safe, but a lot of the time, you look ridiculous. Belstaff is the perfect middle ground between looking stylish and blending in with the crowd but still providing abrasion resistance, durability, and waterproofing with enough space inside to wear body armour when riding.

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The current CEO Fran Miller, who was appointed in 2020, has helped further develop Belstaff as a global brand, overseeing collaborations with Royal Enfield, Grenadier and more.

Belstaff remains committed to its heritage of racing, and high-quality technical garments, as shown by recent collaborations with Formula 1 drivers and teams and Gore-Tex. In a fashion climate where the biggest trend is "quiet luxury" and gorpcore is all the rage, Belstaff is in a perfect position to cater to a younger audience of consumers yearning for heritage, quality, and understated luxury.

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