we sat down with the decision makers at Barbour®,
one of our favorite heritage brands that’s world
famous for their waxed cotton outerwear, to find out
a little more about the brand’s past—and their future
How did the initial design of the iconic Barbour jacket come about?
The original focus of the company was always waxed cotton garments. In the beginning, we had no design department, no marketing department, no advertising—none of those kinds of things. There was just an obsessive drive to make jackets as functional, as durable, as rugged and as well made as we possibly could. The first generation of Barbours established the business and the second generation brought their interest in motorcycling to the table (which is where the first International suit came from). Dame Margaret Barbour, who has been the chairman of the company since 1972, used to travel extensively. She picked up ideas as she moved around and applied them to what she saw in the English countryside. So we have many sources of iconic heritage, which appeals to our original customer: the ones who hunt and fish wearing Barbour. But now you can walk the streets of Soho and find the younger generation wearing our product in a different way—they’ll take a Bedale that was designed for the equestrian market and wear it three sizes smaller, so it’s more of a fashion piece.
What is the Barbour design philosophy today?
We never, ever ignore our heritage or our roots—it’s always at the heart of what we do. But we’re sensible enough to know that you’ve got to come up with fresh, exciting ways of interpreting and reinterpreting the business. The phrase we use is, “We look to surprise but never shock.” We don’t want to alarm our traditional, loyal customer, but we also want to court new customers to the brand. I think a very good example is our Beacon heritage range, which was designed in collaboration with the Japanese designer To Ki To—everyone looks at the garments and thinks, “They’re Barbour, but they’re entirely different from the original.” Like us, he’s obsessive about heritage and authenticity, and the collection he’s done for us is really very true to us, only with a fresh look.
Any new collaborations coming down the pike, or is it all top secret?
There are quite a few things we’re planning at the moment. First up is a collaboration with Rockport for a footwear range. We did a test collection with them last season, and they sold out before they got into stores. It’s a great fit for us because they’re known for comfort—you get these shoes on and it’s like putting on an old Bedale jacket that is perfectly broken in. All the shoes have an Adiprene sole, so they’re incredibly comfortable for walking—and like our jackets, they’re truly functional. We’re also doing a collaboration with Grenson, a traditional footwear manufacturer in the UK that still makes its shoes by hand. Lastly, there’s a collaboration that’s just about to hit stores with British designer Alice Temperley. She’s very British and very British in her design—she’s also very glamorous, and putting her signature prints inside our more classic garments has been a great partnership. It’s a departure, but not too much of one. Our collaborations in general have been quite rewarding: As soon as we sit down to talk to somebody, they say, “I love Barbour. I wear Barbour, my parents wear Barbour, my whole family wears Barbour, and I’d love to do something.” It’s pretty neat.
Check out Barbour at J.Crew for men and women.
With special thanks to Steve Buck, managing director, J. Barbour & Sons, Ltd.; Thomas Hooven, general manager, Barbour, Inc.; Tom Sobolewski, national sales manager, Barbour, Inc.; Jim Rood, sales, New York showroom, Barbour, Inc.
(Post by Dana Wagner and Jamie Sabuda; photo courtesy of Barbour)