Outside in style: luxury fashion for the great outdoors

Words by
Simon Brooke

23rd March 2017

From Belstaff and Fendi to North Face, see how fashion labels are creating stylish practical clothing, while outdoor brands collaborate with cutting-edge designers

How does the world increasingly perceive luxury? Is it an object or an experience? Does a beautifully made handbag or an expertly crafted pair of gloves represent true luxury, or is it swimming with stingrays off the coast of a remote tropical island or waking up in a tent in Antarctica ready for a bespoke tour?


Increasingly, it’s the latter; a 2015 report by trend forecasting consultancy The Future Laboratory, which surveyed 2,000 luxury consumers in the US and UK, found that 41% preferred to spend money on experiences and holidays rather than physical objects. And with the emergence of experiential luxury, we are seeing more luxurious outdoor and activity clothing. Existing brands in this category are becoming more fashionable in their look as they’re joined on the rack — and even the catwalk —by new, niche performance clothing that puts fashion to the fore.


Biker chic at its most luxurious from Belstaff, which was offering stylish options for aviators, motorists and motorcyclists as far back as 1924

Last year, a report by McKinsey and the Business of Fashion website noted: “Traditionally, wellness and fashion have not been allied industries, but the rise of the wellness movement leaves fashion players with the choice of either learning to profit from it or having to compete with it.”

With the emergence of experiential luxury, we are seeing more luxurious and outdoor activity clothing

As an example, gunmaker and outdoor accessories company Holland & Holland, owned by Chanel, has just launched its second collection of clothing with aristo-model Stella Tennant. With its lightweight cashmeres and Guernsey-style sweaters, the collection is hardy, as well as being luxurious enough to look good at home or in town.


Net-a-Porter recently launched Net-a-Sporter, which, as its wittily punning name suggests, focuses on sports and activewear products that have a smarter look, such as shearling-trimmed, textured-leather boots by glamorous cobbler Nicholas Kirkwood.


“Across the board, there is a higher emphasis on design and styles that come from fashion,” says Scott McGuire, President and Brand Strategist at the Mountain Lab, a California-based brand strategy and product development consultancy that specialises in outdoor and activity wear. “What was once predominately driven by function must now also capture the style eye if the consumer is going to accept new concepts. There exists a desire for style and aesthetic to be present in all aspects of one’s life, be it in the field, the gym, the office or out on the town.” However, he warns that: “If a brand is in Outdoor or Performance and wants to remain viable, it has to honour and stay true to the functional demands of the user. If you sell out these demands for aesthetic, it’s a slippery slope to irrelevance.”


Simon Longland, General Merchandise Manager, Fashion Accessories at Harrods, dates the trend back to 2004 and Stella McCartney’s partnership with Adidas, since when more luxury brands have recognised the business opportunities that sportswear and outdoor clothing offer.

“Since Fendi launched its skiwear line two years ago, it has gone on to design a sportswear range that features signature Fendi prints,” says Longland. “Both ranges have been very popular with our customers. For menswear, brands such as Armani continues to do well with its sports- specific range EA7, while labels including Thom Browne and Valentino have thrived with customers looking for a sportswear influence.”

Creating luxurious and comfortable fabrics that can withstand the demands of outdoor pursuits is essential for brands looking to exploit this trend

He cites details in fabrics and features that meet the requirements of the performance and outdoor element while maintaining a fashionable edge. “Tapered trousers now often feature an elasticated bottom and knitwear has started showing bold front zippers, as if they were tracksuit tops. Features also include subtle reflective strips, while tees are now combined with sweat wicking fabrics — practical details that work in day-to-day life.”


Holland & Holland hooded coat

Equestrianism might be one of the most elegant of all sports, but the basic clothing has always been rather dull and worthy. That’s why keen horsewoman Mia Lei launched Miasuki. Made in Italy and combining practical considerations, including freedom of movement and technical fabrics, with fashion details such as discreet paisley patterns, it has just become available in Harrods.

The collection retains the nipped-in waists and slim silhouette of traditional equestrian attire, but overlays it with bold colours and striking detailing. The Magic Coat, for instance, has a funky 1960s look, but its full seam-sealing in double bonded, water-repellent, breathable fabric means that it’s also practical enough for the yard or the stable.

Creating luxurious and comfortable fabrics that can withstand the demands of outdoor pursuits and sports enthusiasts is essential for brands looking to exploit this trend. Long known for its technical innovation in fabrics, Ermenegildo Zegna has developed “Techmerino”, which maintains the softness of merino wool, but treats it to produce a waterproof fabric that breathes, adapts to an ambient temperature and is quick-drying. Also part of its more sporty Z Zegna collection are breathable sneakers and coats with heat pads.


