From storming fortified buildings on the big screen to comic-book tales of fearless battle assaults to moments of real-life televised news drama, the all‑black garb of the elite special forces has become embedded in the male psyche as something that signifies the ultra-confidence and ultra‑cool of an action hero.
One enthusiast is designer par excellence Nigel Cabourn, who describes himself as “an outwear specialist drawing on military history”. His collaboration this season with Peak Performance – a first for the Swedish ski brand in its 30-year history – is Cabourn’s maiden foray into black, and among his usual display of camouflage and khaki designs, these pieces are what stood out. The roomy, thigh-length solid-black Snow Patrol sheepskin jacket (£1,700) was inspired by the white shearling worn by the Swedish Snow Patrols and, with its generous fleece collar, large canvas map pockets and massive arrowhead zip, it’s one of the most striking coats of the season. The black Snow Smock (£500), in a waterproof cotton/polyamide Japanese fabric, has military-style front pockets and, with its taped seams, waxed cords and leather hood stoppers, is ideal for off-piste urban manoeuvres.
Indeed, the intersection of high-performance skiwear and urban cool is what many of this season’s black action jackets are about. One of the strongest examples comes from Stone Island, a brand founded on action-inspired design and fabric-technology exploration. Its trench (£695) in black David TC – a signature polyamide compound fabric that feels like a cross between chilled putty and malleable performance leather – has an asymmetric storm flap and throat tab and flush epaulettes.
The trench coat was one of the first modern performance technical military garments to become a civilian classic. Milanese brand Sealup’s Black Beauty motorcycle trench (£950) is a short 1960s-inspired take in cotton gabardine with a curved raglan sleeve and water- and windproof “felled” seaming. The belt, cuff straps and throat tab all glisten with steel eyelets that work nicely against the black. There’s more motorcycle trench action from Barbour, whose new model of the International A7 (£279), in a lightweight 6oz beeswax cotton, features box-pleated bellows-style pockets. The Weir wax jacket (£279), also new, uses various waxes to achieve a more matte surface, but retains that familiar Barbour feel (and inimitable smell). Mackintosh, meanwhile, has used all-black rubberised cotton for an elongated double-breasted trench (£985) with minimal features: just storm flaps and a throat tab.
My own personal black urban-action fall-back has long been my vintage CP Company goggle-hood Mille Miglia jacket, teamed with black tracksuit bottoms, black vest and black running shoes. The black fishtail parka (£395) from the brand’s current collection has a shell of Lycra over a membrane bonded to an internal polar fleece, resulting in a fabric that is both weather-resistant and amazingly soft and warm. CP’s nifty little Pro-Tek short jacket (£325), in a high-performance stretch polyester jersey, is water repellent, packs down minutely and is as easy to wear as a sweatshirt.
I’m keen too on the new black version of Nanamica’s classic M-51 parka (€770), whose exceptionally light Gore-Tex membrane is impervious to rain and also packs right down, and on its low-key black moleskin coat (€780) with a special Kodenshi down lining. High-performance Gore-Tex is also key to the good-looking GTX Mountain parka (£680) from Woolrich based on a 1970s design, with anti-rain zip and duck-down/feather fill. Its GTX Mountain jacket (£640) with patch and welt pockets and the same fill is a winner too. A black hybrid field jacket from Norwegian Rain (£770) in matte waterproof recycled polyester reworks the classic military four-pocket design by extending it down like the tails of a long overshirt, while the CPH jacket (£700), made in the same polyester, has something of a martial-arts armour look about it, with ribbed cuff section and concealed zip pockets.
In the case of Collide – a collaboration between Moncler and the artist/designer Greg Lauren, known for his highly distressed fabrics and hybrid garment designs – two different styles are melded diagonally: for example, in the Bady jacket (£2,465), a typical Moncler down puffa fuses with a heavily distressed cotton-drill military parka. And at Maison Margiela, a black techno-poly cotton blouson (£1,360) features multiple jetted pocket details and cinching with a spray-painted rope-gathered waist – a nod to the maison’s artistic heritage – while the ultra-modern fabric keeps it convincingly action ready.