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From wool to Gore-Tex: how skiwear has become fashionable

Skiwear fashion, at least during the last two centuries, has taken many forms to accommodate the glamorous styles of high society. Inevitably, despite the fact that skiwear is definitely on the fringes of traditional fashion, this type of clothing has ever since aroused the interest of haute couture.

The demand for greater functionality and practicality, which had to satisfy precise style requirements at the same time, led designers and manufacturers to truly remarkable results, which have often infiltrated into everyday fashion as well.

How skiwear fashion has become haute couture

History of skiwear fashion on top of the world’s highest peaks

The very first ski garments took massive inspiration from the late 19th century Austrian fashion, which dictated the first stylistic elements of ski fashion. Starting with lederhosen, trachten and dirndl, made in the typical earthy and green colours, to the definitive abandonment, already in the 1920s, of women's skirts for skiing, the main problem has always been to combine a movement fluidity with thermal insulation and waterproofing.

The materials used at the time were clearly still natural and traditional: heavy wool and gabardine for the sweaters with the first snowflake decorations, or tweed for the tapered trousers and large furs to cover everything. However, the first technological experiments arrived pretty soon: waterproof tweeds and Burberry fabrics had been used already in the thirties in whole ski suits, just like the zippers, back then a very recent innovation and immediately applied to pockets and lower body gear.

The beginning of skiwear
In the following decade, undoubtedly thanks to more than ten years of experience as a ski instructor on the slopes of Aspen, Klaus Obermeyer completely revolutionised the skiwear market with the creation of the first parka jacket padded with goose feathers.

That was not the end of the line: as Sport Obermeyer opened in 1961, the first mirror sunglasses in vaporized metal, waterproof and breathable nylon jerseys, the first double-layered ski boots with a warm insert and a rigid outer shell, the elasticised turtlenecks and even the first high-altitude sun lotions came to light.

Skiwear in the 1970s

From a frying pan to outer space: how Gore-Tex pushed skiwear into the new millennium

It is necessary to wait until 1976 to have another innovation of ground shaking magnitude. That year the Gore family patents the fabric still bearing its name and puts on the annals of history Wilbert and his son Bob. Thanks to their creation, the ePTFE or expanded polytetrafluoroethylene, today known with the colloquial name of Gore-Tex, in 2006 father and son have been included in the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

It must be said that the particular microporous material, extremely resistant and insulating, had had since the late thirties onwards countless applications: from Teflon of non-stick pans to NASA astronauts’ spacesuits and vascular prostheses in medicine. However, until the Gore family used it first, its lightness and waterproofing had never been applied for clothing purposes.

The introdution of Gore Tex
Despite such great innovations, until at least twenty years ago, going to ski (or anything close to a mountain) still meant wearing multiple layers of clothing that were often anything but comfortable and gave almost no breathability. Today, however, with technologies borrowed from extreme mountaineering, the hardships of the cold are dealt with jackets that heat up independently, thanks to tiny electrical circuits made of silver and carbon fibre, which are sewn inside the jacket and work just like the heated seats of a car.

Long gone are the times when people used long-lasting, but stinky-smelling charcoal heaters and the chemical ones, which could be heated in boiling water. Now you only need to press a button that activates a mini lithium battery, spreading electrons in the silver filaments that pass through the carbon resistant label and generate heat, to have constant heating with multiple levels of intensity for up to 11 hours.

The essentials of skiwear

The last frontiers of below-zero fashion

Designed primarily for athletes, perfected during the last Olympics in Pyeongchang and now widespread among ordinary amateurs, state of the art ski suits provide for body heat preservation: nestled into the threads of fabric there are ceramic filaments that absorb heat and return it for long intervals of time.

The other major skiwear trend also concerns the implementation of aerodynamic functions, thanks to a peculiar mix of nylon and spandex that is sewn on arms, back and shoulders. This thread, reducing the resistance through very thin channels, better slits the air and allows it to maintain a higher speed. In addition, special heat exchanging patches have been designed to exploit the heat generated by exhalation, preventing at the same time the inhalation of icy air when temperatures become too extreme.

Modern female skiwear
Team Spyder celebrated its 40th anniversary by renewing its sponsorship of the US Ski Team, the US alpine ski. For the occasion, the leading American skiwear brand created the Velocity18 suit, a small masterpiece of research and engineering customised for each individual athlete, whose development, among others, included retired skiers from the US Ski Team, Toyota and the San Diego Wind Tunnel. Every single suit was micro-regulated and modified to measure, until the day before the race, to meet the needs of each athlete and improve their performance. It was subsequently readapted into training suits for youth teams.
How the future of skiwear looks like
The most important innovation of this last winter season, however, is by Helly Hansen, a renowned Norwegian brand active since 1877 in the development of specialised mountain clothing. In 2017, the company presented the new Icon Jacket and its women's version W Platinum, which handily won the Red Dot: Best of the Best Award for Product Design 2017, competing with more than 5500 participants from 54 countries. An exceptional result, as Philip Tavell, Category Managing Director of the brand's ski collection, also pointed out.

Only 1.85% of all this year's products can boast of having achieved such a result

Both ski jackets have in fact been equipped with the H2Flow thermal regulation system, working by air pockets that store and redistribute body heat to allow a truly effective temperature regulation.

That's not all: about half of the Helly Hansen models have been integrated with the Life Pocket System, which preserves the battery life of mobile phones and cameras thanks to the PrimaLoft Aerogel, developed in collaboration with NASA. The special pocket, two or three times warmer than a normal windbreaker, keeps the batteries charged to -30° outside temperature.

Futuristic skisuit
Furthermore, after ten years without whole suits from its winter collections, the Norwegian brand launched the Ullr Powder Suit, which quickly became one of the company’s bestsellers in its history. The suit is made using a combination of insulating pads of the H2Flow system with Helly Tech Professional 3L, a patented fabric that is extremely breathable and waterproof, and it has proven to greatly improve comfort while keeping the wearer warm and dry, even in the coolest snow.

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