Menswear trends rarely strike like lightning. Rather, like sunlight filtering through a bank of clouds, they become apparent in rippling shafts before a bright revelation. This spring, a particularly strong light is shining on year-round, water-resistant coats and jackets that use the performance fabrics and technical construction more commonly used for specialist outdoor gear and sportswear.
Since the days when pioneers like Charles Macintosh developed the first waterproofing with rubbber and naphtha – and gave his name (with an added “k”) to the icon of the genre – textile specialists have battled the elements in laboratories and factories. Natural fibres are treated with increasingly high-tech coatings, resins or microscopic nanotechnology finishes to protect from wind and rain, while synthetic fabrics become ever more sophisticated by employing complex combinations of polyamides (aka nylons) and polyurethanes. Formulas and treatments may be jealously guarded, but the common aim is simple: to keep the wearer dry but not overheated now that springs and summers are wetter, and autumns and winters warmer. Technical fabrics are often more versatile than natural alternatives and many of the most advanced are developed in specialist mills, although their names – such as Limonta and Majocchi in Italy and Schoeller in Switzerland – are unlikely to appear on labels.
“Menswear designers are pushing the boundaries between outdoor/performance garments and practical items for urban life in different ways,” says Devon-based designer Jeff Griffin, who has worked with sportswear and fashion brands including Baracuta, Berghaus, Mackintosh, Hugo Boss and Woolrich, as well as producing his own high-performance Griffin range. “The common challenge is how to take technology from active sportswear and give it stylish appeal. Many of the synthetic performance fabrics feel cold to the touch, which tends not to bother outdoorsy types, but it’s less acceptable in a fashion garment.”
“This trend is part of a larger conversation in menswear concerning the cross-over of sports and outdoorwear elements to fashion lines,” says London-based designer Christopher Raeburn, who combines running his own eponymous directional menswear label with the artistic directorship of Victorinox, the Swiss company with a clothing line that complements its Swiss Army knife offering. “Hybrid items combine aesthetic finesse with functionality and are an intelligent approach to modern lifestyles.”
For Victorinox, Raeburn has devised the Modular Liner System, or MLS, which allows different garments to be attached to one another to make each more versatile. “I use breathable synthetics, and the detachable elements add flexibility and functionality,” he says. Originally developed to transition from winter to spring clothing, the breathable polyester Matterhorn quilted gilet (£135, in black, slate green and amber, pictured) works on its own, but can also be used as an inner lining – secured by popper fastenings – in jackets and raincoats including the Lenzburg (£295, in black or orange, pictured) in water-repellent cotton with sealed seams and detachable hood. Raeburn stresses that this modular system means that the items can be used throughout the year if cleverly layered.
Alongside Raeburn’s layering of individual items, many designers have copied outdoor gear in having three layers – a breathable membrane, such as Gore-Tex and Sympatex, sitting between the shell and the lining. Together, microscopic perforations are small enough to allow body heat to escape while keeping raindrops out, and the lightness of the fabric makes the coats and jackets ideal for travelling, easy to carry when there’s a chance of rain, and good trans-seasonal items.
Harvey Nichols’ head of menswear buying Darren Skey has also observed that performance is key this season: “Among the dynamic labels is Canada-based Arc’teryx Veilance, which uses pioneering technologies to create cutting-edge performancewear.” Especially eye-catching is Arc’teryx’s Monitor Down city raincoat (£1,200), which has a Gore-Tex membrane, panels insulated with Coreloft – a polyester fibre – hidden zips and storm cuffs.
“It has been exciting to see the variety of designers embracing this trend,” says Jason Broderick, head of menswear at Harrods. “Our more traditional customer steers towards Brioni’s parachute-silk/nylon parkas (example pictured, £1,570), Canali’s reversible wool-twill jacket (£810, pictured) and Brunello Cucinelli’s one-and-a-half-breasted silk raincoat (£2,090, pictured). These brands have worked technical fabrics into stylishly tailored, classic outerwear. On the flip side are more directio nal designs – nylon parkas, bonded anoraks and lightweight bombers – by names like Armani, Ami and Loewe, which always experiment with innovative fabrication.”
Specifically, Emporio Armani’s quilted bomber jacket (£580, pictured) in a technical cupro fabric filled with down is so lightweight that it can be rolled up into a small drawstring carrying pouch. Ami designer Alexandre Mattiussi has produced a yachting-inspired sunflower-yellow anorak (£400, pictured), which uses cotton/elastane with a polyurethane coating and taped seams to keep the rain out. Loewe has a refined take on the trend: a bomber jacket (£2,975) that’s navy leather on one side and bright red nylon on the reverse.
City parka performance upgrades include one (£590, pictured) by Jeff Griffin in black, unlined linen with a waterproof membrane – made by the ITS Artrea mill in northern Italy – and finished with bonded seams and bonded waterproof zips. Along the same lines, French outdoor brand Aigle – best known for its high-grade rubber boots – has added to its goose-down winter parka selection with the lighterweight Cascaid (£180, pictured), a waterproof and breathable fishtail parka with a cotton/polyamide exterior and a polyester/cotton lining.
Another winter specialist extending its appeal into spring is US brand Woolrich. New is the classic cut Weston Trench (£489), in Rainwear Poly – a high-tech, breathable, waterproof fabric – and the GTX Mac (£519, pictured), a mid-thigh coat in nylon and Gore‑Tex.
And while the traditional palette for city raincoats is beige, navy or black, sportswear or outer gear’s influence has also paved the way for the introduction of punchy colours like orange and red. Italian brand CP Company, renowned for its pioneering attitude to advanced fabrics, now has a raincoat (£395, pictured) in eye‑popping orange high-density nylon – and even traditionalists like Mackintosh and Hancock VA, two brands that have stayed loyal to cotton bonded to rubber, both have bright raincoats: Mackintosh in red (£780, pictured) and Hancock in orange (from £450).