“How exactly did North Face become cool?” asked street fashion bible Dazed last summer. Having associated the outdoor brand with “warm pints” and “Land Rover”, the magazine noted that North Face, famed for its comfy fleeces and anoraks, has recently partnered with cutting-edge fashion brands such as New York City-based Supreme. Best known for its skateboards, vividly patterned shirts, camouflage and baseball caps, it has injected a bold splash of colour and striking design into the North Face range.

North Face has also collaborated with avant-garde Japanese designer Junya Watanabe. As you’d expect of a protégé of Comme des Garçons, Watanabe has created a severe, monochrome range of jackets to complement North Face’s more mainstream collections, which also feature weather-proof materials such as Gore-Tex, as well as stitching and flaps that reduce wind and damp penetration.

The Patagonia jacket, with its fine quilting and rain-resistant fabric, has long been a staple of any outdoor enthusiast’s wardrobe, but now it’s as likely to be worn by a hipster or app designer in Hoxton or the East Village. Last year, Kim Jones, menswear designer at Louis Vuitton, created outerwear that was inspired by the brand’s Classic Retro-X Fleece jacket, complete with breast pocket.


Canada Goose, the rugged Canadian brand, has also recently collaborated with hip labels Vetements and Opening Ceremony to create pieces that look equally at home in the Peak District or on Park Lane. “Every jacket we make is rooted in function, so it’s a fun departure to partner with a visionary designer to present his interpretation of some of our iconic pieces,” says Canada Goose CEO Dani Reiss.

“From a strategic marketing perspective, performance and activewear clothing brands have been positioning themselves as high-end but affordable luxury brands,” says Professor Andrew Stephen, L’Oréal Professor of Marketing at Oxford University’s Saïd Business School. “Gap got into this with its Athleta brand, too, and it has tapped into the broader trend of expensive, luxury fitness, such as yoga, Pilates and spinning, and a willingness by consumers to pay more for fitness activities. So, essentially, we’ve had new entrants in the higher priced but affordable luxury market in the activewear category.”

For its autumn collection last year, Danish label Ganni added a weatherproof range after its Creative Director, Ditte Reffstrup, had struggled to find “practical outerwear that still looks fabulous”. While able to face the elements, the range still retains the brand’s cool aesthetic.


A Canada Goose jacket in collaboration with hip label Vetements

Delphine Ninous, Collection Creative Director at Belstaff, points out that when the brand launched in 1924, it included “more of a bespoke offering aimed at aviation, motorcycling and motoring, all of which were luxury pursuits for the time. The clothing had to be fit for purpose, but it was more refined than some of the other items the company was manufacturing.”

Ninous cites the brand’s fans — from Amelia Earhart and Che Guevera to David Beckham, Daniel Craig , Sienna Miller and modern-day explorers such as Sir Ranulph Fiennes — as evidence of Belstaff’s ability to have a foot in both camps. “While we’re influenced by our past, we’re forever looking forward to incorporate the best new performance fabrics and developments,” adds Ninous. “We work with water-resistant cashmere, waterproof wax, waterproof printed nylon, seam-sealing for waterproof protection and lightweight technical down for warmth.”


Founded in 1952, Moncler has moved from workwear ranges via the ski slopes and Alpine forests to the catwalks of Milan, Paris and New York, following its acquisition by Italian entrepreneur Remo Ruffini and the launch, a decade ago, of the haute couture Moncler Gamme Rouge collection. In 2010, the Moncler Grenoble was unveiled, “reworking the brand heritage while giving skiing garments and après-ski wear, as well as more urban garments, a contemporary take,” as the company put it.

What defines our time is that women want to look sophisticated and they want casual sports clothes — those are the two big obsessions

Perhaps to emphasise that it still is a serious outdoor brand, Moncler supplied the technical equipment for a 2014 expedition to conquer K2, 60 years after it had first done so. This spring, the range of Moncler Grenoble High Performance garments incorporates thermal insulation with breathability, heat-sealed stitching and waterproof fastenings, as well as that essential for any ski expedition — a pocket for your mobile phone.

“During 2016, consumers remained focused on extending the understanding of healthy living to include all aspects of wellbeing from a physical as well as a mental point of view,” says Fflur Roberts, Head of Luxury Goods at Euromonitor International. She points to a comment by Louis Vuitton’s artistic director, Nicolas Ghesquière, who said: “I think what defines our time is that women want to look sophisticated and they want casual sports clothes — those are the two big obsessions.” However, Roberts adds: “There’s also a third factor: people are looking for communities, and affluent consumers are looking to shape their own, exclusive communities dedicated to outer fitness and inner peace.”