Behind the Brand

Nine Things You Need to Know About Belstaff

Founded in 1924, relaunched in 2011, and beloved by fans of rugged, masculine style at every moment along the way, it's one of the world's iconic men's brands. Here's a bit of history to help you accessorize that vintage Trialmaster.
Photo: Sascha Pflaeging

Vintage Trialmaster, Modern 'Tude.

Finding inspiration in military details or rugged motorcycle style is nothing new in the menswear world, but few labels have as much firsthand experience with those two foundational influences as Belstaff. With its heritage as supplier to the British armed forces during two World Wars and jacket-maker of choice for generations of hard-core motorcyclists, the brand comes by its aesthetic quite naturally. Here, a few key facts about a brand every style conscious guy should know.

Belstaff’s signature waxing technique goes back centuries.
According to Doug Gunn, owner of the UK’s Vintage Showroom (and a Belstaff expert), fishermen have used a combination of beeswax, fish oil, and other waxes and oils to waterproof their coats and smocks for centuries. Belstaff was the first company to actually manufacture the waterproof but breathable material.

Belstaff gear is battle-tested.
Eli Belovitch, who founded the brand in 1924, once supplied waxed cotton and other waterproof materials to British manufacturers of capes, tents, and groundsheets for WWI. By the time World War II rolled around, Belovitch and his son-in-law, Belstaff cofounder Harry Grosberg, were producing survival suits, parachutes, barrage balloons, and other wartime essentials as an official military contractor.

Yep, it’s TRIAL-master, not TRAIL-master.
Debuting in 1948, the Trialmaster (see the slideshow below for a few amazing vintage examples) was made for the harsh weather conditions of the Scottish Six Days Trial, the oldest motorcycle trials (a scored, non-speed event that tests the rider’s skill on an obstacle course) in the world. Per Gunn, the design was based off a jacket worn by Royal Navy sailors on the lookout towers of submarines.

The brand was worn by Amelia Earhart and T.E. Lawrence.
Simply put: If world-class explorers, aviatrixes, record breakers, and other daredevils like land speed record holders and mountaineers stand behind it, it’s probably going to do just fine keeping you dry on your morning commute.

Oh, and some dude named Steve McQueen, too.
So great was the King of Cool’s love for the brand that rumor has it he once skipped a date with girlfriend Ali MacGraw to stay home and give his Belstaff jacket a fresh coat of wax.

Belstaff cast Kate Moss in a campaign before she was Kate Moss.
In 1990, long before she became a household name, Kate posed for a Belstaff catalogue that brought the waxed cotton look to the mainstream, non-motorcyclist market. She reprised the shoot for an ad campaign in 2006, proving that her beauty has — shockingly, if you think about it — held up as well as, well, a Belstaff jacket.

Belstaff created the best-selling waterproof jacket of all time.
The Black Prince leather jacket — which has sold 40,000 pieces annually for 40 years — moved enough volume to require its own factory in Silverdale, England.

The brand is now part owned by Tommy Hilfiger.
When you think about it, this says less about the brand than the taste of Mr. H, who bought the brand in 2011 conjunction with businessman Harry Slatkin and the Labelux Group.

The Belstaff logo is based on the legend of the Phoenix.
Cofounder Harry Grosberg chose the symbol in the 1920s to signify ascendency and continuity. We’re going to go out on a limb and predict that he’d be pretty happy with the way things have turned out.

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