Belstaff, the stars' favourite, returns to rugged British roots
It started out in Stoke as baggy motorcycle garb, then became a must-have item in Hollywood. Now it's coming home, says Genevieve Roberts
What do Angelina Jolie, Hilary Swank, Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp share with Stoke-on-Trent and hairy motorcyclists? A love of the Belstaff label, which was founded in the Midlands in 1924 but is now associated with actors and fashionable Venice, from where its clothes have been produced for the past decade. Now it is returning to its UK home.
This autumn, the company that manufactured the world's first waxed cotton motorcycle jackets will open a five-storey flagship store on Bond Street. What started as motorcyclist utility garb has become the clothing must-have for A-list celebrities. The firm's new collection, to be launched next month, is inspired by its British roots – less tailored, more baggy – under the creative direction of Martin Cooper, who was the head of outerwear at Burberry for 16 years.
Harry Slatkin, Belstaff's chief executive, told The Independent on Sunday: "The brand started in England. When it was bought by Italians [in the 1990s], it started to lose its way and lose its language. We wanted to make a firm commitment that it is back in England and that we're proud to be an English brand."
Last year, Belstaff was bought by Labelux, based in Vienna. Months earlier, Labelux had bought Jimmy Choo for £500m. Four days later, Tommy Hilfiger became an investor and consultant. Both Slatkin, the founder of the fragrance company Slatkin & Co, and Cooper joined the company and started the move back to Britain.
The firm was founded by Eli Belovitch and his son-in-law Harry Grosberg, in Longton, near Stoke, in 1924. At one time it produced more than 80,000 Trialmaster jackets a year. They were worn by bikers the world over, including the late Steve McQueen, star of The Great Escape. He started the move that helped such clothing cross the divide from niche market to mainstream appeal.
The firm once provided clothing for Lawrence of Arabia – Peter O'Toole as Lawrence died on his motorbike wearing Belstaff. Today, its clothing is a movie staple. The Malenotti family, who ran the company until last year, had as rich a history in film as in the ragtrade. Franco Malenotti, motorbike designer and champion rider with an obsession for the coats, started with Belstaff in 1986 and bought the firm when it ran into financial difficulties. His father, Maleno Malenotti, was a film producer, a contemporary of Federico Fellini who worked with Sophia Loren.
Since then, Belstaff clothing has been worn in blockbusters including The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt), Sweeney Todd (Johnny Depp) and Mission: Impossible III (Tom Cruise). Malenotti himself appeared in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, while George Clooney and Angelina Jolie regularly wear the jackets off-set. Daniel Radcliffe had a specially made "Harry Blouson", while Sherlock's tweed coat, as worn by Benedict Cumberbatch, is Belstaffian.
It is not only on the big screen that the name is revered. Pope Benedict XVI wears bespoke Belstaff made from soft cotton – with white corduroy collar and cuffs – when walking in the Vatican gardens.
Great outdoors meets the in-crowd: The utility brands that conquered the catwalk
Oakley: Many people adopting the Oakley swagger are unaware the brand started in the 1980s, making bikers' goggles. Jim Jinnard produced the first pairs from his garage, with £150 in start-up capital. He named the firm after his dog.
Barbour: Founded in South Shields by John Barbour in 1894, the brand – which was also worn by Steve McQueen and holds a royal warrant – is now synonymous with country sports and wholesome walks.
Burberry: The 19th-century brand has consistently defied gloom-mongers during the recession and has survived being adopted as a fashion accessory by football hooligans in the 1980s.
Hunter: Who would have thought that 150 years after the North British Rubber Company started manufacturing, it would evolve into a wellie brand that united Kate Moss and Middle England? When David Cameron visited Washington in 2010, he took two pairs to give to the Obama children.
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