Forget luxury fleece | FinancialTimes
In a south-east London cafe a few weeks ago, the woman behind the counter was wearing a pale blue plush fleece that I coveted. It looked slim but comfortable, baggy but not oversized, with a double-ended zipper, thumbholes in the sleeves, and a chest pocket that would fit bank cards.
I asked him where he was from and the answer – Mountain Warehouse – took me by surprise. I also suddenly felt that I had to have it.
“It was £15 in the sale,” she said. “It’s my favorite thing I own.”
Than a cheap fleece from this behemoth British outdoor chain – which has over 300 international stores and stocks budget goods that allow shoppers to hike, ski, swim, climb and camping, among other activities – would spark a fashion-related conversation was, for me, quite fun. Because no matter what label you give it, there’s nothing chic about a fleece. Later, while browsing the Mountain Warehouse website, I realized the call was exactly that. The no-frills fleece — affordable, asexual, a little bland, and borderline unflattering — has an uncool allure all its own.
Until “normcore” became a real way of dressing in urban settings a decade ago, the fleece looked like a dad’s and was usually left on the back of a chair. desk or in the trunk of your car. “It was something people were buying because maybe they’d been camping once, or at an Airbnb in the country,” says Jim Tomley, a self-proclaimed fleece fanatic and fiber specialist who spent 15 years working with brands such as Arc’teryx and The North Face. Before the pandemic, you would rarely see a fleece worn off the trail, let alone in a city. And in a pub or restaurant? Forget.
But take a look around the hip places in cities today and you’ll see plenty of young urbanites wearing fuzzy zip-up tops, even if they’ve never been on a trail. Luxury fashion brands have jumped in: Japanese labels Kapital, Sacai and Nanamica offer oversized versions for over £500. Drake’s, the London-based go-to menswear brand for modern grooming, sells some great sleeveless designs and Crayola-coloured sweaters for £350; his AW22 collaboration with New York label Aimé Leon Dore offered a bright red version for £695. Balenciaga makes a £1,290 camouflage fleece you could probably find a version of in an army surplus store for 1% off the price, while Gucci’s baggy monogrammed iteration is an assault on the eyes and the balance. banking – it costs £2,250.
But Mountain Warehouse is not fashionable; its label bears no overt congratulations on fashion. Same as Regatta, Berghaus and Craghoppers. For most millennials, these are the brands your dad and grandfather wore, minus the hipster accent. Walk into a small branch and for the most part you’ll find inexpensive Spartan fleeces in safe colors.
And yet, among a certain set in London at least, that’s the point. “They’re great if you know, you know,” says 28-year-old marketer Sam Millen-Cramer, who wears his £15 Mountain Warehouse zip with baggy pants by Margaret Howell. He thinks there is something “almost ironic” in associating a brand with an anti-brand. In a sea of Patagonia sweaters, Craghoppers and Berghaus are more unexpected. This gives them a new appeal. A friend of mine went to dinner a while ago and his date came up at Craghoppers: he then texted me to say he found it appealing. “It was so bold and confident, I thought he must have big muscles underneath.”
Others in their twenties are also getting into mainstream fleeces. An Irish friend wears his medium green zip-up sweater from Berghaus with indigo jeans. Another in Newcastle wears his navy Peter Storm fleece with cargo pants for relaxed, tailored trousers at the office. Lying under a blazer, on the other side of the desks, he says it “looks a bit like a turtleneck”.
Joshua Geer, a financial journalist, had no hesitation in buying a £30 fleece from Sports Direct before a camping trip a few years ago. He says it’s “naff” but now he wears it every day in the office. “It’s very comfortable and low maintenance in terms of washing,” he says. Journalist Julia Williams thinks they’re more practical than other cozy tops. “They dry faster than cotton knits or sweaters,” she says.
In effect. As temperatures plummeted in the UK in December, my Berghaus Polartec fleece (£50), bought at the last minute before a camping trip to Norway, barely escaped me. I got it from a mountain warehouse in rural West Cumbria, along with some £10 Camber half zip sweater styles and a few other items. I spent £100 and was in and out within 10 minutes. At any other department store, I would have stopped to question such quick spending.
But Mountain Warehouse holds a place in the British psyche. Its dominance over Britain’s shopping streets means it’s a reliable mecca for functional shopping. Most of us will have visited in search of a handy helping hand that doesn’t break the bank. Maybe, like my barista, you dived into thermal socks and saw a fleece on your way to checkout – adding it to your basket in case the chalet got cold. “It’s hard not to see the appeal of something so affordable and functional,” says Tomley.
Millen-Cramer agrees. He’s a big fan of American running brand District Vision’s graphic monochrome fleeces, which are arguably cool and cost £200. He is also a fan of the fuzzy styles of Aimé Leon Dore. “But I think there’s a limit to what it’s okay to spend on a fleece,” he says. “I could probably expand to an expensive exterior. But from a fashion brand, it seems just a little. . . fake?”
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