Belstaff Motorcycle Jacket

Leave to the Brits to create essential gear for any activity. Leave it to the Italians to recognize its essential beauty and wear it as a style statement. It was the former who created the business uniform, the latter who pronounced it cool. Now, the famous Italian fashion sense is embracing the British biker jacket -- specifically the highly technical jackets made by the venerable firm of Belstaff, which has been producing sporting clothes from leather and oilskins (and now high-tech fabrics) since 1924.

It's not an anomaly that the cool set should be in motorcycle jackets. The curiosity is that the jackets of choice are so purpose-built for sport, instead of playing up the fear factor. These aren't the young-tough-black-leather-jackets-with-an-eagle-back that starred in so many tawdry American biker movies of the '50s and '60s. Young Italians are showing up at Bellini bars wearing jackets meant for track racers and mud bike riders. It's as if they'd just come off a hard day of two-wheel competition or a ride through river rapids, instead of a Hell's Angels run on a hapless remote town. But, of course, they've done neither.

The Belstaff jacket of choice is the Trialmaster ($249.95), long on pockets, flaps, zippers, closures and padding, but short on the boisterous color adornments that inform most of its other jackets. It's not a jacket for the portly. Trim-cut and padded for protection against a spill on asphalt, it's perfect to accentuate the slight Tuscan build. Italians wear it in leather, but it's presently available here only in a high-tech nylon. (According to Belstaff North America, the demand for the leather model may soon entice the company to offer it in the States.)

Fashion aside, Belstaff is known to the true motorcycle set in the United States for its preeminent function. The company also makes boots, gloves, pants and luggage for biking. Some come in camouflage and in Kevlar. Now that's serious.

But as any Italian will point out: it's also very cool.