June 05, 2012 New York
The starting point is, and remains, the classic Trialmaster jacket, a camp-pocketed, belted motorcycle style. Cooper has reworked it in new fabrics (linen, trimmed in cavallo, a horsehide that's the motorcyclist's skin of choice, raffia, leather, and so on) and tweaked it right down to the knurling detail on its buckles. Knurling, for those not obsessive-compulsive about their metalworking, is the lathe etching process that creates the diamondlike crosshatch pattern that rings all of Belstaff's hardware. But look around, and you'll find it extrapolated everywhere. Cooper created a blown-up knurling print for silk dresses and a blown-up knurling weave to decorate canvas coats. The diamond pattern on bonded leather skirts references knurling, as does the knurling-printed jacquard lining of an otherwise unpatterned skirt. Even the jewel-box minaudières have the pattern picked out in crystal.
If it occasionally reads a little monomaniacal—and almost fetishistic in its attention to moto detail—the ultra-luxurious fabrications go far toward carrying it off. It helps that Cooper prefers to pair his more structured jackets with soft, fluid shapes to keep the balance. And it helps, too, that the Belstaff jacket is undeniably iconic. It remains to be seen whether he'll be able to create an entire lifestyle—his stated aim—out of one piece, but his training at Burberry, where he oversaw outerwear, will undoubtedly help. From one wartime trench, an empire grew there. And though they've owned the label for barely a blip, Belstaff's new owners have ambitions scarcely less grand. A new, 26,000-square-foot flagship is opening soon on London's Bond Street, with a New York cousin to follow on Madison and 68th this September and a launch at Barneys, Bergdorf's, and Neiman Marcus for fall. Fast and furious. That's the thing about racers: They race.