Fashion loves to find something thumpingly banal and declare that it’s “having a moment” and, right now, this season’s most in-demand menswear item is … the dog-walking jacket.
Welcome to the world of haute hiking wear: the kind of thing you keep stashed in the car boot, the sort of thing Theresa May wears to walk over the Dolomites, and which is – like one North Face Supreme X jacket – now fetching up to £4,500 on the resale market. It is a perfect storm of high, new fashion and serious technical wear.
Take, for example, North Face, whose padded Nuptse jacket turns 25 this month. Current collaborations with designers Junya Watanabe, Sacai and Supreme have long sold out at fashion mecca Dover Street Market and it has just launched a new collaboration with the cult Japanese brand Mastermind, which should sell like hot cakes. Elsewhere, the Italian technical brand Napapijri has a second collaboration with designer Martine Rose, who recently dressed singer Frank Ocean, and the US outdoors brand Columbia – known for its technical T-shirts and fleeces – has launched a new collection of pop-coloured anoraks with the hip New York store Opening Ceremony.
In September, GQ Style coined the term “secondhand dad” for the look: an aesthetic it describes as “dressing like your dad, going for a walk in the woods, some time in the early 1990s”.
But why spend thousands on the designer version of a technical piece when it is probably equally or less effective than a true outdoor brand? “You’re not going to go and scale the Eiger in this coat. It’s made for hanging out in Dover Street Market,” says Richard Gray, senior editor at 10 magazine, who bought the Junya Watanabe jacket, which costs up to £1,895. For Gray, owning one of these pieces is equally about the bragging rights that comes with it. “It’s like Top Trumps,” he says. “There’s something competitive about it. And I could bore you to death with the technical details on it.’’
To insiders, luxury variants of these coats come with a refinement that you won’t get from a typical outdoor brand: this season’s technical jackets by the US designer Patrik Ervell are lined in silk instead of synthetic fabric. Yet they are still sturdier than a typical designer coat – Damien Paul, the head of menswear for matchesfashion.com, notes that the designer coats that the site carries are still made to highly technical specifications. “They have to work in real life,” he says.
These come hot on the heels of the rise of athleisure and sportswear, a market that has dominated menswear. If you wear running gear to a party, why not a hiking jacket? The US fashion press tried to make the neologism “gorpcore” happen this season (gorp is shorthand for trail mix) but since “gorp” doesn’t exist in the UK as a term it never took off.
Hiking wear, however, sounds less sexy but is actually happening. The online retailer SSENSE reports rapid sellouts of its Balenciaga ski jackets, while matchesfashion.com has seen a “huge uplift” in styles from the likes of Lanvin and Martine Rose. Paul has responded by introducing heritage technical brands, such as Helly Hansen, to the site’s roster for this season.
Meanwhile, for years brands such as Stone Island and Moncler have quietly built multimillion-pound businesses from elevated, functional garments – but even these brands are seeing a greater traction with younger, more fashion-led consumers, who are looking to buy into the authentic outerwear brands, instead of designer variations. Napapijri’s hooded pullover jacket, originally designed for Arctic exploration and now a fixture on streetwear sites, is seeing a “triple-digit” growth in sales, while Helly Hansen has noted a large increase in sales from the younger market.
Stone Island, in particular, has become revered among a new generation ofyounger consumers following successful collaborations with Supreme and Nike. “They are certainly hard to beat,” argues David Fischer, founder of the streetwear site Highsnobiety. “It’s something they’ve always done. Stone Island was founded on technical innovation and still does that today.”
Tapping into a younger, trendier market was a conscious decision on the part of Carlo Rivetti, Stone Island’s creative director. “We’ve been working for 10 years now to attract a new generation of fans,” he explains. “But since our inception we have looked at function and performance fabrics. Fashion houses do not have this kind of approach.”