Hell for leather: 100 years of Belstaff
While preparing for its centenary, the brand made some surprising discoveries about its history
In an era in which consumers are better informed than ever before about the provenance and background of what they are buying, the story behind brands is playing an increasingly important role in sartorial decision-making. But while many talk up their heritage, few can lay claim to as rich a history as Belstaff.
The modern-day biker image for which the label is now known has serious credentials. Since its beginnings, Belstaff has supplied cutting-edge clothing to motorcyclists and has played a role in some of the most famous automotive moments in history, from Steve McQueen jumping over barbed wire in The Great Escape to Che Guevara's epic journey documented in his memoir The Motorcycle Diaries.
While it's still the go-to choice for style-conscious riders, there's more to the British brand than its on-road expertise. This is something that has been explored in a landmark new archive project which, over the course of 30 months, has accumulated 150 pieces of clothing and other items, offering an unprecedented insight into Belstaff's past.
The brand enlisted the help of Doug Gunn, co-owner of The Vintage Showroom in London, to seek out pieces to add to its then-minimal archive ahead of celebrating its centenary in 2024. The resulting collection offers a fascinating snapshot of changing styles over the course of the 20th century, from designs favoured by the "ton-up boys" of the 1950s to Western-influenced fringed jackets from the 1970s.
Along the way, they have made several surprising discoveries. The brand's background in supplying the military and aviation industries is seen not only in garments such as a 1930s flying suit with Belstaff's first factory name - Middleton - emblazoned on the back, but more unusually in items including a 1920s tent and a World War II map case dating back to 1944.
Key pieces can be viewed at a constantly changing exhibition created within its New Bond Street store, currently focusing on the company's expertise in leather, from its protective gear of the 1930s to the striped designs seen in the 1971 McQueen film On Any Sunday, which inspired its current collections. For those who want to walk away with an original, there's also a rail of curated vintage purchases for sale.