Martin Cooper Freshens Up Belstaff
BY EMMA SLOLEY
At the intersection of heritage and hipness lies Belstaff, the venerable outerwear company established in 1924 in Staffordshire, England, that has evolved from outfitting motorcyclists to bedecking A-list stars. The iconic British brand is setting up shop for the first time on American soil, on New York’s Madison Avenue. The dynamic collaboration of CEO Harry Slatkin (of fragrance fame), Chief Creative Officer Martin Cooper, who most recently held a 16-year position at Burberry as vice president of design, and designer Tommy Hilfiger (a consultant for the brand) is injecting a new energy and zeitgeisty cool into Belstaff’s classic DNA.
Cooper was attracted to Belstaff by what he calls its “built-in sexy, daring, cool factor,” which he credits to its origins in the 1920s. “That was an era in which wealthy British aristocrats raced cars, planes, and motorbikes as toys, and Belstaff rose as the outfitter for this lifestyle.” Cooper’s bold new vision involves marrying signature Belstaff motifs and fabrics— motorcycle jackets in rubber and waxed cotton—with high-tech innovations such as neoprene-backed PVC, which he used for the Dispatch Rider’s coat for the Fall/Winter 2012 collection, or the classic Trialmaster jacket, reinvented in paper-thin perforated leather for the Spring/Summer 2013 collection. “I am a huge believer that in order to push a heritage brand forward, you must thoroughly understand its past, but never be beholden to it,” he explains. “It’s a fine line to dance. Our heritage really defines who we are. It sets the path for us to take, but at the end of the day, my job is to create a modern and sexy expression of the brand that men and women connect with.”
Belstaff’s American introduction has been a whirlwind. Cooper showed his Spring/Summer collection this September, with the grand opening of the new flagship store on Madison Avenue hot on its heels. (Not to mention the unveiling of the Craig McDean–photographed ad campaign featuring a leather-clad Ewan McGregor earlier this year.) “I began to think about the differences in travel today verses travel 75 years ago,” Cooper explains of his inspiration for the streamlined, distinctly of-the-moment collection for men and women. “What differs is the fact that back then travel was all about luxury. I began collecting beautiful striped travel cases that were trimmed in leather. The stripes and their colors really informed the inspiration for the season. On my mood boards you’ll find many images of travel cases, the desert, sunsets, and an image or two of Amelia Earhart.”
On the women’s Spring/Summer runway, this translated to a collection of tough-chic separates—silky, light-as-air shirtdresses with vertical stripes inspired by vintage luggage, slouchy-sexy, borrowed-from-the-boys trousers, and formfitting leather galore—while the men’s collection is perfectly tailored to modern-day adventurers, channeling Che Guevara (an early Belstaff fan) in hip-hugging suede motorcycle pants, belted safari jackets in khaki, and the iconic Trialmaster, this time updated in white crocodile. On how he feels British and American styles differ, the New York–based Cooper muses: “UK fashion is generated from the High Street, which is generally edgier and more eclectic. In general I feel that British fashion may take greater risks. American style is often more polished.”
Not surprisingly, Cooper’s artistic background—as a costume designer, he has collaborated with choreographer Kevin O’Day on projects for Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, while his photographs exploring themes like astronomy and ancient Olympics are represented at the Columbia Museum of Art and Bergdorf Goodman—continues to inform the fashion line. “It comes from the same source,” he says. “When I have a block on solving a design problem, I jump to my photography, costume design, or writing and solve the design issue through that medium, and vice versa. I like having the ability to juggle between them.”
The store itself reflects this relationship between drama and intellect. A study in pared-down, English gentleman’s club-style elegance, the space has blond wood floors, wood-paneled walls, spherical marble light fittings, and studded leather sofas, with whimsical window displays featuring mannequins and travel bags suspended from the ceiling by glossy black parachutes. Slatkin, who worked closely with Studio Sofield on the store’s design, says he strove to create “an English country house, but with a modern and quirky twist.” His aim is for visitors to instantly feel as if they’re “a friend of the family—a Belstaffian!” Slatkin quips. 814 Madison Ave., 212-897-1880
PHOTOGRAPHY BY DAVID A. LAND
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