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A History of Adventure
Explore the rich heritage of Belstaff - From Exploration, Aviation and Motorsport
to catwalks across the world and a firm favourite among the great and good.
The inaugural Isle of Man Tourist Trophy Race - known as the TT - is held, with 25 starters for the first race, but fewer than half completing the course. It is the start of an annual event that will eventually become synonymous with Belstaff.
Clothing is certainly an issue - as Jack Marshall, who came second, remembered years later: 'In an attempt to damp down the dust, officials sprayed the course with an acid solution. The acid got on our clothes, and in a couple of days, it looked as if the rats had been at our jackets.'
The famous banked circuit at Brooklands, the world's first purpose-built circuit for motorsport, opened in 1907, but motorcycle racing does not begin on the track until 1908 - the same year female racing drivers are allowed to compete there behind the wheel.
The first event takes place on 20 April, with 22 riders competing in a two-lapper lasting 12 minutes for the princely prize of 25 guineas (around £26.25 - a handsome purse in those days).
The Scottish Six Days Trial makes its debut. Another event that will become part of the Belstaff legend, this is a gruelling challenge for both men and machines - not to mention their clothing.
“The seeds of what will become Belstaff have been planted.”The British Motorcycle Racing Club - known as 'Bemsee' from its initials - is also founded this year, with its HQ at the Brooklands circuit. Aptly, it is in this year that businessman Eli Belovitch sets up shop in Middleton, Staffordshire, dealing in reclaimed fabrics and rubber goods. The seeds of what will become Belstaff have been planted.
With millions of men under arms (and canvas) across Europe and beyond, often in terrible conditions, the demand for waterproof fabrics soars. Eli Belovitch's factory expands dramatically, supplying capes, tents and groundsheets to the military.
Even in the midst of World War I, such is the appetite for motorcycle racing that two events are held at Brooklands, including the 'All Khaki' for servicemen, on 7 August 1915.
Racing officially resumes at Brooklands following World War I. Malcolm Campbell, later to become a Belstaff stalwart, wins that year's race in his 15-litre 1912 Lorraine-Dietrich 'Vieux Charles III', one of the first of his many Blue Birds.
Also at the circuit, 500 mile (805km) motorcycle races become popular with both professionals and amateurs. It is the beginning of the golden age of British motorcycle racing.
The first Welsh TT is held at Pendine Sands - seven miles of flat sand in Carmarthenshire. Over the subsequent decade, the beach becomes a favourite of many motorcyclists, including Malcolm Campbell, who happily shuttles between two and four wheels. In Pendine's 1920s and 30s heyday, races attract more than 40,000 spectators.
Using expertise built up through the war years, Eli Belovitch goes into business with his son-in-law, Harry Grosberg, to form Bellstaff Brand (note the extra 'l', which remains until the 1930s). Based near Stoke-on-Trent, the company produces practical waterproof garments for both men and women, with the emphasis on motorcyclists.
Grosberg, eager to ensure the firm remains at the cutting edge of technology, travels extensively throughout Europe and Asia in search of fresh fabrics and techniques. Belstaff becomes the first company in the world to use Egyptian waxed cotton to manufacture 'breathable' yet waterproof clothing.
On 25 September 1924, at Pendine Sands, future customer Malcolm Campbell sets a world land-speed record of 146.16mph (235.22km/h) in his Sunbeam 350HP car, also called Blue Bird. It is the first of his nine world land-speed records.
Explorer, guerilla fighter and keen motorcyclist TE Lawrence, a Bellstaff customer, takes delivery of 'George IV' - the fifth of eight Brough Superior motorcycles he will own.
His vivid impressions of riding it are recorded in his memoir, The Mint, which is published after his death: 'Another bend and I have the honour of one of England's straightest and fastest roads. The burble of my exhaust unwound like a long cord behind me. Soon my speed snapped it, and I heard only the cry of the wind, which my battering head split and fended aside.'
Eli and Harry’s hard work pays off when they open an Army, Navy, and General store on Stafford Street. They start using the ‘Bellstaff’ logo on their ready-to-wear garments and register ‘The Bellstaff Brand’ as a trademark in 1927.
