Equestrian Heritage in Fashion - where did it all begin?

With much of our inspiration having come from the equestrian world both in the very early days of Mackenzie and George and still very much so today, we thought it would be good to take you on a bit of an equestrian heritage fashion journey.

Over 150 years ago, in 1837, the very first equestrian inspired fashion range was born. Hermes - still seen on the world’s most prestigious catwalks today - originally produced handcrafted saddles and harnesses for riding and driving and have always been considered the very highest quality. Taking inspiration from their much sought after saddlery, the brand developed their new leather accessories range which went from strength to strength and still exists today. 

Menehould de Bazelaire, Hermes’ Director of Culture Heritage says “the know-how that founder Thierry Hermes and his descendants accrued in making harnesses and saddles for the French carriage trade is invaluable and survives to this day. The horse is a very demanding customer and Hermes owes everything we have to the wonderful animals.”

Hermes quote

But what is it about Equestrianism that lends itself to fashion trends so well?

As a look it is often seen as classical, rich and with aristocratic associations but did you know there are practical reasons too?

Take for instance the high-end black mens suit. The inclusion of a single vent with a split takes direct influence from historical tailored riding jackets which featured the same split to protect riders from the elements. 

Equestrian accessories have also played an influential part in general fashion. You only have to think of the hat, the knee-high boots, the gloves, whip and spurs. Traditionally associated with the affluent horse-owning classes, these accessories have been seen by fashion houses across the world as aspiration items. 

Ralph Lauren is the name that springs to mind most quickly in this office when equestrian inspired fashion is mentioned. With their obvious link to Polo (both in name and logo) the hugely successful fashion house began to design and create women’s clothes entirely due to the influence of a single man’s tweed hacking jacket. 

Not long after they were married Ralph Lauren bought his wife, Ricky, a men’s tweed hacking jacket. She received so many compliments from everyone that Ralph could do nothing but create his own ladies fashion range with it’s soul firmly in equestrianism.  

Equestrian Heritage in Fashion

Another very high end fashion houses, Gucci, sponsored the 2009 European Show Jumping Masters competition in Paris and complete with a temporary shop offering limited-edition riding boots and scarve, it was the first such event in two decades. 

‘We are privileged in a way because there aren’t so many fashion houses with this connection to the equestrian world’, Gucci’s creative director, Frida Gianni stated. Frida began riding ay the age of 6 and competed successfully in Italy throughout her teens.

The famous Gucci "horse-bit loafers" were added to the collection in 1953 and the equestrian inspired Jackie Bag with it’s striped strap more than reminiscent of the early girth straps (designed to anchor the saddle) arrived later in 1961.

Despite Gucci’s collections continuously changing and evolving there is very often a clear equestrian element. ‘There is a sort of elegance to equestrian clothing. To be a good rider, you need to be skinny, of course, or the horse suffers a lot,’ she says with a good-natured laugh, Frida Gianni. We’re not sure we agree with Frida on that one!

Equestrian fashion has long been characterised by comfortable and practical clothing. Designed to be comfortable and to serve as protection against the elements, the boots were primarily to protect your legs from trees and branches and the hat to do the same for your head. 

Expensive fabrics

Whilst practicality remained at the forefront of the design process, the use of quality and expensive fabrics with long durability was, and still is, essential.

It was not until Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, the French fashion queen, that equestrian fashion was revolutionised at the beginning of the 20th century.

“I gave women a sense of freedom,” she once said. I gave them back their bodies, bodies that were drenched in sweat due to fashion’s finery: lace, corsets, under clothes, padding.”

Chanel began horse riding with influential Étienne Balsan – a cavalry officer, gentleman and millionaire. He had a successful racing bloodstock business and was a very keen player of polo. Living on Balsan’s Estate, Chanel was able to spend her time with the horses, riding, grooming and bonding with them. 

Despite being introduced to the equestrianism later on in life, she became a fierce fan of horse racing and the relationship with Balsan made it possible for Chanel to be around the French élite, which hugely influenced her career, “opening” a plethora of doors for the fashion-mogul to be. 

Her devotion to improving her horse riding skill and her need for simple elegance clean Chanel to wear comfortable breeches, riding boots and jackets. The traditionally a male attire comprising white shirt, jacket and trousers was adjusted so it would fit her feminine body. by designing her own breeches based on the male version, Coco Chanel almost single handedly changed ladies equestrian fashion in 1920.

Belt making

With her unconventional outfit and male style of riding, Coco was raising both huge interest from men as well as outrage among women which she is said to have loved!

Many years after Coco’s death, Chanel returned to their equestrian roots, publishing the Chanel riding attire inspired “Boy” campaign SS’13, which owes its name to Coco Chanel’s beloved Arthur “Boy” Capel. British model Alice Dellal took part in the photo session, and the incredible Karl Lagerfeld took the photos.

Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel was a fierce lover of horse riding and directly contributed to revolutionising ladies equestrian fashion. ‘Coco’ placed women and men as equal in her designs, which contributed to popularising the “male” style of riding and clothing.

Today, we still benefit from Coco Chanel’s somewhat rebellious approach to the equestrian world. Equestrianism and all its disciplines remain the only olympic sport, in which women are in direct competition with men 21st Century Fashion is the same - don’t you think? 

So there we have it. We hope you can see as well as us why we take our design inspiration from the equestrian world. 

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