When we stopped by the Aether office and showroom in Los Angeles to take a look at the second version of the Alto ($395) jacket, their crew handed us a sample and sent us on to their on-site testing facility — an industrial walk-in freezer — where we got a preview of how it would perform in the wild. By “wild” we’re not talking about summiting Rainier; our adventures with the Alto would take us from chilly nights in Los Angeles to face-mashing wind in Detroit to a short stint inside New York’s polar vortex. And Vegas. Hey, we all have our own idea of adventure. That set of varying destinations is where the Alto, a true multipurpose jacket, is meant to shine.
There is now a fully emerged category of well-tailored performance clothing fit for both the slopes and the street, and Aether has been a card-carrying member thereof since 2009. In Aether’s case, the idea was to create a line of clothing for city dwellers with a passion for the outdoors. On the other coast, NYC-based Outlier is similarly engaged, making, for example, handsome button-down shirts blazed with Nano-Tex to resist dirt and sweat. Giro, a cycling brand well known for helmets, launched a line called New Road that uses fabrics like merino and Pertex in apparel that functions on the bike and looks fresh off it. Even Levi’s has a whole line of clothing designed for bike commuters.
The Alto is inspired by the English quilted jacket classically associated with Barbour, Belstaff or Ralph Lauren, but it’s a bit more versatile, which is to say you can wear it even when you’re not holding a cricket mallet over your shoulder. It’s got the sharpness required of more formal dinner wear but also manages to look good as simple layering over a flannel or henley. In black or graphite it works over a t-shirt or with a shirt and tie; in poppy (red), it goes nicely with fast cars with tops that come off. At one point while walking in Venice a fashion photographer who commented on our look of jeans, a button-down, Vans and the Alto. Any way you wear this jacket, it works.
Aether creates a balance in their clothing between performance and presence — though the Alto leans toward the latter.
That’s especially true when you throw a little weather at it. Aether uses 100 grams of PrimaLoft One insulation to add warmth without bulk, and a Schoeller microfiber shell and inside storm flap keep water out. Articulated sleeves and an interior hem adjustment allow freedom of movement without sacrificing comfort or protection; an interior pocket with an audio cord valve lets you keep the music going while all that other cool stuff is happening.
Aether creates a balance in their clothing between performance and presence — though the Alto leans toward the latter. It’s a great city jacket or mid-layer heading to the mountains for a few days of snowboarding, but it’s not meant for expeditions, and the the modern cut is a little trim in the armholes and shoulder blade areas for some outdoor sports. Besides, at $400 — more than Mountain Hardwear’s Ghost Whisperer or Arc’Teryx’s Cerium LT — we’re not inclined to scuff it up or stuff it into the bottom of a backpack. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look to Aether for performance: their Altitude shell ($675) uses a three-layer Schoeller c_change fabric that’s windproof, waterproof and breathable, and sports a Recco reflector plus a three-point adjustable hood that’s helmet-ready.
Meanwhile, the city dweller who never leaves the metro area will stick to fashion-focused brands and hardcore outdoor enthusiasts will probably keep buying backcountry-focused brands. Those who are stoked on both of those worlds have a very good option in the Alto. We’ll certainly keep showing up in Instagram shots of all kinds sporting ours.
Additional Contribution by Bradley Hasemeyer.
METHODOLOGY: We had the opportunity to test the Alto in the wet, dry, cold and mild weather of New York, LA, Vegas and Detroit and have no plans of giving the thing back.