Motorcycle racer Joseph 'Joe' Wright, lap record-holder at Brooklands from 1925 to 1935, becomes a Bellstaff ambassador, confirming the association between the brand and adventure.
In 1930, he takes his twin JAP-engined Zenith to 242.5km/h (150.7mph) on specially closed-off public roads in Cork, Ireland - a new two-wheeled world speed record. The links the brand forges with well-known personalities will help cement its image as apparel that manages to be both rugged and cool.
Another Belstaff client, aviatrix Amy Johnson, achieves worldwide fame when she becomes the first female pilot to fly solo from England to Australia. She leaves Croydon on 5 May and lands in Darwin on 24 May after flying 11,000 miles (17,700km).
Pioneering aviatrixes Amy Johnson and Amelia Earhart are both high-flying Belstaff customers.Also in this year, a new Belstaff factory opens, at 5 Caroline Street, Longton - a sure sign of a successful and expanding business.
The two-week Isle of Man TT has grown to fill the premier slot on every British motor-racing fan's calendar. Part of the fortnight is the Blue Riband event - the Senior TT for the most powerful bikes. In homage to the race, Belstaff produces its Senior TT competition coat, which exemplifies its willingness to explore the boundaries of fabric technology.
The coat is available in 'heavyweight black rubber-proofed beaverteen' (a twilled cotton) or, for the deluxe model, 'double-texture waterproof cashmere'. As well as the flowing Competition Coat, the company also produces a series of waist-cropped jackets aimed at golfers and hikers.
The Army, Navy and General store on Stafford Street is closed, as Belstaff is now available through retailers across Britain. The company continues, however, to offer a bespoke service for those with particular requirements, as well as tents, camping gear, goggles, gloves, boots, helmets, bags and a range of waterproof capes for cyclists.
At Brooklands, a new breed of female racers is emerging, and many, such as the vivacious Doreen Evans, wear Belstaff. Having first competed on the Brooklands oval in 1933, aged 17, a year later, Doreen is winning there for an MG Magnette team, with Irene Schwedler and Margaret Allan. She will later compete at Le Mans and in the RAC Rally, as well as earning her pilot's licence.
After 30 years in the textile business and 15 with Belstaff, Eli Belovitch retires.
The company is now run by Harry Grosberg and his wife, together with Eli's daughter, Esther. In an echo of the events of 1914-18, the looming hostilities means Belstaff's expertise and versatility in fabric production will be called on by the British government to aid the war effort.
Over the course of World War II, Belstaff supplies everything from parachutes to aviator suits. Its longstanding skill in water- and weatherproofing makes it the obvious choice to produce the survival suits that will save the lives of many airmen and sailors. Such is the demand from the armed services that Belstaff takes on an extra 600 workers. Harry Grosberg, meanwhile, becomes an Air Raid Precaution Warden.
Belstaff not only supplies the troops with essential high-tech gear, but also dresses music-hall star Gracie Fields as she entertains the troops, embodying the can-do spirit of the brand.Belstaff also dresses cinema and music-hall star Gracie Fields, who tours factories, army camps and even frontlines and war-torn cities to entertain the troops, embodying the can-do spirit of the brand.
If one garment defines Belstaff, it is the waxed-cotton Trialmaster jacket, which is introduced in this year. Designed to survive the harsh weather and riding conditions of the Scottish Six Days Trial, it is durable and comfortable, snug, yet allows easy movement and manages to look stylishly sharp.
Its four pockets and mandarin collar soon mark it out as a classic. As Malcolm Campbell has said: 'The Trialmaster is such an iconic design. I've had one for years - it's so warm and comfy and fits like a second skin. And there's a real sense of history to it. It's a triumph of British design - and so practical.'
Belstaff becomes part of James Halstead Ltd, a company with its own long history of providing waterproof outdoor clothing, but manufacturing continues in Longton.
By now, Belstaff is back to producing its full range for civilians, adventurers, and sportsmen and women.
