At the turn of the 20th century, drivers of early automobiles often wore thick, shaggy coats to combat the chill that came with open-top rides. Their appearance earned them the moniker “teddy” coats, after the toy bear, which was first produced around the same time. Now, more than a century on, this cuddly style is making a comeback, along with other shaggy, furry and textured warm overcoats.
German company Steiff, one of the first makers of the teddy bear, sourced its material from Schulte, a mill specialising in woven mohair and alpaca. This season, Ralph Lauren has used this same fabric for its new alpaca Cuddle coat, in homage to the original soft toy, which inspired the brand’s own famed Polo Bear. This double-breasted belted top coat with generous fit and soft shoulders is a handsome piece, working as an elegant overcoat despite its depth.
Lauren isn’t alone in tapping into the drama and attitude of a teddy’s actual fur: Richard James has also worked with Steiff to create coats since the 1990s. The Savile Row tailor uses a particularly deep-pile alpaca for its James overcoats, which finish below the knee and come with a belt. The style’s shaggy appearance has a particularly histrionic air; I can imagine Oscar Wilde strutting between St James’s and Soho in one. Anderson & Sheppard has, in the past, used Steiff alpaca for a double-breasted top coat (which was “quite a statement and very dramatic”, according to managing director Colin Heywood). The house is also able to source unshorn Loro Piana cloths and alpaca for its top coats.
There are many different materials informing this vogue for coarser-looking texture in outerwear – I particularly rate Christophe Lemaire’s fleece-like, rough-finish duffel wool overcoat with belted waist, drop shoulder and low lapel notches, which give it a wartime-resistance swagger. Visiting Drake’s last winter, I learnt about the history of Casentino material, which the brand has used for an elegant navy-wool raglan overcoat this season. This boiled wool, which has a distinctive bobbled texture, originated in Tuscany and was favoured by shepherds thanks to its lightweight-yet‑insulating properties. I’m told the herdsmen in this region would dye the fleeces orange for practical reasons – which Drake’s has also honoured with a vivid, high-vis version of the cloth, used for a quarter-zip pullover and gilet.
Most teddy-coat fabrics on display are not as vivid, however – or even so hairy. Understated enough for business, yet not broadcasting Wall Street stockbroker-sharpness, these softer, more tactile finishes offer a gentler take on overcoats. Take Canali’s rich camel double-breasted coat in alpaca/wool bouclé: its textural interest makes it superbly chic. At Louis Vuitton, the house’s monogram shearling lambskin style has a belt and an elegant swagger, like a big military coat. Pal Zileri has even made teddy-style coats for eveningwear: the house’s suave smoky-grey coat is made from a wool/mohair Cerruti fabric with a faintly furry effect. It’s achieved through a finishing process called “garzatura”, whereby thistles with curved hooks are used to brush the fibres, dragging them out.
There’s also a host of designers tapping into this trend with coats that mimic the look of fur. Massimo Piombo’s double-breasted overcoat achieves a shaggy, furry texture with Shetland wool. “This virgin wool is raw and uncombed, which gives this unfinished effect like animal’s hair,” the designer tells me. He visited the brand’s mill to persuade the workers to stop short of their normal finishing processes in order to achieve the look. “It’s hard to stop them from applying their traditional finishing values,” he explains. Giorgio Armani’s engulfing, deep-blue double-breasted coat is made from 80 per cent virgin wool that’s been knitted to imitate sheepskin, which is in line with the brand’s fur-free policy. At Celine, fabric techniques produce the look of wild animal pelts, like the house’s clearly faux, tongue-in-cheek yellow and black tiger-pattern jacquard mac and all-over embroidered wool gabardine mottle cheetah, which are rock-star-worthy examples.
This teddy trend is simply about rougher, less-processed finishes on existing fabrics, equating to cool looks with a racy, vintage feel. Come that cold snap, a great big bear hug might be just the thing missing from your wardrobe.