Not so long ago, the puffy parka was an almost entirely utilitarian piece of clothing, slipped on for snowy dog walks, ice-storm grocery runs and work commutes on the coldest January days. But, much like mom jeans, fanny packs and other items once deemed unappealing and uncool, the down-filled puffer has shot from practicality to status symbol. This season, the parka has shed its function-first image, thanks as much to a growing demand for luxury outerwear as to a wave of clever designers transforming the chilly staple into a covetable fashion statement … on steroids.
Take designer Demna Gvasalia’s sensational layered parka for Balenciaga. It features a down-filled outer shell sewn over a pile of plaid shirts, jersey hoodies and technical fleece. It’s seven pieces of winter clothing in one garment and sells for US$9,000.
Aside from its literal supersizing, the outerwear category in fashion presents a big opportunity for growth in a booming luxury market. According to Euromonitor International, the global designer-apparel market is growing by more than US$1-billion every year and is forecast to hit nearly US$96-billion in 2018. While Euromonitor does not divide its designer-apparel data into specific clothing categories in its latest study, the global luxury-outerwear market was worth US$11-billion in 2016. “In recent years, we’ve seen a tremendous demand for parkas that are just as much about aesthetics as they are about utility,” says Elizabeth von der Goltz, global buying director at luxury online retailer Net-A-Porter.
“Consumers now have a higher appreciation for quality and style in their cold-weather gear,” confirms Andrea Elliott, a Toronto-based retail consultant who has advised brands such as Moose Knuckles, Calvin Klein and Uniqlo. “Working with these brands and seeing their growth, it is double digits year over year.” The rise of the high-fashion parka can be explained, in part, by digitally savvy consumers who actually want to buy the over-the-top statement pieces that used to rarely make it from the runway to the store rack. “We have an entire generation of youth and young adults who grew up on Tumblr and Instagram – inundated with high-fashion editorial images, paparazzi photos of A$AP Rocky in Prada and other designer spoofs,” she says. “These inroads to designer fashion have created an appetite and demand for highly visible, statement items.”
“In this digital age, people are always on the hunt for something new and are increasingly embracing more daring style choices, which is reflected in the flashier jackets and statement pieces we see our customers buying,” notes Federico Barassi, senior men’s-wear buying director at Ssense.
As designer labels wade deeper into developing status-symbol fashion out of outerwear, winter-apparel brands are likewise meeting the demand for statement jackets that combine warmth and style. “If a jacket doesn’t have rack appeal, if consumers don’t enjoy it when they put it on, then all the functional attributes would be moot,” says Robin Yates, co-founder of Toronto-based Nobis. Fending off the elements alone won’t cut it. “The jacket I wear on my snowmobile going 210 kilometres per hour in minus-30 is the same one I can wear to any restaurant in our city and be well received,” Yates says.
Montreal-based Moose Knuckles requires retailers to position its parkas in the fashion section, away from other outerwear. “We are every bit as well-made as our technical competitors, but we really rub shoulders with the artists, musicians and weirdos, which is closer to the fashion community than not,” the brand’s creative director, Steph Hoff, sayd. “The Moose Knuckles consumer is probably gravitating more to those Balenciaga sneakers than rock-climbing shoes, so we just want to be where our people are.”
Other Canadian brands are targeting fashion-forward consumers with style-driven collections that complement their classic offerings. This season, Montreal’s Quartz Co. launched Edition, a series of parkas featuring fresh shapes and volumes, along with enhanced colour options and one unisex style. “The new generation of consumers has developed a very interesting way of playing with fashion codes,” Jean-Philippe Robert, chief executive of Quartz says. “They have a natural ability to combine classic and bold pieces.”
Buzzy Canadian brand Biannual specializes in jackets that are not only fashionable, but also genderless and vegan – two major trends in today’s fashion industry. “The reception we’ve received from the on-trend consumer shows that they’re not only looking at the functional and fashion-forward elements of the coats," Biannual’s creative director Dani Roche says. “But also the brand’s overarching idea of consciousness.”
When it comes to weathering the cold, the fashion crowd really can have it all.