It re-engages with its core biking audience by featuring road racer and BSA test driver CE 'Flash' Rogers in advertisements for its Black Prince PVC one-piece suit.
The Black Prince jacket is launched. It has a zip and press-stud fastening and a wrap-over collar to face down the worst of Britain's weather. More than 1.6 million will be made over the next 40 years.
Belstaff acquires a new hero, Sammy Miller, who tackles the Scottish Six Days Trial aged just 18.
He will go on to wear Belstaff in more than 1,000 races, and have a line of jackets named in his honour.
Future Marxist revolutionary Ernesto 'Che' Guevara sets off on an epic eight-month, 4,971-mile (8,000km) ride through the jungles, deserts, mountains and cities of South America, as recorded in his memoir The Motorcycle Diaries.
He travels on a 1939 single-cylinder Norton Model 18 500cc motorcycle ('The Mighty One') and, like any sensible endurance rider, wears a Belstaff Trialmaster jacket.
Harry Grosberg patents a new style of cycling cape, inspired by the designs Belstaff created for the Allied armies in World War II.
In recognition of the growing scooter market in the UK, in its advertisements, the company now positions its clothing as 'motorcycle and scooter weatherwear'.
The Trialmaster is Belstaff’s most popular design and becomes as much a part of the biking scene as bikes themselves. In 1960, moto racer John Lee competes in the Scottish Six Days Trial wearing a Belstaff Trialmaster jacket with a custom branded scene on the top two pockets.
In this iconic image from the Scottish Six Day Trial in 1960 four-time Trials champion and Belstaff wearer, Gordon Jackson, makes a single dab - putting down a foot and incurring an error - the only mistake of his otherwise clear round.
Steve McQueen, outfitted by Belstaff, appears in The Great Escape and makes the film's famous motorcycle jump over barbed wire (though the feat was actually performed by McQueen's friend, stuntman Bud Ekins). The scene makes him a star. McQueen is already a committed motorbike fan - in the late 1950s, he'd ridden across Cuba with fellow biker buddies and would race for the USA in 1964. 'Racing is life,' says McQueen. 'Anything before or after is just waiting.'
"Racing is life. Anything before or after is just waiting."McQueen becomes such a Belstaff fan that there is an apocryphal story that he forsook a date with Ali McGraw - his co-star in The Getaway - to wax his Trialmaster jacket. 'I'm not sure whether I'm an actor who races or a racer who acts,' he muses.
The Phoenix logo was introduced in 1969 and was originally designed as a symbol for the Trialmaster. The symbol of a rising phoenix on the logo, signifies ascendency and continuity based on the myth of the phoenix rising out of the ashes from Greek mythology.
This decade sees the introduction of synthetic fabrics. The famous Belstaff XL500 - one of the first jackets available in colours other than black - is made in a specially developed nylon known as 'belflex' that offers such a combination of durability and wearability that versions of the XL500 are still available 45 years later.
The cropped, waxed-cotton biker-style New Rebel jacket is released as an alternative to leathers, targeting 'the young, style-conscious rider who insists on looking good while still staying dry', as the adverts expressed it.
Belstaff creates a range of outerwear in collaboration with Jackie Stewart - one of the greatest racing drivers of all time, he won 27 Grands Prix and three world championships during the 1960s and 70s. It includes the colourful Monaco, Grand Prix, Pit Stop and Formula One jackets.
The company also targets devotees of other sports, such as angling, shooting, boating, cycling - that is, any activity where the company's proven ability to provide protection from the elements is applicable.
Mountaineering superstar Chris Bonington signs a two-year contract with the brand. The following year, wearing Belstaff gear, he makes the first ascent of Baintha Brakk, or The Ogre - a steep, craggy and challenging mountain, 7,285m (23,901ft) high, in Pakistan's Karakoram range.
Belstaff sponsors the Scottish Six Days Trial - one of the toughest long-distance motor races in the world - and dresses many of the most prominent riders, including Sammy Miller’s team.
