Belstaff famously makes motorcycle jackets. The brand has been reinvigorated in the past few years. This is good for awareness, but not necessarily good for integrity.
Steve McQueen famously stayed home one night rather than go out with his movie-star girlfriend in order to wax his Belstaff. This is not a euphemism. He was such a fan of the motorcycle jacket, traditionally constructed from waxed cotton, that he wore the Trialmaster series throughout his life, including at the Enduro off-road motorbike race in Europe, where he represented the US.
I knew part of this from reading of McQueen’s passion for the jacket in a magazine. I was also aware of seeing people wearing the occasional beaten up Belstaff jacket, its Union Jack proudly displayed under a front pocket. But I hadn’t really been aware of where these jackets were bought or what was so good about them.
Advertising changed that. More money pumped into marketing meant adverts in all the usual magazines, an upgrade of the London store on Conduit Street and the accompanying editorial that employing a good PR agency gets you.
So last month, with a little money to spare and searching for inspiration, I visited the Conduit Street store. It was slick – minimalist white decoration, industrial-chic storage at the back, smiling employees. But it was empty, and the staff showed an alarming ignorance of their product.
The men’s department is downstairs, which seems odd, given that I have yet to see a woman wearing a Belstaff jacket and nearly all the advertising features men. I’m aware that brands often put the women’s section on the ground floor, as they tend to be less prepared to walk flights and tend to spend more. But here it’s odd given the clientele.
More disturbing were the sales staff. Looking at two jackets, the Redford and the Belford, I asked one (female) member of staff what the difference was between the two. All I could see was one extra pocket on the Redford, for £50 more. When I asked, she picked up the jacket and had a look at it. This is never a good sign. Then she told me, that, as far as she could work out, the difference was one extra pocket and £50.
This ignorance, the distinct lack of stock, the refusal to do any refunds and the fact that so much money had obviously been spent on marketing (which is warning to anyone looking to get value for money – oh, and they obviously paid Ewan McGregor to wear one while he rode around Africa, which is not money well spent) did not stop me buying one – the Belford.
It didn’t stop me because the quality of the jacket was fantastic. From the suede lining that almost made you want to wear nothing underneath, to the durable and high quality fastenings; from the instructions on how to look after it over decades, to the odd-school paisley sleeve lining; it was impossible to resist.
The product is faultless and will find a great audience, if only they learnt a little more about pitching this to the right market with the right people. This is an old-fashioned, high quality British product. It should be sold to older, slightly style-conscious men who will appreciate it. And it should be sold by people who know what they’re selling.