Barbour Clothing in Germany


During a Fall visit to Germany, perhaps ten years ago--and before I started carrying a lap-top and cell-phone, with which to keep myself informed--the weather suddenly turned cold, and I realized I needed warm clothes right away. I bought two sweaters, a coat, and a hat. Today, ten years later, I still have them. Of the four articles, I receive the most compliments for the so-called "cabby-cap," decorated with a tartan.

Curiously, two of the articles were manufactured in Great Britain: a dark-blue jumper, woven in Scotland, and a cap produced by a British firm named "Barbour." I learned by word of mouth that certain groups of Germans prefer the British styles. Many Germans truthfully tire of drudge-driven Germans who wear only monotonously dark, "prolet" clothing. British firms offer more upbeat styles and make significant inroads on the German clothing market.

Even so, I was surprised to see an article published on 26 November about Barbour in the Sunday edition of the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper. The article selected just one article of clothing to write about, the so-called "Barbour-jacket." The author Stefanie von Wietersheim reports that she has owned her Barbour-jacket for 30 years--perhaps ten years after its designer, the CEO Margaret Barbour introduced it.

Stefanie's mother tolerated the jacket for as long as she could, then told her daughter pointedly, "The jacket looks too shabby for words!" She went out and bought her daughter a new one, which Stefanie admits she seldom wears. When asked why she bought one in the first place, she said. "It smelled like adventure." When asked to explain what she meant, she said, "It smells 'Barbourish'."

When others demanded a better explanation, she expressed it in the terms of a wine-taster: "wet canvas", "old dog", and "tree-bark". She adds that, in Germany as well as in England, the Barbour jacket is a "müffelndes Statussymbol", an understated status-symbol; but a "müffelnder Geruch" refers to a musty smell; so a smelly, lovable old coat.

Clothing critics cite the jacket's--and by extension Barbour's--charm as "unambitious sophistication." Von Wietersheim adds that the jacket exudes a squire-like rustication, even for people who don't know the difference between a rabbit and raccoon.

Barbour's marketing strategy shows sophistication, as well. The late actor Steve McQueen wore a Barbour jacket for races. Members of the royal family regularly appear for photo-ops wearing it. Daniel Craig wore it for the James-Bond movie Skyfall. Von Wietersheim adds that college students like its preppy sex-appeal.

Finally, I googled the author for more information about her. She lives in Niedersachsen, called "Lower Saxony" in English, with her husband, who also grew up in an ennobled family, and their children. Besides her work for the Frankfurter Allgemeine, she publishes articles for the, which deals with reviews of literary works. She also writes regularly for the Deutscher Adelsblatt, which records marriages, births, and deaths for the aristocracy of Germany.