Barbour's Brand Over-Extended

Originally the jacket of farmers, then adopted by casuals and now six year old girls. The Barbour International has had its day says one disgruntled former fan.
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Originally the jacket of farmers, then adopted by casuals and now six year old girls. The Barbour International has had its day says one disgruntled former fan.

I grew up in rural Cumbria and in the 70s and 80s the only people who wore Barbour were farmers, that is to say real farmers, not Hampshire Farmers with 10,000 acres of arable and a £150k tractor, farmers who kept sheep and cows and stuff.  The Barbours they wore on the fells were Bedale or Beaufort, with the poachers pocket in the back, for keeping dead things in.

The only other Barbour you saw around, usually at rural shows, was The International. In both green and black, it was one of two coats worn by trials (offroad) motorcyclists, the other being the Belstaff. And like the Belstaff, this coat was cool, even back then. It was bound to be given that almost every Motorcycle Trials Team in the world wore it throughout the 50s 60s & 70s. Motorbikes, you see, are cool and always have been, ask central casting. The International legend was no doubt enhanced by Steve McQueen wearing one in the 1964 East Germany Six Day Trials. Can you get a better brand endorsement for your macho clothing than Steve McQueen on a motorbike? Probably not.

The next time I saw an International was in the 90s at the football. It still looked amazing. By now, motorcycle clothing technology had moved on and it was never going to be used for Trials. Instead, like the Belstaff, it had now been adopted by the more discerning Casual wanting to stand out like a desert island, not a Stone Island. I had to have one. I started getting International Envy every time I saw one. I remember seeing Daniel Day Lewis wearing one in a newspaper article. I didn't read the paper, I just stared at the black and white picture of him on some windswept bog, wearing the coat.

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I eventually bought my International in the late 90s. It was pretty hard to find. I had to get it from a shop in Durham, mail order through a shooting catalogue. I loved it, because, let's face it, it's a good looking coat - it's black, it's used for riding motorbikes, it's hard wearing, it's got lots of pockets and it's waterproof.  (What it isn't is warm and if anyone tells you it's warm, they are lying). It's metal bits are made of shiny brass, it's lining is a brown tartan. It's belt, probably good on a motorbike but otherwise functionally useless, looked great, dangling precociously from the loops. The stitched "International" badge was beautifully designed, the yellow contrasting sharply with the black.  It was hard not to like this coat.

I don't like it anymore though, I sold it on ebay for £50 on Wednesday.

I can't think if there was one incident that made me sell this. Was it my brother in law coming around my house in a quilted version? Possibly.  Perhaps it was the woman with the screechy voice I saw in a bright red International, paired with Joules wellies. Or the couple in "his n hers" on the Tube? Could have been. Although I actually think it was the six year old girl in the pink padded version that finally tipped me over the fucking edge.

There are brand extensions and there are brand extensions. A good example of a brand extension is a slightly larger Kit Kat.  A bad example of a brand extension is (I shit you not) The International Barbour Turbo Shirt (?) or the Barbour International Nation Down Padded Gilet. A Gilet, by the way, is like a coat but it has no arms. Despite this evident design fault, it still costs about as much as a coat that has arms.

My coat is still lovely, but the International badge, plastered liberally around reams of hideous clothing is now about as cool as James Corden.

Lots of really smart people will no doubt tell me Barbour has not been great since 1978 or something.  But I never wanted to wear it to be ahead of the curve.  I just like wearing  British stuff with a history (my rural history), well-made that looks great and is practical, which is why I loved the basic "standard" International and a couple of it's extensions and why I still love my Beaufort. I didn't listen to people going on about Barbour stretching itself too far, I didn't want to know the truth because the truth - that the International badge is ruined - hurts. To wear the international symbol now means aligning yourself to something very different to the original, no matter how many black and white pictures of McQueen the advertising uses.

So farewell Barbour International, the once iconic, pretty cool black Motorcycle Trials label, once worn by McQueen & Day-Lewis. Now worn by six year olds and available in pink, with or without arms.