Ready, Reset, Go! (Part 1)

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Four heritage sportswear labels have souped up their kit. The result? Cool new daywear for modern urbanites


French ski-and expedition-wear for the snowy Alps and city streets

“Identity is everything,” declares Moncler’s Remo Ruffini boldly, and he should know. In just shy of decade, the businessman has transformed this French ski and expedition label into s cult phenomenon – its humble quilted jacket (or doudoune), emphatically practical yet eminently covetable, is an essential wardrobe addition. “It comes from the silhouette,” says Ruffini. “Something very chic, very clean, Curves are important to an outfit.”

Description: An appropriately seasonal catwalk, complete with ski lifts, for A/W ‘12

An appropriately seasonal catwalk, complete with ski lifts, for A/W ‘12

When Ruffini bought Moncler in 2003 – becoming chairman and creative director – it was not in and good way. “We weren’t exactly on top of the mountain,” he jokes. “But it had this incredible story.”

Founded in the early Fifties in the small town of Monestier-de-Clermont (Moncler is an abbreviation), the label was an instant hit on the chic pistes and everyone from the French Olympic team to Brigitte Bardot. In the early Eighties, it also arrived on the streets of Milan and Florence, the eye-popping padded jacket becoming a status symbol for the Paninaro (Italy’s label-obsessed youth scene). “When I was younger, everyone dressed in these supper-shiny, super-colorful jackets,” says Ruffini.

With a vision to tale Moncler global, Ruffini’s first step was to redefine and re-imagine the product. “For me, luxury is about quality and technology,” he says. “I was also thinking about how to incorporate a more urban sensibility.”

Key to his master plan was more exclusive, designer-led line, one that would apply a couture style: Moncler Gamme Rouge was born. “The idea was that you can have a down jacket to go skiing, but you could also have one to go to La Scala,” Ruffiini says. Helmed by Giambattista Valli since 2008 (the line was first a collaboration with Balenciaga’s Nicolas Ghesquière, then Junya Watanabe), it has become a critical and commercial darling; while every Gamme Rouge show boasts theatrical production values (this season saw artificial snowdrifts and a working chairlift installed in a Paris convent), the line has also been instrumental in championing the nower than now cocoon silhouette.

In 2010, Ruffini introduced Grenoble, a performance-led line, and he is also on a mission to create the lightest jacket possible.

No longer a strictly sub-zero proposition, the brand uses a mix of ultra-light French duck feathers to create padded jackets with a more trans-seasonal appeal. “I think the lightness is crucial,” says fashion lecturer Alyson Walsh, long a fan of the brand. “When you think of padded jackets, you think of these big, bulky old things, but wearing a Moncler isn’t like that-you feel chic, street and streamlined.”

So, where next for Moncler’s elevated roots are never far from Ruffini’s thoughts. “We always pay homage to the mountain,” he declares. “For us, it will forever be a part of the adventure.” Glenn Waldron

Description: Moncler Gamme Rouge A/W ‘12

Moncler Gamme Rouge A/W ‘12


The low-key Italian label is perfect for the hip, urban purist

To fully appreciate this Italian sportswear label, picture a designer who ignores seasonal fashion trends and extravagant catwalk shows, and shuns glossy ad campaigns. But that’s Alberto Aspesi for you. The man behind the utilitarian Aspesi label is about as anti-fashion as you can get. And you’d need more than a Swiss Army knife to cut through that air of mystery that continues to surround him.

Until recently, this 43-year-old label was hard to come by outside of northern Italy. Only those in the know seemed able to find it. For most, that involved able to find if. For most, that involved an annual pre-ski pilgrimage to Biffi in Milan, to stock up on packable padded jackets and other essential outerwear pieces required for the slopes – or any urban stomping ground.

The first flagship only opened in Milan in 2006, with other Italian cities and an outpost in Paris coming next. And, just last September, an e- commerce site (Aspesi.com) was launched. Like most things at Aspesi, it happened without any of the usual; fashion hoo-ha.

Luckily, he does have a voice (and an eloquent one at that) in the shape of Lawrence Steele. The American designer-who is perhaps best known for his minimal, eponymous line – first collaborated with Alberto in the mid-Nineties. Today, he a permanent fixture at the family-run label, having successfully tapped into the brand’s rich DNA. He describes his role at Aspesi as one with no official title. One day he could be designing women swear, the next overseeing production. “No one stands above or below anyone else –it’s a very ‘non-political’ environment, in which Alberto is very much involved,” says Steele.

For starters, Alberto is a true fabric maverick, flitting across the globe in search of the most intricate weaves: Harris for tweed, Ireland for linen, Japan for the super yarns and quantum cottons from which many of his signature shirts are cut. It all began with s shirt range back in 1969. By the late Seventies, Aspesi had become a full-scale ready-to-wear label. A decade later, technical sportswear, made from nylon, down linings and coated cotton, was added. When the Paninaro claimed the padded jacket as its official street uniform, Aspesi was on a roll. Today you are more likely to see young Italian women sporting the popular Minnie, a quilted nylon gilet, zipping around town on scooters. Elsewhere, low-waist chinos and military-inspired day jackets seem to tock many a purist’s box.

Description: Alberto flits across the globe in search of intricate weaves

Alberto flits across the globe in search of intricate weaves

But here’s the thing. While other fashion houses work flat out to produce seasonal trends, Aspesi doesn’t. Core pieces tend stay the same, with the only notable changes occurring in color and, of late, print. “The great thing about Aspesi is you can find the same item you bought years ago, but it will have evolved ever so slightly,” says Steele.

At the retail hub on Milan’s Via Montenapoleone, clothes hang in laid-back, scrambled kind of way against a backdrop of steel girders, yellow walls, couches and rugs. Here, an affluent slice of Milanese society (families mainly) come to shop, drink coffee and hang out in the open-air courtyard restaurant.

“Aspesi is similar,” says Steele. “You don’t really get it until you visit its hidden courtyards and offbeat corners. Then you get this wonderful sense that there is something really beautiful and ultimately unique going on.” Lucie Muir

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