Simon Doonan and Belstaff's Martin Cooper On How the 90-Year-Old Brand is Reinventing Itself With a New Products and a (Very) Famous Face

What do you have to do to keep a nearly 90-year-old British heritage brand relevant? If you’re Belstaff’s Chief Creative Officer Martin Cooper, the ke
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What do you have to do to keep a nearly 90-year-old British heritage brand relevant? If you’re Belstaff’s Chief Creative Officer Martin Cooper, the ke
Barneys Creative Ambassador at Large Simon Doonan and Belstaff Chief Creative Officer Martin Cooper chatting over breakfast.

Barneys Creative Ambassador at Large Simon Doonan and Belstaff Chief Creative Officer Martin Cooper chatting over breakfast.

What do you have to do to keep a nearly 90-year-old British heritage brand relevant? If you’re Belstaff’s Chief Creative Officer Martin Cooper, the key to success lies in the past. Hired to the company a little over a year ago, Cooper’s vision for Belstaff was a heritage brand reinvented to meet 21st century needs--a feat he accomplished by turning to Belstaff’s bountiful archives.

Founded in 1924, Belstaff catered to risk-taking British aristocrats. “It was a time in England when people bought open-cockpit planes and raced Bentleys for fun,” Cooper told a gaggle of journalists over breakfast at Barneys co-hosted by the irreverent Simon Doonan. At the time, racing motorcycles was not only a leisure activity reserved for the upper echelons of society, but a very dangerous one, at that, with an 80 percent mortality rate, due almost exclusively to a lack of protective garments.

And that’s where Belstaff came into play. Crafting leather motorcycle-ready jackets from cavallo horse leather--much sturdier, waxier and longer lasting than your average skin--Belstaff leather has graced the backs of icons such as Steve McQueen, Lawrence of Arabia, Amelia Earhart and (believe it or not) Che Guevara. Now, decades after the brand’s rise to prominence, a new icon is being outfitted in Belstaff--Ewan McGregor, who, far from being heavily pursued by the brand, actually pitched himself for the campaign in an email with the subject line: "Born to Ride."

So we’ve got an undeniably enticing ad campaign featuring one of the UK’s biggest actors, but what else is being done to revamp the heritage brand?

Cooper is repositioning Belstaff as a luxury lifestyle brand, adding shirts, dresses and pants to the collection in addition to jackets, relying on the company’s archives through and through. Cooper said that he has a very romanticized view of the past, a stance that helped him revamp fellow Brit heritage brand Burberry, where he worked as Vice President of Design for 16 years.

This is knurling.

This is knurling.

What can you expect to see from Belstaff this fall? Some of the same but also a whooole lot of new with some mindblowing details to boot. “Everything about Belstaff, every zip, every snap, has been completely remastered,” Cooper explained, citing articulated sleeves, racing stripe-inspired sleeves and knurling as key updates. You, like everyone else at the breakfast, might be wondering what knurling is. It’s not curling (the sport) like Doonan asked, but more along the lines of a tread (another racing allusion!) embedded into a solid object. Belstaff’s zipper pulls and buttons have been given knurled details for an unexpected added dose of texture. While jackets are no-doubt the brand's mainstay, Cooper cited a suede moto-style trouser among the highlights in the women's line. Likened to a second skin, the slim pants were inspired by a pair worn by champion drag and motorcycle racer Sammy Miller. And, while we may not be hopping on a motorcycle anytime soon, we have to say we'd be more than happy to take them--or any part of the womenswear line--out for a test spin. So, just let us know, Cooper.

Click through to see more pictures from the event.