There’s a pleasingly tactile aspect to quilting. Whether derived from the protective lining under armour or the comforting luxury of medieval court dress worn in draughty halls, it’s a construction technique that offers strength without stiffness, warmth without being cumbersome and has, over the centuries, developed its own distinctive geometric patterns. These origins contribute both to the enduring appeal of quilting and its current popularity with designers.
“Quilting has always been a core of our collections. It allows garments to have structure without needing traditional internals [stiffening],” says Craig Green, a star of London Collections Men, whose work attracts endless plaudits – as well as winning him this year’s British Fashion Council/GQ Designer Menswear Fund. Although Green’s striking signature look evokes combat-ready ninjas plucked from the future in dynamic protective armour, and his runway shows tend to drama, his workwear jackets are both wearable and commercially successful. “Our one-inch signature quilting is inspired by early spacesuits and fencing protection, as well as medieval menswear,” he says. His latest workwear jacket (£756) is made of black silk quilting, stonewashed to an extraordinary suppleness. Equally desirable is the black or khaki silk hooded jacket (£756) with matching trousers (£588), which Green accessorised on the runway with hand-embroidered quilted silk blankets (price on request) stitched with denim thread.
Padded leather doublets evolved in the 14th century as a lighter alternative to armour for combat and, later, stylish court attire. Traces of this history can, not too fancifully, be seen in the leather quilting of Berluti’s autumn/winter 2016 collection. Its quilted calfskin blouson (£3,750) comes in a sophisticated pale taupe, featuring diamond quilting in three different sizes.
Leather quilting lends itself well to ageing treatments, as the furrows and cushion-like gathers show off its effects to great advantage. I love what Tod’s has done with its “pash” quilted leather, a special lightweight hide that appears robust yet is remarkably light and smooth to the touch. The aged patina of a simply designed deep brown leather jacket (£1,570) makes for an understated yet super-luxurious piece. A brown leather field jacket (£2,150) looks convincingly like vintage motorcycle gear, while a slate-grey leather gilet (£1,330) is stylish worn with dark knits.
Thanks to the long association between quilting and hunting, shooting and fishing kit, the technique is pretty much a signifier of country sports style. A deep sea-green cotton quilted gilet (£735) by Marni references this, as does Polo Ralph Lauren’s rich russet suede gilet (£1,129). It’s a look that works for city sportswear too. Polo’s Aviator, a navy fine-nylon quilted jacket (£345), is a nicely tailored example of a look popular with scooter-riding Italian men-about-town.
Barbour, well-known for its traditional quilted countrywear, has a natty new detachable jacket lining in navy, sage and yellow that works on its own or in layers. Its new lightweight quilt Templand jacket (£159, main picture) has a hypoallergenic filling and retains heat even when damp, making it suitable for wet conditions. It’s available in colours taken from the house’s Ancient Tartan, so mixes readily with existing Barbour pieces, as do the new hooded Bedale and Beattock waxed jackets (£229 and £299 respectively). The familiar diagonal quilting of the Anworth jacket (£139) comes with an Ancient Tartan lining and a cord collar.
Quilting works well with tailoring too, as Ermenegildo Zegna Couture showed with its quilted jacket (£1,530) in jacquard polyester, worn under a check overcoat. For me, though, it’s Zegna’s waxed-wool field jacket (£1,805) that nails urban quilting: the Trofeo wool jacket with a corduroy collar is garment-dyed and treated with a non-greasy resin that gives it a waxed appearance and a rare intensity of colour. Balenciaga’s khaki zip-through quilted shirt jacket (£375) takes colour to a new level with its striking bronze sheen.
Combining serious travel capability with style clout, the Flyweight collection from Nobis, developed for the transition between seasons, features windproof nylon jackets filled with Canadian duck down that are totally breathable and pack down to almost nothing. New label 7L System uses multi-layer waterproofing developed by military and safetywear specialist Schoeller. Its P1 Down Liner jacket (£648) has detachable sleeves and an unusual techy ripstop structure. “The form was designed to heat-bond the down in perfect geometric chambers. It looks notably different and modernist in the quilted pieces,” says the label’s creative director Stephen Monaghan. “As there’s no stitching, feathers can’t move about through stitch holes.”
Such technical improvements are gratifying for outerwear enthusiasts, but I am more excited about the armour-like dynamic quilting offers.