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Wardrobe: Down Under

William Kissel

In 1954, a little-known French sleeping-bag, glove, and snowsuit maker named Moncler used its billowy white blanket filler as insulation in the extreme-climate jackets it created for renowned French mountain climber Lionel Terray. A year later, the alpinist gave these innovative garments high-profile (as well as high-altitude) exposure when he and his expedition team wore them as they conquered Makalu, the world’s fifth-highest mountain peak. Since then, goose-feather down has been a mainstay of the outerwear industry.

Moncler has scaled new heights of its own, transitioning from its somewhat humble niche to become one of the primary producers of premium down jackets. The company recently made its foray into the fashion world by imbuing its otherwise utilitarian down jackets and activewear with a fresh, stylish sensibility. In 2008, Italian entrepreneur and Moncler owner Remo Ruffini recruited designer Giambattista Valli to create Gamme Rouge, a line of upscale women’s outerwear that incorporates the brand’s signature down feathers. Ruffini also enlisted American designer Thom Browne to design similarly distinctive outerwear and sportswear for men under the Gamme Bleu moniker.

Browne’s vision for the collection combined many of the elements found in his classic menswear with such technical features as water repellency, tape-sealed seams, and utilitarian hardware. His first creation was a gray flannel suit filled with strategically placed down feathers to give it a puffed look. "Then I did a peacoat and a Chesterfield coat," he says. "Both are iconic menswear pieces that became very Moncler when they were filled with down."

This year’s spring line challenged Browne to develop lightweight sportswear featuring Moncler’s down. To avoid the bulk of his fall and winter designs, he used the stuffing more sparingly, creating lightly quilted nylon hooded vests and tops layered over suits, trousers, shorts, and swimwear made of seersucker, summer wool, and cotton piqué. Technical fibers—including ripstop nylon and plastic—complement the natural fabrics.

"Both Moncler and Gamme Bleu are all about sport," says Ruffini, "and both use the same fabric technology. But Gamme Bleu is intended to be much more tailored." Browne’s designs ($1,000 to $2,500) are distinct from Moncler’s not only in their edgier silhouettes, but also in their details, which include embroidered French flags. Many of Browne’s spring ensembles make ideal attire for a set of tennis or a jog in the park, but, as Ruffini notes, "they can also be worn even if you don’t play any sport at all."

Moncler, +39.02.422.041, www.moncler.com

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