If winter’s got you down, then you’re totally on trend, if you catch our drift – because down jackets and items of a puffy, feather-filled ilk dominated the runways this season, providing fashion options that are as practical as they are pillow-like.
As you can imagine, the puffer jacket did not necessarily start out as a friend of the fashion set. The initial prototype for today’s versions was invented in 1922 by an Australian by the name of George Finch, a chemist who had made bombs during World War I and prepared to climb Mount Everest by creating two key inventions: bottled oxygen and an eiderdown jacket, the latter made of hot-air balloon fabric in bright green. His fellow climbers scoffed at its aesthetics, in comparison to their tweed jackets, but were later silenced, envious of its practicality.
It took another decade or more for the concept to reach the retail market. It was Eddie Bauer, unsurprisingly, who debuted the very first puffer jacket in 1936, naming it the Skyliner, with its defining characteristic being the heat-preserving down feathers encased in quilted fabric (the quilting was key, improving on Finch’s version, as it helped the feathers stay evenly distributed across all parts of the jacket). Bauer’s aim was more survival than commercial – he created it in response to a brush with death he experienced after becoming afflicted with hypothermia on a fishing trip.
It only took a year after that for the legendary fashion designer Charles James to propose his riff on the puffer, a voluminous satin piece with exaggerated sleeves that James himself thought would never find favour in the industry owing to its bulkiness and the difficulty of manufacturing it. He was wrong, and said garment, which now sits in the Victoria and Albert Museum’s archives, is considered a pioneering piece of fashion history.
Pillowy parkas have since floated in and out of fashion’s collective consciousness, with no small number of notable moments, from the introduction of Norma Kamali’s “sleeping bag” coat in the 1970s, to the moment Demna Gvasalia’s bright red oversized numbers hit the runway for his debut show for Balenciaga in 2016. In fact, the puffer jacket has become a calling card for the 38-year-old Georgian designer, whose Midas touch was so all-encompassing he was able to create a fashion frenzy for courier uniforms.
This season, his reinvention of the puffer continues, with incarnations even more riotous than his early efforts for the French brand. A cerulean men’s puffer had its back yoke pulled heavenwards almost to ear level as if its wearer had forgotten to remove the hanger before putting it on, while two women’s versions saw their hems pulled down to ankle level. The one in fuchsia featured typical horizontal quilting and an oversized cocoon shape, while the other in baby pink satin had the look and feel of luxury bedding, yet was also reminiscent of the exaggerated capes worn by royalty in eras past. Gvasalia experimented with similar ideas, from wavelike quilting on a robe-like sea foam coat to leg-of-mutton sleeves on a rainproof parka.
While Gvasalia is on a one-man mission to redefine the puffer jacket, Moncler has been trying to show the world just how versatile the concept is, churning out just about every puffy item the mind can conceive, from canine couture to collaborations with other designers. Through the Moncler Genius programme, the brand works with names ranging from Valentino’s Pierpaolo Piccioli to streetwear legend Hiroshi Fujiwara on a riot of designs – this year, we saw a Palm Angels riff on the letterman jacket with a foil-like finish, Simone Rocha’s blatantly feminine “tent capes” decorated with ruffles and florals, and Richard Quinn’s wild experiments with rainbows and loud prints, none of which were for the faint of heart. Moncler is available in Antonia at Shoppes at The Parisian.
Of course, there were also more understated ideas hailing from other corners of the fashion world, mostly playing on ideas of alternative fabrication.
At Chloé, Natacha Ramsay-Levi gave us a heritage check spun in red and blue, in a short length with a big collar. The boys needn’t be jealous – Tod’s released an equally lust-worthy plaid puffer for them, in mahogany with a discreet green and red check.
At Salvatore Ferragamo, there were several iterations, from a longer-length shawl-collared piece in rich chocolate to a claret-coloured bomber for women, and a super-soft corduroy in darkest brown to an ever-so-slightly cropped dusty rose jacket for men. At Ermenegildo Zegna, the puffiness was not so evident in a leather jacket with consciously haphazard, asymmetrical quilting shown with matching gloves, making for a cleaner silhouette, as with a knee-length coat quilted diagonally. A shorter one in aubergine was understated, sporty elegance at its best.
In recent years, the puffer effect has extended beyond garments, to accessories as well. Some are practical – padded scarves, for example, are part of Moncler’s permanent collection, and versions are available across brands high-end and low – while others serve no function beyond looking cool.
Loewe, for example, has been an arbiter of cool ever since British designer Jonathan Anderson took over the ship in 2013, and as the years have rolled by, his work for the brand has become more and more out there. For this season’s men’s collection, the average male would have to work hard to deconstruct the runway looks and find elements to incorporate into his everyday wardrobe, thanks to a preponderance of aviator caps, sleeves that extended far past the fingers and outerwear infected by a plague of multicoloured ribbons. But there was also method within the madness, if not to it – two-tone puffy leather drawstring backpacks were light yet luxurious, and came in a practical combination of black and tan or a more fanciful juxtaposition of pink and tan. A classic ‘80s belt bag got a puffed front, all the better to keep your wallet warm, but also useful for filling out the silhouette should you not have enough items to fill your pouch.
Even more impractical? A puffy shoe, but that did not stop Daniel Lee at Bottega Veneta, who played with puffer pumps and handbags.
Our favourite translation of the puffer trend, however, came from Virgil Abloh’s men’s collection for Louis Vuitton. A charcoal grey life vest of a jacket sat on top of a tone-on-tone suit like the cherry above an ice cream sundae, deliciously unnecessary but thoroughly welcome. Instead of being quilted, another black leather number was strategically stamped with the Vuitton monogram, for an effect that was surprisingly elegant. Its perfect partner was a tote done up in the same technique. An unquilted trench was given pillow-like appliqués for a three-dimensional effect. It was all very, very hot. After all, it’s goose down in there.