CABINETS OF CURIOSITY

When British outerwear brand Belstaff decided to build its archive from scratch, it enlisted the help of Doug Gunn, co-founder of The Vintage Showroom.

These days, every good fashion brand knows the importance of a sharp edit.  And while it counts to have a well-curated shop floor, it also makes good sense to put the company’s design archives in order. Cue the rise of the fashion archivist. These experts plunder the company vaults to find valuable pieces and scour the globe in search of missing treasures. Such is the job of Doug Gunn. As co-founder of The Vintage Showroom – an Aladdin’s cave of menswear pieces spanning most of the 20th Century based in Covent Garden – he is charged with chronicling Belstaff’s past.

“There are few brands globally with such a rich history and Belstaff’s 90-plus years have seen countless cultural and geographical changes which have reflected in the company’s evolution,” says Gunn. “For a costume historian such as myself, it is a real honour to work for such an iconic British brand.”

A sample of Doug’s findings can be seen at Belstaff’s Bond Street store. The mini exhibit stems from a broader 150-piece archive created to coincide with the brand’s centenary in 2024. The glass display cabinets hold a variety of items from a 1930s tent – a reminder of Belstaff’s early days as a producer of protective fabrics – to the moto-culture of the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s. One section is specifically dedicated to Belstaff’s coloured and striped leathers, which along with the seminal 1971 film “On Any Sunday” starring Steve McQueen, is part of the inspiration for its latest men’s collection. Other retro elements can also be seen in the current women’s capsule line inspired by Belstaff’s latest brand ambassador, Liv Tyler.

Meanwhile, there have been some lucky finds along the way, including a wax trail master jacket which was purchased at the auction of Steve McQueen’s estate. A heavy gabardine rider’s coat, which George Formby gave to a dancer one night in Manchester, also made its way into Doug’s hands. It came with a handwritten note in one of its pockets from the lady in question to say she had been working in a theatre production with Formby and having stepped out without a coat, he gave her this.

“I look for the romance behind the brand stories,” adds Doug. “Luckily I have been buying vintage clothing for twenty years, so I knew that a lot of the Belstaff pieces that we wanted existed and where to find them. There were also pieces that I didn’t know about such as a leather rider’s coat from the 1930s and that’s pretty amazing.”

In addition to discovering early Belstaff logos, Doug would use slanted pockets, zips and rivets to date each piece accurately and form a timeline. The 1960’s saw the start of the first real injection of colour. This is evident in a ladies’ turquoise rubberised Scooterjack jacket from the same era. Of course the leather has also come a long way since Belstaff’s beginnings. As Doug says: “The leather in the 1940s and ’50s was really aimed at motorcyclists whereas obviously now, as the brand has progressed, the leather quality has improved greatly. It has much more of a luxury hand to suit a more refined silhouette.” And with that he is off, no doubt in search of more unique finds.

Belstaff, 135 -137 New Bond Street – belstaff.co.uk

 

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