“Belts are the new bags,” says Justin O’Shea, buying director at Mytheresa.com, who considers Gucci’s distinctive double G belt (£290), in its simplicity and masculine coolness, a key buy of the season. It’s a bold statement – but whether oversized with glorious copper detailing at Roksanda (£360), colourfully geometric at Loewe (£425) or elegantly slim at Saint Laurent (£265), belts are shaping up to become one of this winter’s most defining accessories.
Aside from the ubiquitous and often unbranded obi belt that is soft, unstructured and Japanese in inspiration, belts until now have been regarded as useful and often stylish, but not necessarily statement-making. “This is one of the first seasons for a while where we have seen a return to the waist,” says Natalie Kingham, buying director at Matchesfashion.com. “We’ve had high-rise trousers styled with blouses tucked in and dresses with a fitted and flare feeling – and belts are a natural progression. For me, the most exciting are Jil Sander’s twisted designs [£350] with bicolour linings.”
And yet few department stores or boutiques allocate dedicated space to belts. Instead, they’re scattered around and presented quite differently to other accessories such as shoes, hats, scarves or jewellery, which means they continue to remain under the radar despite their growing status. To find the very best, a certain dedication is required.
Often it is those labels whose origins lie in leather goods like Loewe (cut-out square belt in patent leather, £495; circle belt in calfskin, £425) and Hermès that consistently offer the best selection. As well as various incarnations of the latter’s cherished signature H belt (price on request), there’s the narrow Kelly belt (£621), which shares the same clasp as the famous eponymous bag, and the crocodile Lord belt (£2,430), which surfaced on the Hermès autumn/winter 2015 runway.
“Belts come around in seven-year cycles,” says John Davidson, co-founder and designer at London-based leather goods and clothing brand J&M Davidson, which sells around 20,000 belts a year. Until recently, he says, belts were an afterthought where once, because of their ability to create a blouson effect, they were a must-have that made an ensemble sing. Launched together with his wife Monique in 1984, J&M Davidson today has shops in Notting Hill and Tokyo’s Aoyama, with a flagship opening at 104 Mount Street next month.
“A high level of craftsmanship goes into each belt,” Davidson continues, pointing out the fine, rounded edge of one design and discussing the skills needed to achieve both this and the buckles that typically come in brass, silver plate or nickel on brass. The duo first turned to Walsall, the home of the West Midlands saddle-making industry, for the manufacture of their bridle-leather belts, but today most of their finest designs are produced in Italy. They have also travelled to Wyoming, Texas, Montana, New Mexico and all manner of Western shops in the US in search of inspiration, and offer belts in alligator (from £990), as well as mock-croc (£118), plaited (from £120) and studded (from £145) versions – an archive of which is to be showcased at the new Mount Street store.
It’s a rare occurrence to find newer specialists, such as London-based belt brand JLynch, which debuted in 2009. For autumn/winter 2015 it collaborated with Singaporean fashion designer Ashley Isham on a collection for his London Fashion Week show (Kristin belt in golden lambskin and snakeskin with lacing details, £155; Rosie belt in lilac snakeskin and pearls, £155; Juliette belt in black leather and snakeskin, £140). “Recently fashion has gone through a long period of minimalism, with clothing often cut away from the body and a desire for simpler ways of dressing,” notes founder and designer Jaci Lynch. “A change is now afoot. A great belt can make even the simplest outfit stand out, and this is the one accessory where I can combine creativity, quality and amazing cuts that flatter the silhouette.” Often sculptural, richly colourful and sometimes laser cut, and available in lambskin, snakeskin and with subtle embellishment, JLynch belts now sell in luxury stores across the globe. “Our biggest markets are the US, Asia, France and Italy,” she continues. “Our customers wear belts to polish the look of a pencil skirt for the office, over a jacket or shirt, and of course, also with eveningwear.”
Such is the demand for Roksanda Ilincic’s new belt (£360, available in black, tan or burgundy leather) that a waiting list was established shortly after it hit the runway in February. Belts first became a significant part of Ilincic’s collections last year, and she hopes her customers will build a belt wardrobe. “When I design a belt, I treat it almost like a sculpture,” she says. “I am always looking for new ways to celebrate the female form, so the waistline – and therefore belts – never lost their appeal for me.”
Marni creates statement belts every season, and this winter it’s all about an elegant band in a range of colours and finishes (£320). “Winter often lends itself to belts because they help provide definition to wintery layers,” says Tina Lamb, buying manager of shoes and accessories at Harvey Nichols, who says the continuing vogue for 1970s-inspired fashion has seen brands such as Lanvin opt for tasselled rope-tie belts (£655) that pull together billowy silk dresses and long-line shirts, while a move towards the 1980s this season has brought oversized colour-popping belts, as seen at Balmain (£1,050). “Military-inspired designs featuring pockets and studded details look great worn over outerwear,” continues Lamb, “and can be found at Isabel Marant [Bud belt, £230] and Marc by Marc Jacobs [$348], while Alexander McQueen’s ultra-wide corset-style waist cinchers [£895] ooze sex appeal.”
But of all the international brands, it is Alaïa that is the most renowned for belts. “Alaïa’s signature laser-cut styles [from €690] are instantly recognisable,” says Net‑a-Porter buying manager Sasha Sarokin. “He experiments with different textures and detailing each season, which elevates any look and creates a flattering silhouette.” This winter he’s focused on statement buckles and striking fringed details in suede, leather and python (€2,050) – channelling that still-sought-after 1970s vibe and providing a strong addition to any new belt arsenal.