By  on February 17, 2009

Ronald Reagan almost had it right: Wealth might not trickle down, but fashion trends, such as the ubiquitous puffer jacket, certainly can.

Whether you call it quilted, puffy or bubble, the down jacket is having a moment. Long the province of hip-hop stars and the chairlift set, the puffer has transcended its active and urban roots over the last two years to become a fashion item with a capital “F.”

At this season’s MAGIC Marketplace, quilted jackets will be hard to avoid as exhibitors from moderate classification players to advanced sportswear lines and denim brands jump on the trend.

“Whether as a stand-alone piece or as part of a system jacket, quilted puffy jackets are definitely a fashion driver,” said Alison Levy, head men’s merchant for The Doneger Group.

And, unlike the provenance of many fashion trends, whose origins are manifold and opaque, the source of the current puffy craze is well known.

Founded in 1952 in Grenoble, France, Moncler originally built its reputation as a resource for skiers and Alpinists who favored the brand’s warm jackets and sleeping bags. But in 2001, the company began charting a different course under a new owner, Remo Ruffini, who wanted to inject the line with fashion cred.

Thanks to his emphasis on solid construction and innovative textiles, the once-tired ski brand began winning accolades from new consumers — consumers for whom Super G meant Gucci and moguls evoked Ralph Lauren and Bernard Arnault. After a successful project with Junya Watanabe, who designed a men’s wear collection for Moncler in 2004, the brand’s position in the fashion firmament was set.

Moncler’s clout continued to snowball. Its shiny nylon ciré jackets became must-haves for fashion editors, and clued-in celebs such as Kanye West stocked their coat closets with multiple Monclers. The brand still generates buzz, as it did with its recent collaboration with men’s wear wunderman Thom Browne.

But as the brand’s influence grew, so did its imitators. Moncler’s parkas and vests — which open at $500 — have inspired many facsimiles that borrow the brand’s slim, waist-nipping silhouette and glossy fabric, but not the high price tag.

And while imitation is a form of flattery in some circles, fashion companies generally distance themselves from their flatterers. Moncler executives, who were asked to comment on the brand’s role in the puffer craze, declined to participate.

At this point, the trend has taken a life of its own as the market churns out quilted outerwear in endless variations. At MAGIC, Weatherproof Garment Co. is offering its bubble jacket in candy-colored ripstop; Report Collection’s is colored-blocked Eighties style, and French Connection mixes shiny and matte nylon in its moto-inspired puffer.

Market watchers said the trend is advancing this season via retro-style colorblocking and unique quilting. “It’s not just about normal square channels,” Levy said.

The appeal of the jackets is widespread, too. In early selling, Weatherproof, which is showing a number of puffers in its new active-inspired range, called 32 Degrees, had interest from department stores, better specialty stores, ski shops and young men’s retailers. “It’s a growing trend that is universal,” said Freddie Stollmack, the company’s president.

But, with such market saturation, is the bubble bound to burst?

Some retailers are wary of the puffer. “The problem is that it’s available at every channel of distribution and at every price point,” said Ken Giddon, owner of Rothmans, a better men’s specialty store in New York City.

For him, the brilliance of shiny ciré has dulled a bit even as the trend continues to build. “This season I’m looking for wool,” he said.

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