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IN CONVERSATION WITH ZEN MARTINOLI OF BRITISH VINTAGE BOXING
Written by Menswear Style in Interviews on the 7th October 2020 / In Conversation with Zen Martinoli of British Vintage Boxing
The topical issue of buying better and buying less continues to be discussed. People are now much savvier about purchasing choices and the quality vs cost scenario where, in the past, faster fashion had taken over. The understanding of creating a more considered wardrobe is becoming more widespread and that has filtered down to leisure and sportswear. Here we speak to Zen Martinoli CEO & Founder of British Vintage Boxing (BVB), a classic, quality sportswear label that has style, heritage, and ultimate comfort at its heart.
What is BVB all about?
“In shortest terms, BVB is a boxing heritage sportswear brand inspired by vintage style and values repackaged for a modern audience.”
What is it about Boxing that lends itself to today’s style?
“We looked at Boxing and Boxers of the 1950s and 1960s as a style guide, specifically sweatshirts, joggers and T-shirts worn at the time. Design classics, that could sit within any wardrobe today; comfortable, practical and we hope, with our own BVB signature, offer a sportswear alternative for the modern man. We also saw a renaissance in the desire and need for quality. Stylish, made-to-last sportswear in response to floundering and generic fast-fashion trends.”
There’s something fascinating about the old Empire and the days of Billy Wells, Henry Cooper and Freddie Mills.
“It was a time when the unspoken, accepted commonality was to do the right thing as a gentleman, something intrinsically noble and upstanding. The boxers themselves were stars without coveting status, accidental heroes at a time when boxing champions became iconic within communities. Tough men who triumphed against all-the-odds and retained a common touch. Henry Cooper was one such man, his legacy very much part of our set up.”
What is your background with boxing and is it a sport you follow or feel particularly nostalgic about?
“On and off as a boxing and fitness coach for years, I still follow the sport but naturally my heart is with its origins.”
There’s something very honest and proud about BVB, is this important to you?
“It’s actually everything to us. Integrity, honour and respect – everything you’d associate with old-school values.”
Where does the design element come from? People could argue that there is a mix of old-school boxing and more modern-label influence in there?
“We of course have been influenced by boxing’s heritage and you could draw parallels with somebody like Kent & Curwen, although I’d say we’re more on the gritty side. We wanted to retain some of the DNA of these earlier brands but elevate design beyond boxing sportswear into lifestyle. Our attention to original detailing from first generation sweatshirts and joggers, along with our embroidered, military inspired patches and flock prints set us apart. Our extensive archive includes original boxing clothing from the Cooper estate.”
How old is the brand and where do you want to take it?
“The brand has just entered its third year. Going forward we want to retain BVB’s boutique character and continue to bring new and innovative designs to the market. We want to grow, but sustainably and consciously.”
What inspires you guys out there at the moment?
“We’re always looking at vintage style cues for design inspiration, as well as iconic brands that have stood the test of time.”
Your models are very heavy looking chaps, mixed with a few well-known modelling faces. How does a guy that loves fashion, but hates to get smacked in the chops buy into this brand?
“Great question. You don’t have to have boxed in any capacity to buy into the brand – this is not an exclusive club! Our proposition is what lies beneath boxing, the emotional touch points. Stylistically if the large graphic designs are just too boxing orientated, why not sample our more discreet Bombardier patch sweatshirts?”
We also noticed a bit of military styling, possibly the new wave of boot camp and National Service. It smacks of getting back to good old-fashioned values.
“The military influence runs through our design process; the shared heritage of boxers and the Army goes way back. From our first photographic shoot we’ve consistently used vintage military boots to outfit with our tracksuits, primarily as an ode to Henry Cooper’s stint doing National Service in 1952-1953, where he wore ammunition boots during roadwork drills as was normal for the time. Muhammad Ali, when in London for his 1963 clash with Cooper also wore boots. Search the internet for truly iconic images of Ali in London. We’ll be adding further military design elements going forward and we’re currently working on British made BVB boots for Jan 2021.”
Explain the colourways that you use? Is there a purpose to the tones?
“Yes, all the colours we use are directly from 1950s colour palettes, we felt it was important in terms of authenticity to align the colourways with our original detailing.”
What’s next for the business and how has it been received so far?
“Everything is relatively fluid at the moment during these uncertain times, but being small means we are agile and able to respond as events change. Our focus is on Christmas and designing a new range for release in Jan/Feb 2021. Who knows what the future holds? Thus far we couldn’t be more pleased, a fantastic response from true everyday champions.”