As a guest of Land Rover and Barbour, I was invited to see the new collaboration between these two iconic British brands. The backdrop was Eastnor Castle, which has 50 acres of mud, hilly climbs and an assault cause that only the Land Rover collection of vehicles would revel in.
Used to driving my Land Rover between Waitrose and home, I was pleased to have an instructor who could put a Range Rover Sport through its paces. Taking your foot off the pedals to allow the car to roll down an almost 95 degree descent takes some nerves! True to form, however, the car’s Hill Descent Control (HDC) does allow for a smooth and controlled drive in rough terrain without the driver needing to touch the brake pedal. When on, an ABS brake system controls each wheel’s speed and does all the work for you. Impressive.
Eastnor Castle itself is equally impressive, hosting the sixty or so journalists who were invited to come for a day’s shooting, hunting, fishing and overall adventure – all the classic English Country Sports – and of course, all accompanied by Barbour, a brand that has become synonymous with the unique values of the British countryside.
The new collaborative partnership between Barbour and Land Rover seems an obvious fit and I am amazed this has not happened before. Having had the same waxed green Barbour for 25 years, I was pleased to see they have brought the collection into the 21st century, with a complete wardrobe of beautifully-made, classically-designed, functional clothing. The line-up includes everything from socks, scarves, bags and hats to shirts, trousers, tailored jackets and, of course, the famous wax jackets. Such heritage products, inspired by the brand’s rich archive, have helped broaden Barbour’s appeal, along with more rugged tailoring and new fits.
Founded in 1894 by John Barbour, the company established itself in the burgeoning port of South Shields in the North East of England, supplying oilskins and other garments to protect the growing community of sailors, fishermen and dockers. These first weatherproof items quickly established Barbour’s reputation for innovation and quality. With the introduction of the Barbour catalogue in 1908, the company broadened its client base globally, to landowners and farmers and to far-off devotees in Chile and Hong Kong. In 1936, Barbour created the iconic wax cotton International motorcycle suit which was worn by virtually every rider on the International Six Day Trials circuit from the 1950s to the 1970s, including actor Steve McQueen in 1964. By this time, Barbour had become a dedicated manufacturer of branded goods and received its first Royal Warrant, issued by the Duke of Edinburgh (1974). Royal Warrants by Her Majesty The Queen (1982) and HRH the Prince of Wales (1987) followed.
In the 1980s, Chairman Dame Margaret Barbour designed the three wax jackets that made the brand a household name – the Bedale, the Beaufort and the Border. These jackets, especially the Border, epitomised the growing trend for casual relaxed clothing as people’s leisure time increased. Truly iconic designs, they continue to be best-sellers and are still made in England at Barbour’s 180-person factory in South Shields.
This mixing of contemporary style with classic heritage is what is underpinning the increasing rise in prominence of British luxury goods. According to Professor Qing Wang from the University of Warwick, “a very important factor that makes Britain stand out is that it incorporates tradition and innovation seamlessly. For luxury firms, unique and customised product offerings combined with exquisite craftsmanship and the British association will continue to drive sales.” As the UK luxury sector is forecast to almost double in size over the next five years, from £6.6 billion in 2012 to £12.2 billion in 2017, this can surely only be good news for two iconic British heritage brands such as Land Rover and Barbour.