High-Functioning Fashion: Why Tech Is Trending
Practicality and fashion are two words that rarely go together. Not so in the case of today’s menswear designers, who are sending hi tech outerwear to the top of every sartorialist’s wishlist. Osman Ahmed unpacks why technicality is trending.
Welcome to 2020, the year that hyper-functional fashion went global. What once would have seemed over-protective and too-utilitarian now seems like the most responsible form of chic. Face masks are de rigueur (very Margiela!), gloves haven’t been seen so much since the day of debutantes, and zipped-up, hyper-functional performancewear has become an outdoorsy riposte to the supple athleisure we’ve all been wearing while staying home.
In other words, performancewear has become, well, normal wear. The Great Outdoors has made its way into the Great Indoors of our everyday wardrobes. Sounds of industrial metal clips, Velcro tabs and crunchy synthetics can be heard in gallery and restaurant cloakrooms - whether it’s from skiwear labels such as Klättermusen, Fulsap and Templa, or the upcycled hi-tech label, GR10K. These are clothes that are now just as appropriate for a hike to the local supermarket as they are for one up an actual mountain.
In fact, long before 2020, the air of utilitarian-chic had begun drifting onto the catwalk. Menswear designers have been ahead of the curve when it comes to the technical clothing that is as ideal for braving the elements as staying incognito at the farmer’s market. Just think of Craig Green’s strapped-up coats with built-in balaclavas, or Paria Farzaneh’s paisley-printed ski jacket, its high, mouth-covering neck pre-empting the protective masks of the Great Lockdown. At A-COLD-WALL*, Samuel Ross has toyed with thermo-reactive nylons and tarpaulin in his futuristic collections, whilst Prada’s recycled nylons and heavyweight combat boots and Heliot Emil’s seatbelt-like, carabiner-fastened accessories prove the ideal fusion of fashion and function. High fashion has gotten hi-tech. Forget the louche glamour of the Cote d’Azur — suddenly, a rugged and remote escape to New Zealand's North Island seems like the ultimate getaway.
“There’s always an element of fantasy in the collections that we make, but the only thing I could think about was that right now, a fantasy is the things that used to feel real,” points out Craig Green, whose Spring 2021 collection riffed on fishermans smocks, military cargos and the ever-pervasive face coverings. “Real life started to feel like a fantasy.” Green is one of the many stratospheric designers to collaborate with Moncler Genius, reinterpreting the Italian brand’s puffer jackets and outerwear. Testament to the mood of the moment, it’s worth noting that Moncler began life as a technical skiwear brand in the French Alps in 1952 — now it’s beloved by city dwellers and snow bunnies alike.
“If anything, the definition of outdoor wear has evolved into everyday wear,” notes Browns buyer Joe Brunner. “You’re more likely to wear an and Wander jacket or Templa hoodie on your daily visit to the shops as you are on the hills; at least you’re ready for anything.”
Brunner points out that brands have become competitive when it comes to the one-upmanship of textile innovation, with Helly Hansen recently launching its LIFA Infinity Pro, the first responsible waterproof of its kind, and ECCO pioneering sustainable leather manufacturing. “Priorities have changed, and rightly so,” he says. “Therefore, it’s important to focus on the things that bring happiness, and for so many, the outdoors is an escape, a chance to clear your mind, and with this comes the demand for the right clothing. Designers want to explore fashion and functionality together, and there’s no better time.”
If you needed any more convincing, then let it be the environment itself. Not so long ago, diehard luxury pundits would have choked at the thought of anything less than silk, cashmere, cotton or leather — materials long considered the hallmarks of treasure-forever timelessness. Now, hi-tech alternatives are more sophisticated, sensual and – yes – sustainable than ever before. Ocean plastics are being upcycled into billowing windbreakers; natural dyes and repurposed fabrics are the ultimate status symbols. This is future-proof shopping that will be just as functional year after year. Sure, we all love a ridiculously Zeitgeisty trend — but when faced with Mother Nature’s force, utility and eco-consciousness always trumps design. At least now they aren’t mutually exclusive.
Osman Ahmed is the Fashion Features Editor at i-D and contributor to British Vogue and Vanity Fair.