For several seasons, menswear designers have been jogging along the “athleisure” track. We’ve seen trousers that could be tracksuit bottoms (and vice versa) and the sneaker/shoe hybrid. But it turns out there’s a lot more adventure ahead. Now designers are climbing the trend’s sartorial mountain and creating collections inspired by outdoor and hiking kit – the kind for treks that might involve bad weather, crossing water or scrambling over rocks. Apertures have drawstrings, pockets are numerous and oversized, zips feature heavily, hoods are prominent and fabrics have a utility quality. But make no mistake, this is not sportswear or specialist gear – it is high-end menswear for the urban rambler.
When British designer Katharine Hamnett relaunched her fashion label last year, she updated and reintroduced some of her 1980s classics, many of them based on vintage military outdoor kit. Hamnett works in refined, considered textiles compared to the army surplus originals she took inspiration from – generally silk and 100 per cent organic cotton. These clothes, including the new season Lionel cropped parka in white (£550), khaki or black, with oversized bellow pockets and press-stud fastenings, are more for brunch in the city than a hike in the country. The white version looks particularly fresh and 2018. Hamnett believes the aesthetic appeals to men who “love technical utility, detail and construction”.
This next step for athleisure offers designers the opportunity to create something fresh and dynamic, but which is still easy to wear. Take this season’s orange semi-transparent Jil Sander plastic raincoat (£870) and Off-White’s blue reflective down jacket (£1,175) with zip hems. This is directional, luxury fashion with its roots in practicality.
Multiple and oversized pockets stylishly finessed continue this theme. Take Korean designer Juun J’s classic black cotton drawstring cargo pants (£400) and voluminous woollen cargo pants (£447) with giant pockets, which would look as good with a dinner jacket as a hooded parka. Stella McCartney’s fluid viscose shirt (£1,075) features multiple pocket panels (four substantial parallel zipped compartments on the front, and more on the arms) – perhaps more decorative than functional, but hiking‑inspired nonetheless.
One of the brightest new stars to appear in British fashion over the past few years is Craig Green. There is a strong, almost survivalist look to his clothing, something reinforced by his catwalk presentations, where clothes are styled as wearable sculptures evoking life-rafts and armour. For all the drama of his shows, his clothing is elegant and easy to wear, and he has forged a unique design vocabulary. A version of his boxy quilted shell jacket (£560) with a simple waist tie has appeared in each collection for the past few seasons, becoming a design classic among menswear insiders. Green himself wears one almost every day. “I wanted to create a padded jacket that could function as a layering piece,” he explains. “The way the fabric and garment are constructed means it doesn’t have any traditional tailoring structure, so it can be packed easily too.” Green also continues to collaborate with Moncler on a range of quilted and down-filled trousers, jackets and coats – this season, there’s a standout graphic red, white and blue hooded nylon jacket (£985) and matching trousers (£450).
“Green, along with Balmain, often uses fundamentals from extreme performance wear in his collections,” says Mr Porter buying director Fiona Firth. “Other brands are now embracing this development of the athleisure trend by adding elements such as exaggerated pockets, zips and drawstring jersey trousers to their apparel for spring. Balenciaga’s outerwear includes the canvas hooded parka [£1,585], which is on-trend with its boxy shape, yet also taps into practical hiking style with a toggle-fastened adjustable hood, Velcro-fastening cuffs and oversized pockets. Prada’s collection includes hiking-style quilted rucksacks [£1,020] and cagoule-style jackets [£765].”
Both Prada and Louis Vuitton experimented with Action Man-style all-in-ones this season. They can be tricky garments to pull off, but in a muted colour, like the deep-ocean blue of Louis Vuitton’s textured nylon jumpsuit (£1,800), and worn with the right outerwear, like a vintage leather flying jacket or Vuitton’s voluminous calfskin coat (£7,400), they can work well. The cotton drill Prada versions (£1,030) would look great with a light overcoat and a pair of crisp white trainers.
At Lanvin, creative director Lucas Ossendrijver explores the potential for outerwear through interesting utility touches and lightweight fabrics that can be layered so they work in both spring and early summer. There’s a black military safari jacket (£3,310) in matte lambskin that appeared on the catwalk styled with a black bonded-calfskin removable hood (£565); an ochre cotton top (£850) with drawstring hood and cuffs; and a grey technical-cotton-poplin top (£565) with elasticated neck and waist and poppered pocket – all of which can be thrown over a simple T-shirt or thermal. “I love being inspired by the notion of action and movement,” says Ossendrijver. “For summer I wanted an attitude that was less formal and rigid – inspired by the functionality of outdoor clothes and workwear. Everything’s there for a reason and practical details add a certain sense of purpose.”
These menswear designers are clearly taking pleasure in developing collections with enhanced utility. A sense of practicality, with its connotations of physical fitness, feels rugged and masculine. And even those who aren’t at peak fitness can still buy a jacket that suggests they are.