Belstaff produces the Roadmaster jacket as an extension of the Trialmaster. Belstaff continues to explore its logo treatments with a patch on the upper right hand pocket and the Phoenix on the left sleeve.
With the British textile industry under a cloud, the old Longton factory closes and production moves to Wellingborough, in Northamptonshire.
Belstaff begins a slow but steady renaissance throughout the 1990s, gradually building on its core market of bikers and sportsmen.
The TV series Spooks (known as MI-5 in the US), starts its second series, featuring Belstaff-wearing action man Adam Carter, played by Rupert Penry-Jones. 'I love Belstaff. Spooks got into trouble because there's a logo on the sleeve and you aren't supposed to show any brand names on the BBC, but it's an integral part of the jackets. After I left the show, I bought some for myself.'
Also on television, Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman travel 30,396km (18,887 miles) from London to New York City, via Western and Central Europe, Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Siberia and Canada for the documentary ‘Long Way Round’. Both men wear durable Belstaff jackets from the Pure Motorcycle collection.
Kate Moss is featured in Belstaff advertising campaigns.
Will Smith appears on screen and on the poster for box office hit ‘I Am Legend’ wearing a bespoke version of the Belstaff Trialmaster, which inspires production of a coveted, limited-edition jacket.
Around this time, the brand appears in other big-screen blockbusters, including ‘Eastern Promises’, featuring a bike-riding Naomi Watts; ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’, with a Belstaff-clad Brad Pitt on two wheels; and ‘Mission: Impossible III’, starring Tom Cruise.
On television, Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman ride again in ‘Long Way Down’, travelling through 18 countries, from John o'Groats in Scotland to Cape Town in South Africa, wearing rugged Belstaff kit with their customary panache.
A moody black-and-white advertising campaign shot by Steven Meisel, featuring models Lara Stone and Reid Prebenda, brilliantly captures the cross-gender and multi-faceted aesthetics of Belstaff, from road- to café-racer, from high fashion to low riders.
Belstaff present their first autumn/winter collection for men and women at London Fashion Week in February 2012. Belstaff makes significant changes to its digital platform, launching Belstaff.com globally and expanding its social media outreach. These developments mark an exciting new shift in the rebirth of the Belstaff brand.
In the summer of 2012, Belstaff taps actor and motorcycle enthusiast Ewan McGregor to be the face of its autumn campaign. McGregor appears in a series of advertisements riding a motorbike and wearing the new Belstaff designs. Fittingly, the photo shoot for these ads takes place at the location of the annual Festival of Speed auto race at the Goodwood estate in the UK.
Belstaff continues with their fall 2013 collection as the masters of motorcycle chic. Black dominates the color palette with splashes of brown and midnight blue. With the prevalence of cargo pockets and slim silhouettes, many of these pieces still demonstrate the DNA of Belstaff’s legendary Trialmaster, the jacket that started it all. GQ (America)
In September of 2013, Belstaff House, Belstaff’s global flagship store, opens its doors in the heart of London’s historic Mayfair on New Bond Street. At 25,000 square feet over six floors, the historic building represents Belstaff’s direction and momentum under the new management. The opening is celebrated during London Fashion Week with the closure of Bond Street for a motorbike parade, culminating in the store doors being opened by David Beckham and followed by an A-lister party inside.
David Beckham, owner of a fine collection of vintage moto jackets, curates the capsule line Beckham for Belstaff, featuring sharp leather jackets and a waxed-cotton field jacket that references the Belstaff classics, plus jeans, wallets, bags, slim-cut neutral tees and broken-in motorcycle boots. It is a clever synthesis of Beckham's appeal to men and women alike as both a sportsman and fashion icon with the brand's traditional strengths in materials and design. A Peter Lindbergh photoshoot of Beckham and friends in the English countryside, alongside a fine collection of venerable motorcycles, supports the launch.
Frederik Dyhr, VP Men’s Design, presents his autumn/winter 2015 collection at London Collections: Men in January 2015. The collection takes its inspiration from the ‘Ton-Up Boys’ of the 1950s who were heavily into their rock ’n’ roll and motorcycles.
