Style / December 2017

How Moncler Made the Puffer Jacket Cool Again

Take your cue from mountaineering this winter and invest in a puffer jacket, an outerwear style that’s served its time in the military and was pioneered by Italian luxury brand Moncler.

Explorers in the 1970s wearing vibrant red Moncler puffer jackets.

Much of the male wardrobe takes its inspiration from more practical ends: horse-riding or aviating, sailing or fighting. But if you were really in the wilds, really in trouble and really wanted a piece of clothing that genuinely might be more than useful - it might really save your life - then take a cue from mountaineering, specifically the puffer jacket.

Yes, the onomatopoeic name may have a comedic strain to it, and lovers of a sharp silhouette might baulk and its perceived bulk, but this duvet with arms and pockets - which is effectively what it is, comprising a goose down-filled layer, evenly distributed using quilting - was created after a close call with death. Shopkeeper and keen outdoorsman Eddie Bauer was on a mid-winter fishing trip in Washington State when the weather took a nasty turn and, his heavy wool mackinaw frozen stiff with ice, he almost expired from hypothermia. Having survived, he knew what was needed next time...

His “blizzard-proof”, “wind tunnel-tested” Skyliner - the first puffer jacket, partly inspired by tales his uncle had told him of the experimental, feather-lined gear he’d worn during his time in the Russian Army - was produced in 1936 and patented four years later. Bauer would go on to develop the US Air Force’s first down-insulated flight jacket too, the B-9, and outfit the American ascent of Everest in 1963 with a jacket so warm - rated to -85 degrees F - that the team found it too warm to climb in.

Perhaps it was the garment’s no-holds-barred functionality that prevented the puffer jacket from finding a foothold in men’s fashion for 40 years, while womenswear periodically explored the form, from American couturier Charles James’ self-described “pneumatic jacket” of 1937, to Norma Kamali’s ‘sleeping bag’ coats during the 1970s, inspired by her own chilly camping trip. Certainly it was ironic that it would finally be adopted by men in Italy, not a country known for its extreme cold.

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Josh Sims

Josh Sims is a writer on menswear, design and much else for the likes of Wallpaper, CNN, Robb Report and The Times. He's the author of several books on menswear, the latest 'The Details', published by Laurence King. He lives in London, has two small children and is permanently exhausted.