Business travel is back, but with reduced schedules and skeletal staff, it’s more hell than I remember. Tumbling scenes in departure lounges are not just for holidaymakers – a CEO of luxury goods recently joined me in Rome from a meeting in Ripon. He kept me informed about his journey, and shared photos of what looked like a mosh-pit imagined by Hieronymus Bosch, but on closer inspection it turned out to be Manchester Airport.
When the CEO’s plane was redirected, his sense of humor took off; but then also had the phone’s battery, so he was unable to notify the driver of the change of airport. When he arrived at the hotel, what had once been a smart suit looked more as if orienteering had been used in the Brecon Beacons. By comparison, my meeting on Friday night with a bank of failed e-passports and the long wait for the only official to sniff my passport felt like stepping on a red carpet.
As Huntsman’s creative director Campbell Carey recalls: “There was a time when you dressed smartly to board a flight in hopes of an upgrade. It seems to be the opposite now; people want to be as relaxed and comfortable as possible to get on a plane. ”
The last time I received an upgrade that I think is wardrobe related was in 1995. I was on an Aerolíneas Argentinas flight that was not supposed to exist, and left an unannounced street at Miami Airport, destination Havana. My colleague and I both wore double-breasted blue blazers and (if memory does not) cravats: we looked clearly out of place. I imagine that it was out of pity and curiosity that we were invited to the empty first-class cabin.
These days, unless you, like Sussexes, have access to a private jet and make the necessary moral appeal to the environmental impact, the travel jacket is your first defense against the slings and arrows of the current outrageous state of aviation. To succeed, it must address the three Cs: comfort, curl, and capacity, all of which interact and overlap. And when it comes to curls and comfort, two of the best and most elegant travel jackets are made from jersey.
I still marvel at my luck when I discovered Bel Teba about 30 years ago, relatively early in my professional travel career. Based on a jacket style worn by King Alfonso XIII of Spain, and later modified by the Spanish tailor Bel for the Count of Thebes: smart Iberians have been wearing them in green and blue jersey for years. Unlined and unbuttoned with shirt-style sleeves and cuffs, a four-button front and a spread-out collar that can be buttoned to the neck, it combines cardigan comfort with blazer DNA.
Since Bel opened its Geneva branch, Teba has gone viral. “People usually come across them when they go and take pictures, and then they start using them all the time,” says owner Daniel Ballbe, who has expanded Teba to suede as well as summer fabric, and has just launched a version a little closer to the conventional blazer. . called Stanley Teba with a three-button front and side valves.
If Teba is my oldest travel jacket, then my latest discovery is the five-button version with half belt. Lorenzo Cifonelli came in style when a Japanese client who was a frequent traveler asked him to make a jacket for him that would look smart on the plane and that would allow him to drop his overcoat. He wears a sweater made especially for him by a Japanese factory.
“It has a shoulder and sleeve line: I use it when I travel to New York to see customers, I get off the plane and it does not show a single wrinkle,” he says, with zeal from an evangelist preacher – and his proselytization seems to work: two years ago he earned 20 a year in blue. Now he earns 80 and the original blue has been joined by black and gray. And if your itinerary does not allow you the luxury of participating in multi-customization, he offers as a finished travel jacket also a denim safari with lacing to suppress the waist.
The type of journey that the safari jacket was originally intended for was found on the pages of a novel by Rider Haggard or in a film such as the 1953s Mogambo. Today it is more at home with a piece of hand luggage on wheels (with satellite laptop bag slid over the telescopic handle).
I love a safari jacket; always has done – it brings out my inner Roger Moore, belt tied at the waist, epaulettes that give the military flavor, cuffs facing backwards, chiffon bandana fluttering like a pennant flag in the wind, a fist with cigars in one of the breast pockets. . . and I’m ready for boarding.
However, such flamboyance is avoided by nomadic business users; they tend to be more focused on the convenience of the pockets and their capacity. All the outfitters I asked to account for their popularity gave a James Carville-style answer: “It’s about the pockets, stupid”. After a systemic dissolution of business attire, accelerated by work from home culture, the safari has emerged as a winner. “We have entered an era that feels much more code-free,” says British GQ editor Adam Baidawi, “which means we have more options.”
And when it comes to travel options, Richard James co-founder Sean Dixon says the safari “has almost become the ultimate smart leisure jacket. If you are a man of a certain age, there is a way to wear a jacket that moves away from office clothes, which will look a little more relevant, without looking like mutton dressed like lamb. We have always done something in that direction, but I would say that admission has increased by 400 or 500 percent this year. “
To be clear, business-class safaris are less extravagant than I like – tend to be without belts and epaulettes, and when you see one, you start to see them everywhere. There they are at Turnbull & Asser and there they are again at Budd. “They were treated with a bit of skepticism at first, with people seeing them as a shirt as opposed to an alternative to a jacket,” says Budds’ Kieran Wright, who introduced them in 2018. But now customers have got the hang of them, he has problems keeping them in stock.
Jeremy Hackett believes they have the potential to become even smarter. “The business travel uniform is a blazer, blue shirt and cotton trousers – but the problem is that today’s jackets are too short and so tight that you can hardly put anything in your pockets: a safari shirt / linen jacket is incredibly light and very comfortable to wear.”
Meanwhile, in September, Michael Hill of Drake’s launches what he calls a “travel job”, offering chore-jacket comfort with increased security for the pockets. And when it comes to pockets, his travel blazer shows that he has listened to the market’s demands for pockets: He counts as many as nine. “No hand luggage required,” he jokes.
However, this summer’s packed flights are no laughing matter; and with full cabins comes an increased risk of being invited to store hand luggage in the hold, for fear of never seeing it again. With that in mind, all of these pockets can come in handy.
Find out about our latest stories first – stay tuned @financialtimesfashion on Instagram