Action outerwear that can take on an all-weather challenge is moving up a gear in looks, prestige and performance.
I’m completely smitten by Nick Ashley’s innovative designs for Private White VC, which take inspiration from military and motor-racing kit. The company has its own factory in Salford, Manchester (the last remaining coat manufacturer in a city that once boasted over 200 tailoring workshops and 70,000 employees), and uses locally woven fabrics. “Our production goes all the way from sheep to shop,” says Ashley. The company also uses Ventile cotton, developed during the second world war for Spitfire pilots. “It’s like an organic Gore-Tex,” says Ashley, “fully waterproof but more breathable – a compacted weave that, when wet, swells and produces a natural water block; this makes it practical for motorbikes, open-cockpit aircraft and flush-deck boats.” I especially like the crisp-silhouetted Ventile cotton Despatch motor trench (£950), which has half‑raglan sleeves for ease of movement, an “un-losable” belt sewn onto the back seam, big front pockets and contrasting taped inner seams. Gun flaps, throat fastening and an oversized wing collar add a romantic, vintage drama.
Also worth highlighting is the robust brushed-cotton Sports Twin Track jacket (£550) with its show-stopping, military-grade copper zips, buttons and belt clasp made by Riri in Switzerland and a zipped front panel that can be removed – meaning you can wear thick knitwear in winter and reduce bulk in summer. More Ventile pieces come in the form of the Parka (£775), Harrington (£450) and the gorgeous wool-lined Jeep jacket (£845) with shearling collar.
Nigel Cabourn has also turned to Ventile in the quest to make supertough, ultra-stylish action coats. The new vintage-orange Ventile Antarctic parka (£2,500) – commemorating the 60th anniversary of Hillary and Fuchs’ epic 1955 Antarctic expedition – is a monumental piece of outerwear, with goose-down lining, wooden toggles and a sheepskin hood with coyote-fur trim. Old also meets new in the M43 Ventile flight jacket (£899) lined with vintage wool.
Micro Kei, a Japanese take on Ventile that renders fabric water resistant by garment dyeing it at 140ºC to swell the fibres, helped set a new benchmark for outstanding action outerwear. It can be found at CP Company, whose deep-red goggle jacket (£825) is a highlight. “Abraham Moon & Sons Shetland wool has been bonded in Italy – it’s tradition meets high-tech, which is the essence of CP,” says creative director Paul Harvey. The navy Shetland duffel coat with blanket stripe is similarly robust, thanks to a surprising lining. Here Shetland wool is bonded to multiprene – like neoprene but less dense – to reduce the wind-chill factor. Other notables include the Arctic parka (£625) with raccoon-fur trim and the tobacco shearling-collar goggle jacket (£775).
Ten C, a more niche outerwear brand for which Harvey is also a creative director, has pieces that experiment with new fabrications too. The special three-ply parka (£695 with shearling lining) uses an unusual putty-like membranous fabric with a dull sheen and almost-damp handle that develops shape and patina with wear. Such coats that mould to the wearer are becoming a strong trend. Several’s Boulby field jacket (£450), in cotton poplin combined with elements of dead-stock American M43 jackets, “moulds to the body with repeated wear,” says creative director Graeme Fidler, “alongside changes in colour and texture.” Its four large patch pockets and cinched waist were inspired by Chris Killip’s early-1980s photographs of Yorkshire fishermen; the high-tech fabric is from the 150-year-old Halley Stevensons mill; while production takes place at a factory that supplies the Canadian armed forces.
Perhaps it’s the climate and landscape or maybe the people, but the northeast of England is proving something of a hotbed for premium outerwear. This brings me to Barbour, which hails from South Shields. The brand’s ongoing Beacon Heritage line has stepped things up a notch through a collaboration with Japanese label White Mountaineering. Silhouettes are pure Barbour but the details and fabric combinations are new – resulting in near-bionic coats. Of note are the Kirknasu jacket (£329), which has aggressively angled pockets and comes in subtly mottled deep blue, purple and charcoal waxed cotton with leather trimming, and the Cragmoto waxed jacket (£449), a hooded, darkly patterned version. Both have an inverted Japanese tempest‑wave print on the lining, which the Brantmoto (£429) uses for its top layer in 6oz Sylkoil waxed cotton.
At outerwear pioneers Stone Island, the Tank Shield collection pushes fabrication by assembling jackets, then laminating them with a special membrane for an alternative take on waterproofing and breathability. Particularly great is the resin-coated car coat (£795) – a kind of über-mac. From the main collection, significant pieces include the matte-black vest (£675) whose emerald-green reflective underlay shines at night in the glare of lights, and the Shadow Project navy trench (£650) in a lightweight composite fabric that delivers full wind and water protection, but remains remarkably flexible and breathable.