Esteemed How To Spend It colleague Nick Foulkes (aka Swellboy) has some interesting views on the significance of the trench coat. Whenever he hears plaudits rained upon a designer for reinventing it he suggests it is, in fact, the trench coat itself that is the genius in the equation. Foulkes should know; he wrote The Trench Book (Assouline), an excellent read that traces the coat’s origins back to the Crimean and Boer Wars. Originally designed as combat-ready military kit, the trench boasts a wealth of practical functions that lend it its distinctive features. This inventory has been interpreted by a troop of designers this season, achieving exciting new takes on an ever-versatile coat.
Burberry’s key trench (£1,395) uses a light taupe cotton in a dense, water-resistant thread. The traditional epaulettes (originally designed to secure gloves or a hat when not being worn) have been retained but the belt is gone in order to highlight a roomy cut, which the label teamed with tracksuit tops and trainers for its autumn/winter shows; trenches can look great styled down in this way. Hermès has also gone for a voluminous cut and sporty accessories, with a zipped trench coat (£3,690) in putty-coloured cotton, styled with trainers.
Generously cut trenches (£945) are also found at E Tautz, where slouchy fabrics in beautiful wool, cashmere or bonded wool come in brown, navy, stone, Prussian blue or charcoal. “Trench coats, like trousers, have suffered from a meanness of late – stiff, too skinny, too short,” says creative director Patrick Grant. “Ours have dropped shoulders, deep armholes and move when you walk.” These oversized styles have serious swagger, with exaggerated epaulettes and lapels.
At Bottega Veneta, smoky bonded Loden wools make for handsome trench‑inspired coats (£1,935), creating dramatic, imposing affairs. Look out for the striking Matrix‑esque versions (£4,175) in blue leather bonded with wool.
The gun flap on the yoke of a classic trench was designed as a sort of mini cloak to help disperse water. Emporio Armani has taken this as a cue to make the whole garment cloak-like, losing the belt and adding press-stud fastenings to worsted Technowool (£1,450). The gun flaps and large collar of the trench are typically closed with a hook-and-eye fastening to protect the wearer from the weather. Korean designer Woo Young Mi has created an elegantly streamlined Italian calfskin suede trench (price on request) that has hidden buttons, with the gun flaps on the chest extended almost to the belt.
Less is more at Ferragamo, where the trench has been reinterpreted with pared-back styles. A double-breasted rich ochre cotton poplin version (£2,175) has generous lapels and no epaulettes for a smooth shoulder line. A dapper black thermal wool-mix trench (£2,205) has a distinctive breast pocket instead of gun flaps. And a super-simplified design (£2,105) in white cotton has only horn buttons and a belt to hint at the DNA of a trench, giving a neat mod-era feel.
Elsewhere, the focus is on leather and fur trimmings. At Fendi, a cotton trench (£3,000) has shearling lapels and pockets and a nutria-fur collar, while at Pal Zileri a wind- and water-repellent design (£2,390) with no lapels and a shirt-like collar has trimmings on the collar, pockets and cuffs in soft lambskin, nappa leather and swakara (effectively astrakhan).
Sealup is one of my favourite outerwear labels, and its Explorer trench (€4,290) doesn’t disappoint. It comes in two versions: in stone cotton with generous chocolate-coloured lapels and a lining in bonded-wool flannel or in olive with a navy lining. It also has a plush, removable fox-fur interior and collar trim. These coats capture the vintage glamour of the first pilots’ jackets, designed to be worn in open cockpits.
Meanwhile, British brand Aquascutum has just secured a licence with the Humphrey Bogart estate to produce the Aquascutum Bogart (£850) in light caramel or navy, complete with a newspaper pocket in the lining. As documented in The Trench Book, Bogart’s coat of choice was an Aquascutum trench and he did much to popularise the style. Former head of menswear Thomas Harvey worked closely on the design with Bogart’s son, Stephen Humphrey Bogart, and describes it first and foremost as “most importantly a big old long coat”.