“What a fantastic return to London! Am very impressed.”Dylan Jones, GQ UK, Editor, Chairman LC:M
“Bravo to Belstaff for a totally rad fifties vibe biker inspired Fall’15 presentation. Loved the cool bad-boy casting!”Jim Moore, GQ USA, Editor in Chief
“Belstaff goes back to what they do best.”Madeline Weeks, GQ USA, Fashion Director
“It was a cool presentation and a very cool collection.”Carine Bizet, Le Monde, Fashion Editor
Delphine Ninous, VP Women’s Design, presents her debut collection at London Fashion Week in February 2015. The autumn/winter 2015 collection takes inspiration from the first pioneering women to dress in Belstaff, aviatrixes Amelia Earhart and Amy Johnson. The collection is a dynamic interpretation of the inherent danger and excitement of the natural world, allowing her to live fast and free in an ever-changing environment.
“Masculine and feminine have synthesized into one of the most successful fashion statements of recent years.”Tim Blanks, Style.com
“Ninous told her story in fabric and had a name for her approach: feminine functionality. The collection suggested that Belstaff is striding forward in the right direction.”Suzy Menkes, Vogue International
“There is a certified visible brand evolution at work. It’s not just for biker girls any more. This is looking like a real world lifestyle brand.”Saks Fifth Avenue
“We left wishing we could get the whole collection bagged up to take home there and then.”Belinda White, Telegraph
The film “Greasy Hands Preachers” – a paean to the passion that working on motorcycles generates, opens worldwide after a successful premier at San Sebastian International Film Festival in 2014. Executively produced by Orlando Bloom, with Belstaff as a production partner.
The Men’s 2016 summer collection develops the concept of the great British desert explorer, an intrepid and adventurous figure, motivated by the desire for discovery in the world’s most hot and unforgiving of landscapes. In keeping with Belstaff’s history as supplier to the British forces, a strong military influence pervades the collection, with more than a nod to the Desert Rats. This is interwoven with other references from Belstaff’s archive and heritage, such as explorers old and new who have worn the brand; namely Lawrence of Arabia in the 1930s, to those of the present day such as Levison Wood (Walking the Nile) with whom Belstaff has worked on a customised explorer jacket for SS16.
A prelude to the Women’s summer 2016 collection (Presented in September 2015 during London Fashion Week) is the pre-spring 2016 collection. This resort collection draws inspiration from Wheels and Waves, a biker festival held in June in the French seaside town of Biarritz, which draws bikers and surfers alike: it is this coming together of two cultures that is at the heart of this pre-collection. At first glance these two worlds might seem incongruent, but they share the very same ideals, albeit on different surfaces: freedom, adventure, speed, and spontaneity. The collection then is the embodiment of these free-spirited values, bringing together the raw elements of surf culture and seamlessly weaving them into the motorcycle heritage that Belstaff is so known for. The summer 2016 Women’s collection will further develop the concepts of freedom, raw power and beauty, with the sea as an enduring backdrop.
Belstaff opens a second store in London and it's first in the East End - in Old Spitalfields Market- aimed at a younger East End audience. The concept for the store is in keeping with the mood of the local area while referencing elements of the Belstaff House flagship on New Bond Street, designed by architect William Sofield. CEO Gavin Haig, says of the opening: “If our New Bond Street flagship emphasises the glamour of Belstaff, this store is all about our British moto heritage.”
Belstaff ’s Asian expansion continues with its launch into China with the opening of a first store in Macao, in the hugely hyped new Studio City casino and hotel. Steps are made to further Asian expansion into Japan, with the first stores planned to open there in spring 2016.
Belstaff produces a short film in partnership with Legs Media called “OUTLAWS”. The film features BELSTAFF brand ambassador David Beckham in his first ever serious film role, co-starring Katherine Waterston, Cathy Moriarty and Harvey Keitel. The surreal film within a film stars, “The Stranger” - a mysterious drifter and motorcycle stuntman, haunted by memories of a beautiful Trapeze Artist and hunted by a maniacal Director seeking revenge.