It’s true that the Realm & Empire creative team can find inspiration in everything. This year, in addition to our seasonal field trips to the IWM archive, we took an impromptu visit to a Manchester vintage store – and it was here that we unearthed one of our most exciting discoveries.
The sheepskin flying jacket has become one of the iconic symbols of Allied airmen in the Second World War and while browsing at the store, we couldn’t believe our luck when we spotted an incredible example from the Coastal Command hanging on display! Sometimes known as ‘Irvins’, after the Irvin Company who were the first business awarded the contract to make them, these historic jackets were actually made by many different contractors throughout the conflict. Those made for the Coastal Command unusually had a hood (as did the ones used by The Fleet Arm and Air Sea Rescue).
During the Battle of Britain, some of these hoods were painted a distinctive yellow – much like the one on our jacket. The hazardous duties of the Coastal Command meant that there was a higher risk that the aircrews wearing them would bale out over water rather than land, and the brightly coloured hood provided better visibility in identifying a downed man.
It is specific historical details such as this which has shaped our range this season. Keep a lookout for the introduction of R&E ‘visibility’ patches throughout the collection, including superb contrast-colour sleeve panelling and flash pocket details, all transformed in signature Realm & Empire style.