Excerpt from “The Stylish Life: Skiing” by Gabriella Le Breton (teNeues)
The Dress Code
“The best way to hunt a husband is on skis. A girl can look sexier in ski clothes than in a bathing suit.” Thus wrote Fred Picard, ‘international authority on glamour in the snow,’ for the Spokane Daily Chronicle in 1957.
Skiwear is one of sport’s greatest blends of function and fashion, having always been driven by two distinct influences: practicality and glamour. Clothing needs to keep skiers warm and dry, and not inhibit movement, but must also look stylish. Throughout the first half of the 20th century, recreational skiing was the exclusive domain of the rich, royal, and famous, and, while tweed worked for Edmund Hillary to summit Mt. Everest, Europe’s glitterati clamored for more glamorous winter attire.
When skiing established itself as the preferred winter sport of high society during the 1930s, it coincided with the “Golden Age of Couture.” Fashion designers and houses like Coco Chanel, Jean Patou, and Hermès defined a new design era for active, independent young women—‘la couture sportif’ embodied skiwear’s sharp silhouettes, perky berets, and fitted knitwear.
The 1940s ushered in the two-piece ski suit, often with reversible jacket, and Emilio Pucci’s first skiwear collection. The Italian aristocrat was a keen skier and designed his groundbreaking winter range for America’s White Stag sportswear brand in 1948, and his iconic prints continue to adorn the world’s most glamorous ski slopes today.
In the 1950s, travel became more accessible, skiing went mainstream, and textile technology boomed. Synthetic materials replaced tweed, notably in the form of Cracknyl, a lacquered, water-resistant fabric pioneered by Balenciaga. In 1953, the German ski racer Willy Bogner, who founded his eponymous skiwear brand 21 years earlier importing jumpers from Norway, introduced “The Bogners”: stretch ski pants with stirrups, which dominated ski fashion for decades to come.
The 1960s Space Age generation introduced skiers to spandex and Gore-Tex while falling under the spell of Hollywood glamour: Grace Kelly, Jackie Kennedy, and Audrey Hepburn each imbued skiing with their unforgettable style. In Aspen, the Austrian ski instructor Klaus Obermeyer fashioned a ski parka from his goose down comforter and created the now ubiquitous down jacket. Obermeyer is credited with countless other innovations, including high-altitude suntan lotion, colorful and patterned turtlenecks, and mirrored sunglasses.
The 1970s and ’80s were a time of boisterous ski fashion: moonboots, aviators, richly patterned one-pieces with shoulder pads and belted waists, neon, gaiters, and vests are all signature looks of these decades, brought to us by brands like Descente, Degré7, and Elho. In contrast, the ’90s heralded the arrival of “techno-chic”: relatively muted clothing from outdoor companies like The North Face and Patagonia, whose focus was on technically-advanced materials.
For dedicated followers of contemporary fashion, Gucci, Lacroix, Chanel, Moncler, and Stella McCartney craft elegant pieces of winter couture such as belted “wet-look” black down jackets, voluminous parkas, and slender-fitting stretch pants. Chanel has even produced luxury equipment with their signature quilted leather on the surface of skis and skis embossed with the signature interlocking C’s logo with matching quilted carrying case. As designer Stella McCartney is an avid supporter of animal rights, she does not use wool, silk, and other animal-derived materials in any of her clothing, but in her decade-long collaboration with Adidas and use of state-of-the art synthetic fabrics for athletic wear, she manages to create some of the most innovative and chic skiwear seen on the slopes today.