As far as Brit brands are concerned, Burberry’s pedigree is undisputed. But Belstaff, a British heritage brand that was founded in 1924 and has been revamped by Italian conglomerate Labelux, is ready to give the house of the Haymarket check a run for its money — albeit on Italian soil.
Even if you aren’t familiar with the brand, you’ve seen it on the big screen. Belstaff pieces have played supporting roles in films such as Nine, where the bevy of Brit actors wore custom Belstaff, Lawrence of Arabia, Benjamin Button, Amelia (Hilary Swank wore a custom made Belstaff leather jacket that was available for purchase after the film’s debut), and even non-period films such as Mission Impossible: 3 and I Am Legend.
So, it’s no surprise that Hollywood’s A-list started to wear the brand off-set, too. With its rugged luxe sensibility, the shift from costume department to paparazzi camera-ready has been as easy as stepping off the set. Even Steve McQueen, a touchstone for just about every menswear designer and fashion fanatic, wore the Roadmaster on and off the big screen.
When it was founded, Belstaff was known for producing waterproof jackets, which quickly gained a following among British motorcyclists, who loved how the brand’s signature waxed cotton — Belstaff was the first company to use waxed cotton for garments — kept them warm and dry while they were riding the mean streets of rainy Londontown. Belstaff then expanded to include aviation-inspired items, such as gloves and goggles, as well as other weatherproof jackets that built Belstaff into a brand for adventurers and travelers. It gained a loyal, though small, following but remained under-the-radar for those who weren’t in the know. Later, in 2011, the Brand was acquired by Labelux, which positioned it in the market alongside other heritage brands with an outdoor slant, such as Barbour, Moncler and more. But the icing on the transformation was the addition of Martin Cooper. With Cooper appointed at Creative Director, Belstaff went from a brand that was just for off-the-beaten path to a celebrity favorite.
In addition to the outerwear that the brand has built its name on, Cooper has expanded the brand to include more than just jackets. With military influence returning to the runway, fashion editors and celebrities alike took to Belstaff’s tough-chic designs by donning Amelia Earhart-inspired bomber jackets. Rihanna wore hers on her 777 tour, which stopped down in seven cities in the span of seven days, a testament to the comfort-factor of her Belstaff coat. Kirsten Stewart did for a television appearance to promote On the Road. For the true traditional look, Sarah Jessica Parker took to the streets of New york wearing the Belstaff Triumph, a leather jacket with details that recall the very first Belstaff jacket.
When Labelux acquired the brand, they didn’t just bring it back onto fashion’s radar, the company also moved all design and production away from England to Italy. The Malenotti family now operates the brand, and they are responsible for moving Belstaff away from being just a motorcycle-centric label to a full-fledged lifestyle label. While history buffs may still associate the brand with notables such as Che Guevara, today the notables include off-duty celebrities and even the Pope, who wears a custom-made Belstaff parka when he walks the gardens of the Vatican or retreats to the mountains.
And though the clientele might be lofty, the Malonetti clan is steadfast in proclaiming that Belstaff is a family operation. Maleno Malenotti has been wearing a Belstaff since the ’60s, when he’d ride his motorcycle from Italy to London just to stock up on the jackets for his friends back at home.
Celebs wearing a cool brand? Meh. But the Pontiff? That’s cool.
Images courtesy Belstaff