Belstaff History: The Story of the Coolest British Heritage Brand
What do Steve McQueen, Che Guevara, Kate Moss and Amy Johnson all have in common? You might be racking your brains for a tenuous link, but the answer is Belstaff jackets. While the waxed jacket brand is a mainstay on catwalks worldwide, few brands can claim the rich, adventurous heritage of the Belstaff brand.
Belstaff's history goes back to the 1920s when a father and his son-in-law started a motorcycle brand in Stoke-on-Trent. From its humble roots, Belstaff became one of the most recognisable brands in the world. It built a reputation for adventure, innovation and quality craftsmanship.
So how did a motorcycle racing brand from Staffordshire become a worldwide outerwear giant synonymous with cool? If you're interested in finding out, keep reading. Our history of Belstaff will show the brand's journey from the race track to a fashion powerhouse and maybe give you some inspiration for your next winter jacket.
Belstaff History: The Beginnings of Belstaff Jackets
Belstaff was started in 1924 as a motorcycle brand by Eli Belovitch and his son-in-law Harry Grosberg. They began the company in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire and the name was a mash-up of Belovitch and Staffordshire. Initially, there were two Ls in Belstaff, but they dropped the second L in the 30s. From then, the brand quickly became synonymous with adventure and innovation.
The business aimed to create waterproof jackets for motorcyclists. Belovitch travelled the world to find the best waterproof fabric. He was looking for materials that were breathable, comfortable and protective for riders. Belovitch and Grosberg were successful. They adapted Egyptian waxed cotton for their jackets and put it to good use. In 1943, their Black Prince jacket was one of the bestselling waterproof jackets of all time, with over 40,000 sales — not bad before the internet.
Not only were Belstaff jackets a commercial success, but they were practical. The Belstaff jacket became the go-to choice for champion racers like Sammy Miller and Joseph Wright. But while products like the Trialmaster jacket and Panther jacket were for bikers, they were also popular with aviators. Amy Johnson, the aviation pioneer, wore a Belstaff jacket when she became the first woman to fly from England to Australia solo in 1930. Speaking of pioneer aviators, Amelia Earhart wore Belstaff jackets, too. Plus, Che Guevara wore a Belstaff jacket on his travels around Latin America.
The Timeless Leather Jacket of the Stars
Belstaff made jackets for the race track, but they soon found themselves on the runways at fashion shows worldwide. The iconic design of the jackets and its rich history also made the brand a favourite with Hollywood stars. Over the last century, movie stars like Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Ewan McGregor and Johnny Depp have all worn Belstaff jackets. But there is one movie star that stands out for his bond and devotion to Belstaff: Steve McQueen.
In the 1960s, the star of The Great Escape, Papillion and Bullitt, purchased a Belstaff Trialmaster, and it instantly became one of his most prized possessions. McQueen was so fond of his jacket that he reportedly cancelled a date with his girlfriend Ali MacGraw to have the wax coating on his jacket renewed. McQueen wore the jacket regularly, including in endurance races, and soon became synonymous with the brand. So much so that in 2006, Belstaff repurchased McQueen’s Trialmaster at auction for $32,000.
McQueen's interest and advocacy of the brand made it almost impossible to separate Belstaff from the glamour of Hollywood. Over the years, that connection has grown and developed. David Beckham, who appeared in Belstaff adverts, was drawn to the brand as he idolised McQueen.
The Belstaff Jackets of Today
Following the brand’s initial success, it became a subsidiary of James Halstead in 1948, where it continued to grow. But in the 1990s, a textile crisis nearly took Belstaff out of glossy magazines and into the history books. Fortunately, the brand survived and, over the past 30 years, has been bought and sold several times. In 2017, the UK company Ineos bought Belstaff, and it’s continued to grow.
Throughout this acquisition period, the brand has maintained the quality and essence of the original company that started nearly 100 years before. Belstaff remains one of the most iconic brands in outerwear fashion.
Find the Belstaff Jacket for You
Belstaff Trialmaster for Men and Women
This wax cotton jacket is undoubtedly Belstaff’s most iconic design. The coat is all-black, with a hint of colour coming from the gold buttons on the pockets.
Not only is this jacket stylish, but it’s also practical with four prominent front pockets, an adjustable belt and a neck latch on the high collar.
Available for both men and women, the Trialmaster is excellent for staying warm and stylish.
Belstaff Men’s Black Fieldmaster
The Fieldmaster lives up to everything Belstaff is known for; durability, comfort and style.
This jacket is an updated version of the Trialmaster and has similar chest pockets and gold buttons. It has buttoned cuffs, a high rounded neck and an adjustable buckle collar.
This straight hem jacket is similar to the classic Barbour jacket and is great for everyday use and more formal occasions.
Belstaff Men’s Outlaw Leather Jacket
The Outlaw leather jacket for men from Belstaff is a classic style of leather jacket. It’s available in a range of colours, including gold (pictured), black and cognac.
The jacket has a racer-style collar with stud closure and two lower zip pockets. The subtle diamond pattern on the shoulders adds to the timeless design of the jacket.
Crafted from hand-waxed leather, this jacket is the perfect addition to any outfit
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