The history of Belstaff traces back to the history of British motorsport, with the inaugural Isle of Man tourist Trophy Race back in 1907. Belstaff has served as a reliable companion for explorers, adventurers, and pioneers for ninety-three years — it’s wax cotton and leather jackets travelling hundreds of miles and weathering the brunt of British weather.
While still holding this heritage close to its heart, Belstaff has a renewed focus on the future. We sit down with Delphine Ninous, Belstaff’s new Creative Director, and discuss pioneering women both old and new, purpose driven innovation, finding their creative home in London, and finally, the gargantuan task of balancing heritage and modernity.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where your interest in fashion began?
I’ve been working for Belstaff for over 2 years. I first arrived as head of womenswear; and last July they gave me the responsibility of handling both menswear and womenswear; so now I am the creative director for Belstaff. Before this, I was working in Paris and New York. I studied fashion in Paris and grew up in Paris.
Sketching and drawing have always been avid interests of mine; and I’ve always loved painting. A skill which I inherited from my farther who used to paint a lot. Art has always played an important role in my life; and I knew I wanted to be a designer from the age of six. I guess my interest in fashion came from my mum and grandmother who have always inspired me and always brought me shopping with them. My grandfather was in the army and their house was full of old army clothes, so that has always inspired me too. During the holidays I would go to the attic and look for new things to be inspired by. Now I think there is a link with me being in Belstaff, I grew up with it.
You first joined Belstaff in October 2014, and now you have recently been appointed as collections creative director. What was this transition like?
I was just coming back from maternity leave, so it was a huge transition for me in general. I think that it came very naturally because in Belstaff even when you design womenswear, you also look at menswear. Most of the inspiration are men’s clothes, and I was already familiar with menswear at Belstaff. My predecessor Frederick, and the team in place have all been really great. The transition has been very smooth and easy. I think the main thing now is that we have two collections that show together. There are a lot of pieces that inspire me for both menswear and womenswear. It helps the collection to become very coherent, and we will present both menswear and womenswear together in LCM.
Belstaff, while being a global luxury lifestyle brand, is also an established British institution that is synonymous with a rich moto-heritage and a spirit that is grounded in adventure. How do you incorporate this history, while still keeping the brand modern and relevant?
This is pretty much what I work on everyday. I wanted do a modern heritage collection; that’s what I said when I arrived. To keep the essence of the heritage in the silhouettes and their references, especially in the functionality of the clothes. We design for purpose, but Belstaff designs are also very stylish. It is also very important to ensure that we have a very rich archive of all the Belstaff jackets.
My job is not just to copy what happened 50 years ago. There are many different ways to modernise — more innovative and high performance fabrics; like waterproof and breathable cotton twills for example. We also modernise the look and the feel of the collection and that is very important as well. If you work the same old jacket with a different style and a different boot, it could either look completely modern or completely old. It’s important to the lifestyle element of the clothes to change up the fabrics; and it’s important to adapt to the way people dress now. Today there’s a modern, urban, active customer; Belstaff is no longer just for bikers.
Aviatrices Amy Johnson and Amelia Earhart are just some of Belstaff’s iconic patrons throughout the years. How have women like this inspired Belstaff’s design philosophy?
It was really important when I arrived, to reestablish the Belstaff woman. Amelia has been really important to me in reshaping the women’s collection; and we established that Belstaff women are inspired by pioneering women who are independent and have a free spirit. They like to push boundaries and establishments. However, not every woman needs to be an aviatrix to be a Belstaff woman.
I think it’s very contemporary, the way women today live. Its almost like they have 10 lives in one day, and they have to do so many things which are very active and entrepreneurial. I think style is an independent choice. Belstaff does not follow a particular way of dressing. Our fashion is timeless and chic, but also something that makes women feel empowered. When you wear a Belstaff jacket, you feel empowered to do anything. Back in the day, Belstaff offered protection to those pioneering women, so it’s still the purpose of the jacket to protect and empower you. Protection and empowerment are key inspirations for me.
Last season, you collaborated on a fantastic capsule collection with Liv Tyler. What makes Liv Tyler the perfect brand ambassador for Belstaff? Could you tell us a little bit about this new collection?
This collaboration came very naturally because Liv Tyler was a producer in our fashion film with David Beckham “Outlaws”. I met with her at a lunch, and it was clear that she really embodied our ideal Belstaff woman; she just completely understood it. She has this strength to her that I can’t pinpoint; she’s beautiful and strong, but she is also very independent. She chooses her movies well, and lives her life the way she wants. That is what makes her so suitable to Belstaff; she is true to herself. She is a mother, she is 39, she’s not an it-girl. A Belstaff woman is someone who has a maturity in her mindset; you can be 25 or 50 and be a Belstaff woman.
When we were collaborating for the capsule collection, I really shared with her my love for those aviatrices and those pioneering women. We worked together on important silhouettes; and she loved those high lace up boots — that idea really came from her. She brought softness and femininity to the collection through bowties, shirts, and silks that balance with the military theme.
Belstaff always pushes the creative limits with short films like “Outlaws” that put David Beckham in his first film role, and “Falling Up” with Liv Tyler. What is it like working on these creative projects?
Well, its super fun because it brings the value of the brand to more than just fashion. Belstaff is a brand that is in motion. In the films, you can really see the clothes move; and I think that it’s a way to have the clothes become real and to see them in action. It’s amazing to have this background behind our brand, to really sell a dream. During filming, I was here in the UK with Liv Tyler, and we were both pregnant. It was so amazing when I started to see her wearing the clothes I designed.
Two years ago, Belstaff moved their headquarters from New York to the UK. You have also opened your New Bond Street flagship in 2013, followed by your Old Spitalfields boutique in 2015. Would you say that Belstaff has a renewed focus on its British Heritage?
I think that when the relaunch happened, there were some ties with the CEO being American. After two years they realised that Belstaff’s origins, roots, and essence, are British. It didn’t make any sense, for them to be in New York so I think it was important to re-set the brand and come back to London where the wax cotton matches perfectly with British weather. It was important to refocus and come back to England. The UK is a first market, so it’s very important to us and we’ve seen a big growth in the UK. It’s very important for us that we are here in London and that we are here to stay.
Finally, how do you think designers like yourself are changing the face of London Fashion?
I think that London has always been very creative. London has the best fashion colleges and is a great incubator for young and creative people. When you think of English Designers, they are very creative, whereas in Paris, the style is very different. I think that London has always been very creative and is just continuing on this line — to be more and more creative. English designers are getting such a great reputation around the world today. I think London is very exciting. I live in Dalston and its very young, fun, and inspiring; there is always something going on. It’s very dynamic.
Portraits by Chris Baker
Words by Hannah Tan