The man behind Prince William’s belt

How Johnny Lynn started a polo clothing line the royals can’t stop wearing
The Duke of Cambridge arrives at the Calgary Stampede parade in Calgary, Friday July 8, 2011. Picture the Queen wearing jeans. Or Prince Charles getting sprayed in the face while gamely paddling a dragon boat. Can’t do it? No wonder. This royal tour has been like no other.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Stefan Wermuth/Reuters

When Prince William introduced his son, Prince George, to the world, Johnny Lynn couldn’t help but notice the prince’s belt.

Lynn, the owner of  Polistas clothing, didn’t grow up around royalty, but his clothing company — which manufactures the traditional Argentine-style polo belt Prince William frequently wears — has become a  brand beloved by the royals.

Lynn was raised far from London, in Midland, Ont., where the biggest celebrity he knew was his dad, who was also the mayor. While Diana, princess of Wales, was busy taking care of baby William, Lynn was playing tight end for the Midland Secondary School football team.

A boy living along the Georgian Bay could hardly have predicted becoming the polo connoisseur he is today—let alone one who rubs elbows with royalty. As a teen, Lynn dreamed of representing Canada at the 1988 Calgary Olympics in skiing, until a bad crash on the slopes of Osler Bluff in Collingwood, Ont. in 1982 resulted in a broken fibula and amnesia. With his Olympic dreams dashed, he focused on school. Lynn studied Administrative and Commercial Studies at Western University in London, Ont. and had never even been to London, England.

Diana’s damage
Prince William and his belt in P.E.I. in 2011. (Rex Features)

Lynn moved to the U.K. in 1989 to look for business opportunities. In what would be a fortuitous decision, he went with friends to see Prince Charles play polo.

Lynn was immediately hooked. I just thought this game looked awesome because I’m a big football fan and a big ski racer, and polo really puts the two together,” he says from outside his polo club in Oxfordshire, England. “It’s a very physical contact sport, but it’s got the speed and balance of ski racing.”

It took a few years of working in investment banking until Lynn could afford to pick up the sport, but he was a fast learner and soon became a professional. He travelled often to Argentina, the modern home of polo. After a vacation there in 2001, he decided to start a polo events company, Polo Relations. That eventually spawned into his polo apparel brand, Polistas.

As millions watched Kate and William step outside St. Mary’s Hospital in London on July 23 with their newborn son, there was much commentary about their matching blue-for-boy wardrobe. Few mentioned the Polistas belt with its Canadian connection, which appears to be the same one William was photographed wearing during his Canadian tour with Kate, duchess of Cambridge, two years prior.

Scott Irvine, founder of the Canadian leather accessory brand Brave, which specializes in belts, says he noticed the belt when William was sporting it at the Calgary Stampede parade in 2011.

“That pattern is done often with horsehair. It’s a typical South American or Navaho style,” Irvine says.

“Obviously the guy has a connection to it because he’s wearing it for big events.”

A close up of William's belt, as worn at the Calgary Stampede parade in July 2011.

Prince William’s much-worn belt is indeed made in Argentina, in the Pampas to be exact, but it is from an older Polistas collection. As for why someone second-in-line to the British throne, a man worth hundreds of millions, doesn’t buy something newer, Lynn says the royals are quite frugal. Prince William wore the exact same belt while dragon boat racing in Prince Edward Island in 2011 and again the next year in England, while promoting the 2012 Olympics. Lynn also points to one of William’s Polistas fleece jackets, which he wore at events eight years apart.

“They’re not like the nouveau riche who change their shoes once a month,” Lynn says. “They like something and they wear it forever.”

Lynn, 48, has grown more accustomed to talking about to the monarchy over the years. His grandmother, a World War I bride, was born in England and was a big royalist, but even she couldn’t have predicted her grandson hanging out among them one day—let alone having an occasional drink with Prince Harry.

Prince William and Johnny Lynn

“Just to be socializing with that crowd now, I sometimes have to pinch myself,” Lynn says.

He’s often seen among elite these days, but Lynn remembers his Canadian roots. He grew up a die-hard Ottawa Rough Riders fan and talks with enthusiasm about the Ottawa RedBlacks—the CFL team set to return to the nation’s capital next year. He brags about meeting Rough Rider legend Tony Gabriel at the Grey Cup last year in Toronto, and winning MVP honours with his Milton Keynes Pathfinders seniors team in the British American Football League.

His life outside football, however, involves more exotic destinations. Through polo, he has travelled the world to compete with the royal family in Jordan, the prince of Malaysia and the Maharaja of Jaipur of India.

“They call polo the game of kings and that’s why,” he says with a laugh. “It’s more fun than living in Ontario.”