We’ve come to expect more from our clothing. With the ease of the internet, it’s common practice to compare features on a range of like garments before purchase; the best buyers go further still, vetting claims made by heritage brands and start-up labels that are searching points of distinction.
In recent years, consumer interest has focused on brands that offer value beyond looks, and both new and established labels have responded with clothing that combines traditional silhouettes and construction with modern, performance-driven materials. Above all else, this kind of hybrid apparel promises true versatility, the ability to be worn at the office or on the trail, so the cliche goes. It even has a catchy name: city-to-mountain.
We spoke with four designers whose brands represent the best of this emerging category in menswear. Their unique perspectives give relevant context to the growth of the city-to-mountain movement and shed light on where it’s going from here.
Andrea Canè, Woolrich: Not only Woolrich’s creative director, Cané is the head of WP Lavori, an Italian company that owns British outerwear company Baracuta and distributes Barbour in Italy.
Eiichiro Homma, Nanamica: Homma founded Nanamica in 2003 after spending 18 years at Japanese sportswear company Goldwin. He is also the creative director of The North Face Purple Label.
Jonah Smith, Aether: A former indpendent producer credited in films like Requiem for a Dream, Smith co-founded Aether in 2009.
Lisa Yamai, Snow Peak: The granddaughter of Snow Peak’s founder, Lisa Yamai launched Snow Peak Apparel in 2014. She is the brand’s head designer and branding manager.
Q: Is the industry’s focus on city-to-mountain apparel a trend or a lasting shift?
Canè: I think it will be around for a while. Our lives are busier than ever and when you’re busy, you look for comfort and ease. People will always be looking for comfort and practicality, that I don’t think will ever change. However, I do believe it will evolve. Whether that be an aesthetic that’s more minimal, masculine, feminine, heritage or driven by the colors of that season — performance and outdoor wear will remain. When design and functionality are perfectly balanced and meet the needs of consumers, items become icons, classics, timeless.
Homma: In the case of men’s clothing, people had been looking for something niche to make a difference from others. Now people are looking for more individual lifestyle oriented clothing.
Smith: I think as people’s lives get more adventurous, they want clothing that works for their hobbies, their travel and their everyday lives. We do not think this is a trend. We think quality, sophisticated clothing that withstands the elements and the test of time is something people will always want.
Yamai: We have been doing this for 60 years — when my grandfather established Snow Peak in 1958 as a mountaineering brand, and later my father launched the camping category in 1986. After 30 years, we decided to develop the apparel division with our vision of utilitarianism because we felt there was a demand for urban society to have access to garments that provide long-lasting wear, functionality and a good fit.
Q: What inspired you to go in this direction?
Canè: Woolrich has a unique history that is rooted in American culture with a rich archive of nearly two centuries: our blankets were made for the military during the Civil War and our flannels and wool shirts became wardrobe staples for lumberjacks, hunters and fisherman. We were always doing garments for the people and with a purpose. This provides product and a story that’s inspiring on a global level.
Homma: I had over 18 years experience designing functional outdoor and marine clothing. And my partner Takashi Imaki had a well-balanced capability of designing both fashion and functional clothing. So I thought those two things combined could result in something different from others.
Smith: We started Aether because we felt there was a missing niche in the marketplace for technical yet stylish outerwear. It fulfilled our passion for design, technicality and the outdoors.
Yamai: I come from a long line of pioneering outdoor enthusiasts. I am based in the heart of Tokyo but I spend a lot of time camping in the great outdoors. Therefore, I wanted to merge the two things that I enjoy the most — fashion and the outdoors. I joined Snow Peak to help pivot the brand for a new generation and I launched the first Snow Peak apparel collection in 2014. I felt that if you have more comfortable options to wear in everyday city life that provide outdoor life functions, then more people will want to spend time with nature. The collection brings together the essence of nature, complemented by contemporary fit, and paramount functionality.
Q: What guides your design aesthetic when blending function and style?
Canè: My aesthetic is a mix of formal and casual, of functionality with style. Product that is traditional at its core but is innovative. In terms of overall design, I reference Americana, which is at the heart of American sportswear.
