Military-inspired apparel continues to evolve and this includes the varying iterations of the flight jacket. Luxury fashion houses consistently incorporate it into their collections, which are saturated with historical references, homages and reinterpretations. If there’s one drawback to turning to the larger houses, it’s that perhaps they sometimes divert too daringly from its origins. There is no such danger of veering off course with some of the smaller artisans on TheRake.com as many of them who specialise in military outerwear have long-standing, deep and significant connections to some of the most important passages of military history.
Considering the flight jacket is associated with speed, bravery and mavericks, it might be strange to point out that during a global decline in pace, now might be the best time to festoon your wardrobe with one. Undoubtedly the most archetypal model is the A1 jacket. Designed and standardised by the U.S. Air Force in 1927, it was originally made from horsehide and New Zealand capeskin. From a design point of view, the A1 is very simple, which is one of the reasons why it’s one of the most coveted ensembles in menswear. Over the years it has been reimagined in contemporary cuts and fabrics to suit the modern man; but there’s one brand whose contribution to early aviation apparel, which has led the way for others to characterize. Originally founded in France in 1832 as a tannery (a facility it still has in-house), Chapal provided jackets for the French air force during WWI. On their roster of A1 iterations, which sent military-clothing enthusiasts in to a euphoric frenzy is their tobacco A1 suede jacket. With a body crafted from suede sheep leather, cotton lining and knitted collar, it’s designed to keep the elements out. Despite its utilitarian comforts, this jacket oozes charisma; especially when worn with a neat pair of jeans and Western-style boots from Barbanera. Away from the aforementioned jacket’s rock star status, you can also find the A1 model in a longer version in brown leather or in a beautiful olive green. Next in the pecking order of pioneering producers of the A1, utilising more than 100 years of experience in exquisite design and craft is Milan-based Valstar. Their iconic Valstarino models are supple, soft and immeasurably cool – and are perfect outdoor urban accoutrements if you’ve got a warm knit underneath. Fellow Italian, “The King of Handmade Leather Jackets”, Alfredo Rifugio also boasts a fine collection.
The A2 has a slightly chequered history, with its true character becoming somewhat eliminated, when it was reintroduced by the US Air Force in 1988. Fortunately, there’s a select few brands that haven’t given in to the shift in design. When it appeared in the 1920s it was trim-fitting for the thin American males, until it became distorted as looser-fitting in the back end of the last century. In addition to their iconic A1 styles, it has been left up to Chapal again to fly the flag for the A2, with their magnificent classic brown sheep leather version.
Decades after war-time airmen took it to the skies, shearling is flying higher than ever before. Well-known in the shearling department is the B-3 jacket which features an array of wind-defying waist adjustment tabs and neck straps, as well as inconspicuous pockets. Thespians of Rakish appeal have widely donned it, thus escalating its status into new realms of historical culture. It seems that very few of the most famous actors have shied away from it; James Dean, Steve McQueen, Robert Redford and Sylvester Stallone have all been caught on screen in a badass flight jacket. Worthy of being picked as jackets for these calibre of actors to star in, is NYC-based firm Schott’s design which comes in either a brown or black leather. Alternatively, the B-3 additions from Chapal would add some cinematic impetus to your wardrobe.
Elsewhere, lending their expertise to the iconic Irvin flight jacket you can find impressive versions from Cromford Leather Company. Finally, with military tradition running right through their core there is an alluring shearling number from Private White V.C. In a beautiful brown hue it is complete with 100% wool wadding, a water resistant 100% Merino Wool outer cloth with doeskin weave, suede trim and a real shearling collar. An extremely versatile jacket, it’s an axiom that should be accepted in both country and urban environments. The earth is seeing formality fading – and whilst we’re in deep winter – a warm flight jacket, made by expert artisans, might just be the piece of outerwear you’ve been looking for.