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Can a New Creative Director Revive the Belstaff Brand?

In an exclusive preview of today's show, Belstaff creative director Delphine Ninous and CEO Gavin Haig tell BoF how they are repositioning the 94-year-old brand to appeal to a modern consumer.
Belstaff Spring/Summer 2018 | Source: Courtesy
  • Osman Ahmed

LONDON, United Kingdom — When Delphine Ninous was appointed solo creative director at Belstaff just under a year ago, she had a major task on her hands: to reinvent a brand known mostly for waxed-cotton and leather men's biker jackets. The Spring/Summer 2018 collection she will unveil today at Somerset House is the first she has designed from inception to completion. It is also the first for the brand by a single design head, working across womenswear and menswear, as well as overseeing campaigns, retail environments and brand identity.

To say that Belstaff has been a victim of confused branding would be an understatement. After a major reinvention four years ago — a bid to turn the brand into a "British Hermès" — Belstaff began selling higher-priced products with a biker-focused visual identity, epitomised by the dark and moody campaigns starring David Beckham, photographed in black-and-white by Peter Lindbergh.

Back then, the London Fashion Week presentation was a gargantuan affair with roads closed for the occasion. “A great show, but for the wrong brand,” is how Gavin Haig, Belstaff’s CEO, describes it. What consequently happened is that Belstaff began to suffer from the ambitious positioning of its product.

"I think it's normal that when you have 94 years of history, there will be a few ups and downs," says Haig, who joined the company in July 2014. "There was a vision for the new Belstaff that was misplaced and it wasn't true to the brand and our origins, so we've repositioned our centre of gravity and pricing is around about 30 percent below what it was four years ago." Today, Haig says, the brand is aligning itself with Moncler and Stone Island.

Belstaff Spring/Summer 2018 | Source: Courtesy

For Ninous, her challenge is to streamline the muddled brand identity that developed as a result of various creative and commercial directions. She says the tension exists between the wider perception of the brand as one for middle-aged men interested in motorbike culture. She points out that biker gear only comprises 5 percent of the overall business.

The collection which she will show today was inspired by the Paris-Dakar rally, which begins in the French capital and ends in Senegal. “Not everyone wants to be Steve McQueen,” she says.

There are primary colours, as well as an earthy russet orange palette, which is seen on outerwear, and basics that can compliment those staples. One high-collared cobalt jacket, with white stripes on the sleeves, has the air of Françoise Hardy in the va-va-voom era of the ‘60s. The result is a fashionable sense of Instagram-worthy outerwear.

“It was mixing a sportiness into the collection,” she says of the neoprene fabrics and lightweight waxed cottons. “The rally was also a good way to think about a journey and how they go through different climates, landscapes, to be prepared for it. For me, it is functionality and a technical point of view and it was interesting to think about that in order to make more innovative clothes.”

A new line, "Origins," focuses on the brand’s classic four-pocket jacket in stretchy neoprene-like athletic fabrics and minimal details. Ninous also mentioned modern travel and the man who might be getting a flight from London to Los Angeles or Tokyo (last year, the brand targeted the Japanese market — its biggest at the moment are the United Kingdom, Germany and the United States).

“It’s not just the image of some outdoor English countryside — it’s giving it this more modern active life that we’re living,” says Ninous. “They’re designed to be breathable and work in different climates — the origins of Belstaff was protective clothing for drivers and bikers, who were travelling. Today, we travel differently.”

Ninous’ appointment chimes in with a wider change in the company’s structure. Haig says that they have downsized the company, or “right-sized” as he calls it, which meant the transferral of both the head office from New York and the commercial offices in Milan to London, and 40 percent of the company’s costs have been cut.

There are also much more accessible price points. “If you look around the men’s collection here, 50 to 70 percent of the offer is at £650 or less,” says Haig. “In the minds of the customer, they’re thinking that it is £1,000 plus, but about two thirds of it is £650 or less.” It's clear the brand is repositioning its prices for a more average customer, rather than the cliché of the middle-aged man who is searching for himself in a motor vehicle and leather jacket.

Haig says that Ninous’ appointment as the overall creative director gives the brand a clearer identity with more synergy between the men’s and women’s lines that will help shift, or undo past perceptions of Belstaff.

“The values of the customer are still the same,” adds Ninous. “Demographically, also in age, it’s about trying to not get older with our customer but being able to have younger customer as well. Definitely in the price point, if you have a more attractive price point it’s easier to be younger.”

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