Outdoors apparel turns up heat
December 3, 2009
NEW YORK – What’s hot in winter-sport outerwear this season isn’t flamboyant design or eye-popping colors: It really comes down to more practical pieces – sometimes coupled with high-tech tricks – to keep you warm.
The idea is that these jackets, fleeces and shells take you from mountain to Main Street, summit to city and everywhere in between.
Bill Inman, apparel business director at Merrell, doesn’t even break it down into weekday and weekend wear. It’s all one and the same for most people now when it comes to a winter jacket, he says.
“We’re stressing versatility, which means value. … You get that with the right fabrication and styling,” Inman says. “We’re not doing a crazy colorblock ski look or a traditional alpine ski look. Those are downtrending as people look for stuff that doesn’t look like you just got off the lift.”
Outerwear tends to not be as trendy as ready-to-wear because people expect their winter jackets to last for several years – something that is actually helping keep sales steady in the economic downturn, says Patagonia’s vice president of design and merchandising Damien Huang. “Outerwear is useful. It’s not immune to the recession, but people still want to stay warm and dry.”
But there’s no excuse for bulky, puffy cocoon-style coats or any shell that’s not waterproof, says Huang, and it’s OK to demand lightweight, layering pieces that are versatile not only in design but also in a variety of weather conditions.
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The technology to make these types of pieces has been around a few years, but consumers are really taking note now because the fashion element has improved, he says.
“Consumers have the education about product. They want stuff that performs well. Everything has to perform,” adds J.D. Hendley, senior apparel director at Oakley.
One new twist is harnessing all the wired gadgetry out there, from jackets with carved out spots in the fabric for iPods and headphones to Mountain Hardwear’s Ardica Enabled Apparel with its own rechargeable battery pack that sends heat through the jacket.
What’s new in outerwear, according to insiders?
BOARDER INFLUENCES: Professional snowboarders are riding a mini wave of celebrity, with some getting their own branded clothing lines. (Examples include Shaun White for Burton, Gretchen Bleiler for Oakley and Torah Bright for Roxy.)
Skiers, snowshoers, snowmobilers and even snow bunnies are being influenced by boarders with longer jackets, graphics and the soft shell-fleece sweatshirt combination, says Hendley of Oakley. At the same time, however, very youthful prints that were the hallmark of snowboarders a few years ago are on their way out.
NEW SHAPES: Winter outerwear should be warm but not hot, and you want to stay dry, keeping both perspiration and snow at bay. The silhouette probably has more to do with those things than you think.
The vest is a popular part of the layered look; it can be topped by a waterproof pullover (another trend) and be worn with a windproof fleece underneath.
Even with the layers, the overall look is slimmer with jackets taking a more athletic cut for men and a feminine one for women, says Merrell’s Inman. The princess seams are gone from most womenswear.
BODY HEAT: “Comfort mapping” is an industry term to explain the patchwork of materials you’ll see on the insides of jackets.
“The idea is you can be highly affected by localized sensation,” says Timm Smith, product developer for W.L. Gore & Asso-ciates, which makes the Gore-Tex fabrics that are used by many manufacturers. “Anyone who has gone outside on a cold day knows that toes and fingers seem like they freeze first, so they need to be treated differently than the torso.”
It’s becoming the norm to line leaner neck and shoulder areas with fleece, while using a lighter laminate fabric around the middle, which tends to have more body fat (an insulator) and more airspace in the jacket silhouette, which traps in warm air, Smith explains.
The area just below the ribs and near the kidneys – basically the body’s core – often feels warmer than anywhere else, so Moun-tain Hard-wear’s heaters are purposely put near the pockets and in the middle of the back.
COLORS AND TEXTURES: Textured fabrics are the bridge between solids and prints. They’ve got some personality but they’re not going to be too loud or kitschy to be inappropriate for everyday use, says Inman.
You also might find more fabrics with a shiny, wet appearance, the result of a treatment called cire, which helps with weatherproofing.
The overall palette features less brown and black, but the colors aren’t too in-your-face either.
“There’s a fine line between bright and obnoxious,” says Patagonia’s Huang, who reports surges in popularity for gray, deep purple, green, blue and, for women, fuchsia.
“Color serves a practical purpose,” he adds. “You can spot someone on the slopes. … If you’re stuck on a glacier, it helps to be dressed like a mango.”