Homma: Functional garments are generally beautiful. Clean finishes by Japanese technology must be beautiful. And sport-conscious people might love American classics.
Smith: Good taste and minimalism. We wanted to create sophisticated outerwear that was light on logos and heavy on function.
Yamai: My connection to nature.
Q: How did you initially decide to blend standard fabrications and styles with technical ones? What is challenging about that?
Canè: I don’t see it as a challenge, I think it’s exciting to be able to take the aspects of the brand our customers love and are loyal to and bring them something new and modern. We were one of the first to introduce Goretex into our parkas in the late 1970s. We also use the Loro Piana Storm System Wool in our parkas. The Goretex is waterproof and wind resistant but breathable and the Loro Piano Storm System Wool is also completely waterproof and wind resistant. We blend these technical fabrics with our original 60/40 cotton/nylon (Ramar cloth) that has been the fabric we have used since our first Arctic Parka that we designed for the Alaskan pipeline workers in 1972.
Homma: Since we are not Olympic athletes nor Everest climbers, we don’t need gears for competition. We thought if we combined classic looking clothing and the latest technology of functionality, we could create the best gears for our life.
Smith: In our effort to be innovative and create beautifully designed pieces, we’re always looking for out-of-the-box ways to construct a garment, which often translates into non-traditional fabrics. We want people to stay warm or dry or whatever is needed while also looking great. One of the challenges of combining those types of fabrics is small but important — color matching.
Yamai: The mission of Snow Peak is to encourage people to enrich their lives by enjoying being outdoors and having nature-oriented lifestyles. The design process always begins with the choice of material. We create ultra-technical transitional garments built for the natural outdoors but transition between urban and rural locations. The materials ensure products are of the highest quality and stand the test of time. For example, mixing Polartec with indigo denim, creating a camo print out of Dearzimax a water and wind repellent material, or a Takibi cotton three-piece suit that is a flame retardant material.
It’s challenging because our customers live a lifestyle which demands both function and style in nature and the city. I would like to establish a unique category in the fashion industry which synergies with both urban and outdoor life seamlessly.
Q: How does this type of garment reflect customers changing lives and habits?
Canè: The mentioned fabrications appeal to our customers because they are innovative, functional and yet contemporary and versatile. They can fit into their everyday life whether that is going to work in the city or taking a hike up in the mountains, especially now that the weather is changing so rapidly and colder than ever!
Homma: Year by year, men’s clothing becomes more casual. But we can produce not only casual sportswear but also set-up suits, which could fit both on-time and off-time by changing inner items.
Smith: People are traveling more than ever before, and we want to create pieces they can use in their everyday lives as well as when they are traveling somewhere exciting where the weather is a factor. Our pieces defy seasons and trends so we hope they stay in someone’s closets for years to come.
Yamai: Snow Peak’s design policy is ‘to create new values that never change.’ Snow Peak allows people to have a closer connection with the great outdoors. In fact, we organize multiple camping experiences at our headquarters in in Niigata, Japan, where you can experience all of Snow Peak from the development of the goods to camping. Camping with customers is the origin of Snow Peak and we utilize the feedback for the development of new creations and to make our products better. We want our garments to encourage you to get out to the camping field and connect with nature but that’s the same garment that is essential to everyday life. Perhaps it’s a garment that can be worn in different ways, as an outer layer or mid-layer in different climates, and ultimately serves as your main staple piece for traveling between city and nature.
Q: Do you have any predictions for what the future will bring to this part of the apparel industry?
Canè: We are working with Goldwin, the Japanese outdoor specialist, as our strategic partner and shareholder in order to develop a new outdoor line that is inspired by technical and scientific applications. We believe that in the future, the development of intellectual property will become more and more important. It will infuse a new future into our industry and one that is a more sustainable model.
Homma: No one knows it. However, we intend our products to keep human beings as human beings since digital communication and AI technology sometimes make human beings inhuman.
Smith: I think technology plays an even bigger part in fashion, from technical fabrics to smart clothing.
Yamai: Recently, many brands feel retail is not profitable and many are closing shop. However, I feel that the core brands will always remain. As CSR diversification progresses, I hope that not only fashion but also companies that contribute to the fashion industry and the environment will grow.