As Barbour launches its spring collections, Stephanie Smith talks to Helen Barbour about keeping tradition cool.
It was notoriously wet and muddy, but Glastonbury 2007 marked an important event in Barbour’s history.
The countrywear brand had been growing in popularity as fashion gear since the 1980s, but when the Arctic Monkeys, Lily Allen and Rufus Wainwright all emerged in Barbour jackets, determined to perform against the elements, its reputation as seriously cool outerwear was cemented. It hasn’t looked back since.
“We have always been countrywear, fit-for-purpose clothing, never really thinking of the fashion side of things at all,” says Helen Barbour, vice chairman. “It was really only in the 80s when the Sloane Rangers adopted it, on the back of Lady Diana Spencer, as she was, wearing Barbour because she came from a country family.”
Fast forward to modern day and Barbour’s ranges for men, women and children are segmented into ranges, Barbour International, Heritage, Lifestyle and Sporting. Collaborations with designers including Bella Freud and Temperley ensure the brand maintains innovation, edge and surprise. There are the jackets, of course, but also full clothing and accessory ranges offering distinctive, totally lust-worthy casual wear for indoors and out. Quality and style at a glance.
Helen says: “All of the fashion items are still based on the on the original Barbour shape, values and design, just with a little bit of a fashionable twist.”
Founded in South Shields in 1894 by John Barbour, Helen is the fifth generation of Barbour at the helm. She was two when her father John Barbour died suddenly in 1968. Now she and her mother, chairman Dame Margaret Barbour, are the sole owners and shareholders. “My role is to represent the company and be an ambassador and eventually take over when my mother stands down,” she says.
“It’s in our blood. My mother has been working in the business since she was 28, when she took over when my father died, so she’s been doing this all her life and got great experience and great memories of what the core values are. I have grown up with it.”
Barbour remains based in the North East, with headquarters in Simonside, South Shields. Although it sources products from around the globe, its classic wax jackets are still manufactured by hand in the factory in Simonside, sending out more than 100,000 jackets a year. Barbour has 11 of its own shops in the UK, and a presence in more than 40 countries including the US, Germany, France, New Zealand and Japan.
For spring/summer Barbour has collaborated with York designer Julie Dodsworth, who has created the prints for linings and accessories for the Waterways collection, inspired by her own barge.
“Working with Barbour is a very natural and organic process,” Julie says. “Both the team at Barbour and myself enjoy our heritage influences and share the same love of practicality and colour. The marrying of my designs to their amazing collections was a joy.”
Another collaboration is with Edinburgh-based Kinloch Anderson, which designed the Barbour dress tartan, also used for linings, accessories and clothing. It came up with designs inspired by founder John Barbour’s Ayrshire roots, and they have now become distinctively and exclusively Barbour, a response to the copies that flooded the High Street.
Helen Barbour says: “Because there’s mum and I making the final decision on things, or really my mum – she does ask me for advice – it’s very easy to make changes and react quickly to the market place and to factors that will affect the business.
“There’s a pride as well and a certain sense of responsibility to the company that I think possibly other companies wouldn’t have.”
Instantly recognisable, endlessly reassuring, often surprising. Never mind the copies, Barbour is the real deal.
See interview with Helen Barbour and an insight into tartan at www.yorkshirepost.co.uk.
There is a Barbour store at Within, Beverley, and ranges available throughout Yorkshire including : Spiders, Whitby; Morgan Clare, Harrogate; Benson, Ripon; Eric Spencer, Ilkley; Hip, Accent, Leeds; Van Mildert, York; Frank Bird, Wakefield; Apecto and House of Fraser, Sheffield. Check out www.barbour.com.