Chapal’s Jean-François Bardinon peels delicately across the grass of Le Polo de Paris in a vintage Allard motor car, in the dawn light of a frosty autumn morning. It’s the third and final day of the Journées Automobiles Chapal – the brand’s first vintage automobile (and, during one leg, aircraft) rally taking place in and around Paris – and the brand’s fabled leather jackets are everywhere, adorning many of the dozens of drivers pulling up in their Bugattis, their Alvises and their Aston Martins. The field is a visual symphony of elegance and adventure, with Jean-François acting as its charming conductor.
Chapal is intrinsically connected with the concept of adventure. Founded by the Bardinon family in 1832 (Jean-François is the seventh-generation steward) they originally began working with rabbit fur but swiftly moved to making hard-wearing garments for those travelling at great heights or great speeds, usually both. They outfitted the French Air Force during World War One, worked on the B-3 jacket for the US Air Force ahead of World War Two, and supplied aviator Charles Lindbergh on his Transatlantic crossing. Many of those military models are still staples of their offering today. “In 1980 when I started working on the branding, I actually wanted to use an image of an aeroplane,” laughs Jean-François. “But me, I’ve not got a plane, I’ve only got a few cars. No one was really shooting clothes with cars at the time, but the story with the cars was good - and it turned out to be the future.”
Chapal’s connection with motoring goes back almost as far as it does with aviation, with the company making jackets for racing drivers as far back as the 1920s and ’30s. “To begin with, the racecars didn’t have the body that they have today, so they needed clothes to protect the driver,” says Jean-François. “It’s like when you ride a horse, you are obliged to wear boots and protective gear, but to start with that wasn’t there in motorsport. In the early days of racing the drivers didn’t really have any protection, so they wore leather and fur - Chapal leather and fur!”