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Belstaff celebrates 100 years of the RAF

A limited-edition aviator jacket sees Belstaff partnering with the RAF for the centenary of the world’s oldest air force, writes Richard Holt

Belstaff’s links with aviation are incredibly strong, going right back to the days when flying an aeroplane meant stepping into a new frontier that promised endless possibilities, but also an extremely high chance of coming down to the ground much faster than is healthy.

A history of dressing the pioneers of flying made Belstaff an ideal choice to be one of the small number of companies chosen to help celebrate the centenary of the Royal Air Force. The world’s oldest air force has a number of RAF100 commemorative events and charitable initiatives throughout the year, and is partnering with a small selection of companies to celebrate their shared histories. These include Breitling, with a series of limited-edition watches; the Royal Mint and the Westminster Collection, which have produced RAF-themed coins; and Globe-Trotter, with a set of aviation-inspired luggage.

Belstaff has created a limited-edition aviator jacket. Each brown leather jacket, with an embroidered RAF patch on the breast, is individually numbered on the inside, and are now available at Belstaff stores and online in a strictly limited run of 100.

Belstaff’s links with the military go back even beyond the official start of the company. Prior to launching his first line of waterproof clothing in the 1920s, company founder Eli Belovitch supplied waxed cotton and other fabrics used by the British Army to make capes, groundsheets and tents for First World War soldiers. This early use of waxed cotton would lay the groundwork for what was to become Belstaff’s signature fabric.

When Belstaff started making its own line of clothing in Staffordshire in 1924, the brand quickly became a favourite not only among motorcyclists and racing car drivers, but also with some of the greatest aviation adventurers, including Amelia Earhart and Amy Johnson. These two women did a great deal to advance the art of flying, and also a fair bit to kick-start the slow process of sweeping away Victorian attitudes about how a lady ought to spend her time.

In the time between the wars, advances in aeronautical technology took us from shaky little wooden biplanes to powerful aluminium monoplanes capable of much greater speeds, distances and altitudes. When the Second World War started it was clear that aeroplanes were going to play a decisive part in the outcome of the conflict, and therefore needed the requisite resources. It was at this point that Belstaff was made an official contractor to the Admiralty, War Office and Air Ministry.

The war marked a new era for the company, as Belovitch retired, leaving his daughter and son-in-law in charge. But in securing the contract before he stood down – leveraging the reputation he had built up during the previous war and during the interwar years – Belovich paved the way for Belstaff to become a major military manufacturer, and hundreds more workers were employed to produce everything from flying and survival suits to parachutes, which played a very important role in protecting the Allied troops.

The celebration is as much about looking forward as back, according to Air Vice-Marshal Mike Wigston, assistant chief of the air staff, who said, “Linking the RAF brand to other iconic brands through the RAF100 licensing programme provides a great opportunity to do this as we commemorate our past, celebrate who we are and what we do today, and inspire the next generation.”

Belstaff’s limited-edition RAF100 co-branded aviator jacket in rich chocolate leather, £1,295, available from August in Belstaff stores

Men's Leather