Blazing a trail: from Trialmaster to Speedmaster
Richard Mellor charts a course from one of Belstaff's most iconic garments to its new protégé.
'The jacket that started it all' is how Belstaff's legendary Trialmaster is described. A leather (or waxed-cotton) classic, it has been worn by famous racers, pioneering aviators and freedom fighters for a century. And it directly inspired Belstaff's newest coat, the Speedmaster - of which more anon.
Not that Belstaff's history began with the Trialmaster. The company was launched in 1924, when Eli Belovitch and his son-in-law Harry Grosberg began manufacturing waxed-cotton waterproof garments. Record-breaking moto-rider Joe Wright signed on as what we'd now refer to as a brand ambassador two years later, cementing its reputation as a provider of jackets for British off-road races.
Typifying its growing adventurous ethos, in the 1930s, Belstaff also began dressing famous female aviators such as Amy Johnson - the first woman to fly solo from Britain to Australia. During World War II, the brand even became an official contractor to the War Office and the Air Ministry.
The Trialmaster Jacket
The iconic Trialmaster arrived in 1948. A slim-silhouetted jacket, it was specifically designed to endure the rigours of the Scottish Six Days Trial motorcycle competition. It featured revolutionary details: pivotal armholes for better forward-rotation, pre-curved sleeves to provide improved comfort, a waterproof lining and, famously, four front pockets. The 1950s heralded Trialmaster short boots - military footwear given a dose of biker style. Both uniquely British products afford functionality and style with daring lifestyles in mind – a very Belstaffian fusion of careful preparation and effortless panache.
Celebrities have long been synonymous with the Trialmaster's prestige. A young Che Guevara wore the jacket while exploring South America on two wheels, while Belstaff outfitted Steve McQueen in 1963's The Great Escape, legend having it that he nixed a date with girlfriend Ali MacGraw in favour of staying home to wax his coat.
Now, the historical Trialmaster has inspired a modish millennial update. Drawing on the company's extensive jacket-making experience, Belstaff’s new Speedmaster 2016 sees the iconic garment streamlined and accorded a stylish belt. Its hand-burnished washed leather lends it an authentic, worn-in appearance and, as with its predecessor, its good looks come backed up by great details: a slanted left-breast pocket designed for easy access while riding, underarm vents, and shoulder and elbow reinforcement pads.
The Speedmaster Jacket
Yet while the Speedmaster begins its own journey, Belstaff's original jacket has hardly disappeared into the sunset. Though still reminiscent of outdoorsy English-countryside days, the Trialmaster is now as likely to be spied at cocktail parties as adorning the boundary-pushing backs of explorers and daredevils.
By Richard Mellor