Fabric of time: Origins
Belstaff's new collection of highly technical functional clothing is the latest chapter in the brand's long history of fabric innovation, writes Josh Sims
There's a good reason why Belstaff's new, ground-breaking collection for spring/summer is called Origins: it's about returning to the brand's guiding principles of innovation and functionality. 'The fact is that for the last 10 years Belstaff has been very nostalgic,' says its head of design Delphine Ninous. 'But look back to its beginnings and it was all about new thinking in the early use of waxed cottons, for example. We wanted to ask the question, what would Belstaff's founder Eli Belovitch be doing to innovate if he was around today?'
Look through the archives and Belstaff always impresses with its forward thinking for the times. A vulcanised rubber motorcycle coat from the 1930s, for example, had its seams sealed using a technique that involved high frequency radio waves. Look to the 1950s and an officer's mackintosh was put together using a four layered protective system that encompassed a cotton canvas gabardine shell, water-resistant inner, woven cotton lining and removable woven wool liner.
Putting together two or more fabrics in a clever if unlikely combination a vinyl outer with a woollen lining in a motorcycle vest, for instance was second nature. Jump to the 1980s and 1990s and Belstaff made products like the super flyweight parka, again with taped seams, the Gore-Tex blouson and the nylon Storm Shield motorcycle jacket.
With this in mind, the 10-piece Origins collection is, perhaps, not only an answer to what might have excited Belovitch were he still around today, but an echo of what Belstaff was making not that long ago. In comes a decidedly 21st century product, better suited for today's active, urban, commuting and travelling customer who needs garments that pack small and can cope with radical shifts in climate. 'And as much as we still love waxed cotton here, it might be great for the UK, but isn't so well suited for, say, Asia,' Ninous laughs.
So the Origins take on the Trialmaster, for example, has the recognisable four pocket look, but now comes in a three-layer nylon membrane fabric, with laser cut and bonded seams, all-weather zip and rubber snaps so now it's waterproof (rather than waxed cotton's water-resistant), windproof, UV non-absorbent, moisture-wicking, super-light and, thanks to also having two-way stretch, comfortable too. Then there's the venting system, reflective details and concealed hood. It's the kind of thing Belstaff once did so well, but updated.
'We took our inspiration from modern sportswear and had to work with factories specialising in this to make the Origins pieces,' says Ninous. 'Belstaff had to change the way it worked entirely too there was a lot of adaptation required, and, because of the complexity of making these technical garments, a big shift in our calendar. But everyone's been happy to explore new territory.'
While the re-imagined Trialmasters are the heroes of the new collection with these new trans-seasonal styles set to become a permanent fixture from Belstaff the spring/summer collection also encompasses a number of other designs made from a very lightweight stretch nylon, including a packable anorak, soft shell sweatshirt, trousers and T-shirt for men, as well as a blouson and parka for women. 'The collection is a big thing for Belstaff not only does it show that we can make clothes relevant for warmer weather, but we're hoping that it will lay the foundations for the future of the brand; to, slowly but surely, make technical products like the Origins designs core to what we do, as they used to be,' explains Ninous.
So does that mean we'll soon be saying goodbye to the design classic that is the waxed cotton Trialmaster? Not at all, Ninous reassures. 'People still hold onto all sorts of out-dated technology for the nostalgia, for the aesthetic,' she argues. 'Some people find reassurance in the old you see it in music, for example, and in cars. Why would anyone ride a vintage motorcycle when a modern one is that much safer and more efficient? The fact is that there's room for both the traditional and the modern in our lives. And we're making sure that there's a place for both waxed cotton and smart nylon in your wardrobe.'