If Looks Could Kill Protective clothing is vital to many HNWs, but the bulky bulletproof vests of old are making way for lighter, stylish life-savers. Chloë Barrow discovers a marriage between Armani and armour
If Looks Could Kill
Protective clothing is vital to many HNWs, but the bulky bulletproof vests of old are making way for lighter, stylish life-savers. Chloë Barrow discovers a marriage between Armani and armour
BULLETPROOF FASHION USUALLY suggests a capsule wardrobe with a black pencil skirt, some fun blouses and a great pair of heels that can double for day and night. Forget that: when you hear ‘bulletproof fashion’, start thinking Uzis, stiletto switchblades and hitmen intent on abbreviating your life.
Instead of the bulky bulletproof vests of yore — so visible they were much more likely to make you a target, indicating you were worth protecting — fashion and technology have combined to make defensive garments not just lighter and safer but even somewhat stylish. You’ll need a little bit of spare shrapnel — at least £5,000 — for your turn on the armour-plated catwalk, but it’s cheaper than, well, dying.
The major player in the bulletproof fashion industry is Colombian designer Miguel Caballero, who revolutionised the look and feel of protective clothing. His particular brand of body armour emphasises not just being safe but looking good and feeling comfortable. As he explained in an interview with The New Yorker, his anti-ballistic formula is a ‘hybrid between nylon and polyester’, which is lighter, thinner and more flexible than comparably protective versions of Kevlar, the best-known bullet-stopping textile, which DuPont invented in the Sixties. And as threats develop, so does Caballero’s material.
Caballero recounted in the same profile how he noticed that bodyguards in Colombia would often leave their protective vests and jackets in the car because they were too heavy and hot, causing great discomfort and hindering movement and agility. They would rather take their chances against potential injury or death rather than lug around the life-saving but cumbersome bulletproof gear.
IT’S NOT JUST professional bodyguards who need or desire extra protection. ‘Our clients are mainly public figures such as politicians, judges, actors, CEOs and diplomats,’ says Caballero. ‘We have a very international customer base, with around 10 per cent of our sales coming from Colombia and the remaining 90 per cent from Europe, Latin America, Asia and the Emirates.’ High-profile Caballero fans include Steven Seagal, King Abdullah of Jordan, President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, President Alvaro Uribe of Colombia and Prince Felipe of Spain.
Bulletproof clothing is not a case of one-size-fits-all: you need to choose clothes according to the threat. Take the polo shirt. Its exterior is made from 100 per cent cotton for a low-key, casual appearance, while the interior is made with microfibre to keep you cool in the heat and warm in colder climates. Between these layers are ultra-lightweight, anti-ballistic removable panels with three levels of protection, which include defence against stabbing, a .44 Magnum revolver and a 9mm firearm up to a submachine gun.
Caballero’s collection also includes dress shirts, blazers, raincoats, leather jackets and even bulletproof ties. Prices vary depending on the level of protection desired and the intricacy of the design, but a polo shirt that can take a hit from a mini Uzi costs around £5,000.
In London, Caballero’s Black Label Collection can be found at Harrods, which has been stocking the brand since 2009. Stewart Mancey, general merchandise manager for sports, where Caballero’s clothes are located (quite an odd image, that one, bulletproof shirts next to the plus-fours), says that items can take up to six weeks to make. ‘As clothes are made to order, a specialist sets up a least two consultations with the customer before the item is ready,’ he adds. ‘We have Miguel Caballero leather jackets that are no heavier then motorcycle jackets. All the clothing is malleable and the polo shirts can be contoured so that the line of protection is not visible.’
Illustration by Russ Tudor
ANOTHER PROTECTIVE CLOTHES label, entirely UK-based, can also be found at Harrods and, more recently, at Selfridges, as well as having its own shop in Portman Square. Spymaster supplies high-profile businessmen among other VIPs from countries such as India, Pakistan, Russia and Afghanistan. The company also caters to frontline journalists and other media travelling to dangerous or war-torn areas.
Unlike the more stylish Caballero collection, Spymaster specialises in rapid delivery: ‘Lots of our customers have to send people at extremely short notice to war zones and need the protective gear very quickly,’ says Spymaster’s managing director Lee Marks.
Spymaster also offers a selection of jackets which focus more on style and comfort than plain body armour. ‘My experience is that the market is not really for fashion items, but there are still a number of people who want that,’ says Marks. The Spymaster fashion range includes a raincoat and Lee Cooper denim jacket for £1,200-1,300 (comparatively cheap against Caballero’s clothes). A leather jacket is £4,000, while a simple bulletproof vest is £495.
‘We generally use Kevlar for anti-ballistic gear, but for some of our lighter protective clothing we use Dyneema, which offers very good protection but is somewhat lighter,’ says Marks.
Which you choose depends on the level of threat anticipated. ‘Protection against a lower-calibre 9mm would require a professional level-two vest, which is thinner and lighter and suitable for ordinary handguns in urban environments. However, adequate defence against a higher-powered .44 Magnum would need to be a 3A, which is thicker and generally heavier.’
More robust protection is needed when going into a war zone. ‘When going to Afghanistan or Iraq, the chances are you’ll be shot at with an AK47 assault rifle, so we would recommend a 3A-level vest with added anti-ballistic layering for extra protection.’ It gives an entirely new meaning to layering your clothes.
Read more by Chloe Barrow