From Kassl Editions to Common Leisure, a flurry of emerging labels are challenging mainstay names like Moncler and luxury brands like Gucci in the fast-growing outerwear category.
You’re not imagining it. Winter temperatures are dropping across great swathes of the planet, which, according to scientists, is becoming more common as the Arctic warms to create a “polar vortex.” When the mercury drops, affluent consumers have typically turned to their trusty North Face jacket or a statement piece they purchased from designer labels like Balenciaga or Gucci. But now, there’s new competition from a flurry of emerging labels in the outerwear space, offering innovative designs that are practical, stylish and instantly recognisable.
“There’s been a lot of new outerwear-focused brands [on the market] and we’ve seen luxury retailers stocking [more of] them on a year-on-year basis,” said Nivindya Sharma, director of retail strategy and insights at WGSN. According to data from the trend forecasting agency, Net-a-Porter and MatchesFashion.com have increased their selection of coats and jackets year-on-year by 35 percent and 48 percent, respectively, during the Autumn/Winter 2018 period of July to December.
Analytics firm Edited saw a similar trend. “This spike in [outerwear] is a pattern echoed across Mr Porter, [whose outerwear offering] grew 34 percent, Selfridges by 15 percent and MyTheresa by 14 percent,” said Edited’s retail analyst Rebecca Milne. It is now a sector that is gaining on key categories like handbags: by 2020, the global luxury outerwear market will have grown a yearly average of 2.1 percent since 2016, compared to 2.7 for the global luxury bag market, according to research firm NPD Group.
“We’ve seen a huge increase in brands specialising in one particular department. This was originally across bags and shoes, but [brands] have since ventured into ready-to-wear, with new designers focusing on perfecting one type of style or product all year round, rather than a full collection across all categories,” said Tiffany Hsu, fashion buying director at MyTheresa. “The growth of new outerwear-only labels fills this bridge between luxury and practical pieces and gives the customer an additional option.”
But what’s driving this shift? Traditionally, outerwear was an investment piece and was treated as such in fashion magazine spreads. “If there’s one thing you buy that you’ll expect to last for years, it’s a coat,” said Milne. “Outerwear is one of those areas that a consumer would be willing to spend money on, because they think they can get cost-per-wear out of it, like handbags or leather goods,” agreed Sharma. However, she noted, “Unlike the handbag market, which has seen a lot of innovation from big and smaller brands, we [didn’t see] that in the luxury outerwear market.”
In the age of Instagram, however, the psychology behind outerwear has changed. High-end items are still a luxurious commodity, but with consumers posting weekly, daily or even hourly, outerwear is another “way to stand out among a sea of sameness,” said Matt Powell, senior industry advisor at NPD, noting that outerwear grew in the mid-single digits in 2018, making it one of the fastest growing apparel categories.
In other words, outerwear is no longer an exception to the rule that “customers are looking for newness more than ever,” said Hsu. So, which outerwear brands are gaining traction?
The idea for outerwear label Kassl Editions emerged last summer, when Bart Ramakers, founder of independent agency Parrot, which helped launch brands like Vetements and Halpern, saw his friend wearing a vintage fisherman’s coat and was immediately “attracted by its shape, lightness and attitude.” That spurred the launch of the Amsterdam-based brand by Ramakers and four others, including Ilse Cornelissens and Tim van Geloven, co-founders of the Antwerp concept store Graanmarkt13; Charlotte Schreuder, who also works at Parrot; and Christian Salez, former chief executive of luxury-goods maker Delvaux.
“We felt that there was opportunity in the market for lightweight technical coats that are easy to travel in, layer over other pieces and give women and men an attitude,” Cornelissens explained. The result is a range of slick, minimally embellished, water-repellent unisex coats — each with a unique number and stamp on the inside — that could appeal to anyone missing #OldCeline. Made from technical fabrics such as oil cloth and rubber, each coat is produced by a family-run factory in the German city of Kassel, which also supplies the German national fire brigade with clothing.
It was Ida Petersson, womenswear buying director at London-based retailer Browns, who spotted Kassl and bought its first collection — a range of short a-line button-down mackintoshes, starting from £890 ($1,166) — for Autumn/Winter 2018. Speaking to BoF, Petersson said she was won over by the brand’s “silhouette and material that feels very relevant to current trends” and that “there was nothing else like it out there.”
For Spring/Summer 2019, Kassl attracted 35 leading stockists worldwide, including Harvey Nichols, La Garconne, Totokaelo, Forty Five Ten and The Modist. And according to Cornelissens, the label has already doubled its number of doors for the following season, starting with a pre-launch for Autumn/Winter 2019 at Net-a-Porter and MatchesFashion.com.