February 18, 2012 London
Belstaff was established in 1924, and capitalizing on the vogue for motorsports in the twenties and thirties, it became the pre-eminent maker of high-performance waterproof sporting garments for both men and women. In his debut collection for the brand, the American chief creative director, Martin Cooper, has infused his offering with the romance of the machine age, when the motorbike and the motorcar were very much the pursuit of the wealthy. And very accomplished it is, too—particularly as he was only appointed seven months ago.
Having spent 16 years at Burberry prior to his appointment, rising to the position of design director of outerwear there, it's quite clear that Cooper knows well what it takes to fuse British heritage with contemporary desirability for both sexes. "I did rediscover the brand through the archive, those iconic garments from the twenties onwards," he says. "I wanted a holistic approach for both sexes, and 80 percent of the concepts are the same for the men's and womenswear."
Perhaps this is why there's a certain toughness in the womenswear that adds to its merit, eschewing the girlish folderol that can sometimes creep in when designers approach a fundamentally masculine, utilitarian history. Saying that, some of the standout garments were the dresses, particularly a silk "oil slick" print tea dress and its sheer-backed black georgette counterpart. Reworked to often feature skyscraper heels, the boots are among the most desirable elements of the collection, alongside the reworked outerwear staples. The iconic four-pocketed Trialmaster jacket appears in many fabrics for both men and women, with a particular emphasis on the exotics, crocodile and python. The intense sense of luxury does seep through absolutely everything, and yet Cooper and his team have been clever in not dissipating a sense of practicality and performance, particularly in the menswear.
For us British, this brand, with its roots in Stoke-on-Trent—hardly a town of sonorous high romance—might conjure up images of oily bikers in roadside cafés. Yet the new Swiss and American owners, Labelux and Harry Slatkin, see the more romantic, luxurious side of its heritage. And they mean business, opening up two flagship stores on Madison Avenue, New York, and Bond Street, London, later this year. If Belstaff is anything like our luxury car industry, it is better off in outside hands—and this seems like a decidedly safe pair.