Haan, with his European élan and impeccable presentation, came into the car accessory market at the right place and time. From his trendy location on Santa Monica Boulevard near Beverly Hills, Haan catered to foreign car owners and enthusiasts. In 1961, Haan was instrumental in forming the Ferrari Owners Club, a group that believed a driver's image was as important as his vehicle's performance.
The Luxury Collection
His automotive clothing line focused on two different styles and mindsets in the performance driving community. For the owner and car collector, Haan offered luxurious driving coats, caps, sunglasses, and gloves. The Car and Driver magazine ad for Christmas of 1964 showcased, "A never before chance to own our great Italian Car Coat at a tremendous savings. A masterpiece of continental styling. Finest quality Italian corduroy in Cortina Beige."
The hip-length corduroy driving coat retailed for $45.00 (about $332.00 in 2012 terms). Add in an English driving cap made of camel fur felt, Italian leather gloves, and a pair of Mustang Spectaculars driving glasses from Renauld of France, and a Ferrari or MG owner was ready for an afternoon drive and car show.
The Competition Collection
The other collection offered by Vilém B. Haan, Inc. focused on "competition accessories for the connoisseur." Intended for racers and rally drivers, the company offered a large line of racing suits, helmets, and driving gloves. Customers could choose from one or two-piece racing suits made of cotton poplin imported from Italy. Intended for hard use and wear, the racing clothes were value-priced at less than $20 a set. However, the chic styling also made the racing outfits suitable for lounging. The machine-washable racing suits came in white, gray, French racing blue, red, and black. For an additional $1, drivers could add an embroidered fabric patch identifying their favorite car manufacturer.
However, everything wasn’t about fashion and image. Instead of sunglasses, competitive drivers chose Italian Racing Goggles with wrap-around lenses to allow for peripheral vision. The special racing gloves had leather palms for grip and knit mesh backs to release heat. Crash helmets (with optional visor for an additional $1.50 and/or full face shield for $7.95) met all racing association regulations. For under a $100, a racer or rally driver was outfitted in safety and style.
For those who couldn’t afford the full Haan treatment, there was a line of driving gloves ranging from short finger style for $7.50 to the world’s finest Sala-Sport Italian leather gloves for $8.95. Still expensive by 1964 standards, gloves were one of Haan’s most popular items. Sizes ranged from 6 ½ to 10 for both men and women.
California car culture peaked in the mid-1970s before the oil embargo and gas prices forced people toward fuel economy. Haan was at the center of the upscale accessory market, outfitting movie stars such as William Holden and Jack Cassidy. Vilém B. Haan, Inc. is still in business, but no longer markets clothing and accessories. However, the legacy is evident in the pricey boutiques at most luxury dealerships. More than 50 years later, style is still important.