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When Nature and Fashion Come Together: the Rise of the Down Jacket

As fashion draws inspiration from everything and anything around us, it is clear that nature has served as the influence for countless collections since the dawn of high fashion.

But is fashion’s relationship with nature one-sided? Besides the much-discussed sustainability issue, does fashion serve nature in the same way nature can serve fashion?

The answer is yes, and it lies in the functional purpose of garments. While it may sometimes be overshadowed by the multitude of purposes fashion serves, functionality remains the starting point of getting dressed in the morning according to the environment we will face. There are plenty of examples of how apparel was first created to address technical needs but then evolved into proper style, enriched by the layers of meaning high fashion can attribute to garments.

Think about down jackets; this kind of outerwear was first created as a utilitarian garment against snowy weather and has become a staple in most wardrobes. First invented by adventurer Eddie Bauer in the ’30s after a near-death experience due to hypothermia during a fishing trip, down jackets were then used for military purposes for many years. In parallel, in 1939, the jacket was patented, and Charles James proposed an haute couture jacket resembling the puffer model. Nevertheless, It was not until the early ’50s that, together with its wider utilitarian use both for the military but even more so for winter sports purposes, the down jacket started to be tailored and proposed as part of high fashion collections.

We can then see how fashion bends to different climates; it suffices to think of all the brands that were born to protect people from the wilderness of climates, like the polar or alpine ones.

Moncler was founded in 1952 in a town located in the French Alps to meet the needs of local employees who were working in freezing temperatures. The brands’ garments quickly became a staple for skiers and expeditioners, providing the brand with a genuine qualitative image, all of this while mountain vacations were simultaneously gaining popularity. Then, in the ’80s, the brand started to evolve to a more fashionable status, introducing the infamous ‘lacquered’ effect and collaborating with Parisian designer Chantal Thomass. Collaborations are to this day at the heart of Moncler’s credibility, enabling it to be seen as an authentic ski and sportswear brand, as well as a go-to fashionable streetwear brand. Maintaining a shrewd market position, Moncler also benefited from the growth of sportswear as everyday fashion, as once a suit required an overcoat, it is now acceptable to put a puffer over formal clothes.

In the same way, Herno was born after the Second World War, leveraging on the availability of new technical fabrics and responding to the conditions of the windy and humid weather of Lago Maggiore, and later evolved to become a key luxury player. Another outstanding example is Canada Goose. The brand was founded in 1957 in Toronto and specialized in raincoats and mountain apparel. In the ’70s, Snow Goose (today Canada Goose), a side label focusing on down jackets, was established. The brand’s first parka was actually developed to meet scientists’ needs at Antarctica’s McMurdo Station. Canada Goose’s garments have since been protagonists of exploring expeditions to Mount Everest, scientific research in Antarctica, and nowadays are one of the most sold down jackets to American youth.

Moncler, Canada Goose, Herno: the fil rouge that connects all these brands is their genesis.  They started as functional responses to nature’s conditions but rose to their ultimate success by marketing their jackets not only as outdoor clothing for harsh weather but as a sophisticated garment, ultimately a luxury garment. Their key competitive advantage has been the authentic image they were able to leverage in order to enter the luxury market. The match of rare functional qualities and unquestionable craftsmanship with history and experiential associations enrich these brands of an added value customers are willing to pay for. Moncler indeed went from utilitarian garments to ski vacations apparels to upper-class Milanese youth’s staple pieces and continues to push the category forward within high fashion. The brand has witnessed a resurgence thanks to its Moncler Genius project, a series of collaborations with young brands like Palm Angels and Craig Green.

Experience also helps to legitimize these products, a notion that is backed up by Canada Goose’s use of in-store freezer rooms where users can test their coats in chilly temperatures or by Moncler’s preference for field-testing its jackets on famous figures like Michele Pontrandolfo. The role of cultural uniforms that these brands embody allows them to market their jackets in a price range from €500 to €2000.

The exponential growth of athleisure further fuels luxury’s pivot to outdoor apparel. The puffer vest has frequently been spotted as the fashion item of choice for the one per cent. People used to look up to Wall Street workers but now aspire to be tech billionaires, who usually dress casual by nature. There’s a certain amount of privilege that comes with wearing the puffer vest out and about, especially ones from the previously mentioned brands.

These brands’ popularity has ultimately been cemented by the number of celebrities that endorse such jackets. Drake, as one of the most influential rappers nowadays, has indeed sported many coveted puffer jackets. His own brand, October’s Very Own, has a ten-year-long successful collaboration history with Canada Goose, both brands regularly proposing capsule collections. This does not stop the artist from donning other labels: when in 2015 he wore the iconic Moncler’s Maya in red for his “Hotline Bling” music video, sales of the puffer jacket spiked up.

Today it is pretty common to find your average city dweller wearing winter apparel developed for the coldest places on earth. They are not just wearing Canada Goose jackets on the slopes or while climbing mountains. People are also wearing them at their local coffee shop or parties. This leads to a further question: does image prevail wearability? As these brands continued to grow, they reached such popularity that they started being sold in countries whose soils had never even seen snow. Against any common logic, Canada Goose is sold in the Middle East and India. Even more surprisingly, Moncler opened in 2018 a glacial-looking mono-brand store in Dubai to strengthen its already developed presence in the Middle East. As a consequence of the cultural valence these jackets keep building, it seems that once again, fashion has taken the lead, putting aside the starting idea of functionality.

Authors: Jade Mouradian and Beatrice Cancian


Sources: (Norway Geographical, The Gould Standard, Henro, Elle Decor, Financial Times, Vogue Business, Jing Daily, Trend Analytics, StockX, Moncler Group)

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