Braving the elements has never been so fashionable. Stephanie Smith seeks out outerwear that blurs the boundaries between practicality and modern style.
Which comes first, form or function? Check in to social media apps such as Instagram and Pinterest and you will soon see that they are equally important when it comes to showing off both your healthy lifestyle and your style sense to friends and followers.
“Here I am, on a mountain, by a river, hiking through the hinterland, or just in my Insta-perfect garden, looking cool and chic while keeping cosy and protected. See my stylishly rugged boots, my wellies, my slim-fit down-padded jacket, my waxed great coat, my fabulously flattering furry hat.”
Outdoor style inspo is very much a thing, and companies specialising in element-protecting, practical wear have been working hard to make sure they meet the trend through a combination of style and technical expertise.
Meanwhile, on the catwalk, fashion designers including Christopher Raeburn and Ermenegildo Zegna use technical fabrics in their collections, exploring possibilities, blurring boundaries and pioneering an avant-garde dialogue between form and function, fashion and the world of adventure, discovery and the great outdoors.
“We take inspiration from all areas of design, looking at influences from a broad spectrum of ideas, as well as our own distinctive brand DNA,” says Berghaus head of product Karen Williams. “We also use a combination of macro trends and seasonal trends to inform our design direction. We mostly look to fashion to keep ahead of colour, fabric and fit trends. However, we also ensure that we design to the highest specifications to give our consumers full confidence that our products are designed with the end use primarily in mind.”
The dialogue between catwalk and technical outdoor fashion is a two-way street. Haglöfs senior designer Robert Olsson says: “The interesting thing is what has occurred over the past few years when fashion brands have definitely adopted aesthetics from the outdoor scene as well as technical fabrics in their designs and the line between fashion and outdoor clothing has never been more blurred than it is now.
“If a garment does not deliver actual functionality for that activity but only a cool look it is simply a bad design for our brand.”
These days we see prestige British brands that were established first and foremost for performance and protection, but are now sought out as much for style kudos as technical efficiency.
Founded in Scotland in 1856, Hunter is a heritage brand best known for its Original boots and has a history of innovation and pioneering design, creating footwear and outerwear to protect from the weather and perform across all terrains.
For spring 2018, the brand invokes the spirit of the garden, inspired by Vita Sackville-West’s gardens at Sissinghurst. The Refined collection features oversized coats and jackets in an innovative water-resistant nylon fabric, in clean lines with gathered drawstring waists, cape backs and roomy pockets. Any member of the Bloomsbury Set would covet them instantly.
Barbour, of course, has a seemingly limitless range of style-ticking outerwear. The Harbour jacket keeps it bright in Victoria blue, with a distinctive rubberised finish, zipped chest pocket, a hood and an adjustable draw-cord waist. Its more traditional outerwear, from long padded jackets to waxed coats, looks casually cool thrown over pretty much anything, but especially cute summer dresses – true country-meets-town wear.
Menswear and accessories director Ian Bergin says: “It is essential that outdoor clothing is fit for purpose – it needs to be practical and it must perform. However, consumers today also love to be stylish, so incorporating some of the key trends into our functional products is something that we factor in during the design process.”
But the brand’s major influence, he says, is its heritage of more than 120 years: “A Barbour wax jacket is iconic so keeping this original authentic look while adding a modern twist to ensure relevance to today’s consumer is of high importance to us.”
Mr Bergin adds that social media is now important for outdoor clothing. “If a product is picked up on social media it can really take off,” he says. “It can also be a great help in identifying new trends that we can incorporate into our design and marketing strategies. Our Barbour Way of Life campaign is a popular way for our consumers to share pictures of themselves in Barbour clothing and also to give us feedback on products which helps in the future design of our outdoor clothing.”
Celtic & Co is an online brand with an ethical focus of using natural-only fibres. “We strive to keep the balance of comfort, style, luxury and practicality within our designs,” says spokeswoman Emma Limm. “We want to tick off city style as well as country style for all ages of women. If you take our wax cotton designs, for instance, our parka and cape are perfect for rainy beach walks as well as the school run.
“We take and share a lot of photos of our natural surroundings on our social channels. We live in beautiful Cornwall and our collections are inspired by the Cornish landscape. ”
Meanwhile, even gear created with the mountain slopes and freezing terrain in mind is being sought out and worn by those who venture no further than the local park. Down-padded, fitted jackets are appreciated for their lightweight, easy and cosy practicality, and if you find yourself stranded in inhospitable conditions, at least you’re prepared.
Finally, there is the original all-weather fabric, tweed. Warm, breathable and water-resistant, if not exactly waterproof, it continues to provide style with practicality and comfort to generation after generation. Always smart, always in fashion, it’s the grandfather of form-meets-function dressing.