When the down jacket was first created, its function exceeded its form. The outerwear, easily recognisable by its bulbous shape and wide use of technical material, was hardly a flattering inclusion in anyone’s wardrobe. Then Moncler came along, and the fashion world witnessed first-hand how the humble down jacket morphed into a billion-dollar empire.
Now 57, Remo Ruffini has been at the helm of Moncler for nearly two decades, and is perhaps the reason why the Milan-based French label is now regarded as fashion’s most coveted luxury outerwear brand today. As the consummate Italian outdoorsman, he was the perfect guy for the colossal job of reviving the faltering business in the ‘90s.
Despite its illustrious beginnings, Moncler was quickly edged out by high fashion offerings, more so with the rise of lines like Prada Sport. Mainstream lines followed closely; Patagonia and The North Face became the affordable winterwear alternative, and gained enough notoriety within the trendy to become street style staples. Ruffini injected enough urgency and diversity into Moncler, making down jackets exciting, and dare we say, chic and sophisticated again.
What was once reserved for hardcore skiers became relevant to the everyday commuter. Moncler now has styles that transcend sub-temperatures, and spring/summer collections that shield against the light spring breeze. There’s a rotating roster that sees some of fashion’s most lauded names being handpicked for collaborations, and there are diffusion lines such as Grenoble, and Gamme Bleu by Thom Browne, which speak to a wildly different luxury style set.
Yet, when Ruffini bought the brand in 2003, it was most associated with sport. Established in 1952 by French entrepreneur René Ramillon, Moncler’s roots were purely utilitarian. Abbreviated after the mountain village of Monestier-de-Clermont — in which it was founded — Moncler specialised in quilted sleeping bags. The accessory proved to be a hit, especially when mountain holidays started becoming a social phenomenon.
Despite being the brand’s flagship product now, Moncler’s down jackets were first conceived to protect its workers in the small alpine factory from the cold. French mountaineer Lionel Terray first noticed the jackets and saw potential in the coats, and in true Moncler fashion, a specialist collaboration ensued. Named Moncler pour Lionel Terray, the robust range saw down jackets, gloves, salopettes, and sleeping bags that were made to withstand the harshest climates. The explorer continued playing a key role in consulting on its high-performance designs via expeditions.
A few years later, Moncler was entrusted to outfit the French downhill ski team at the 1968 Grenoble Winter Olympics.
Anyone can make a feather-filled jacket, but it was Moncler that really elevated the look with solid craftsmanship, technical research, and a bit of shrewd marketing. By 1989, Moncler and Chantal Thomass, one of the most highly regarded creatives in the industry, were focused on reworking the classic down jacket with fur trims, reversible fabric, and even satin.
It still equips polar and mountain expeditions till today — such as the recent ascent of the Himalayas’ K2 — as a continuous testament to its durability and reliability. Its original stitching and ‘lacquered’ effect still come in an array of colours, and in a stroke of good fortune, the rise of athleisure has meant that sportswear is now accepted as everyday fashion. A suit once required an overcoat, but it was now perfectly normal to layer puffer jackets over formal coats.
Moncler SS ‘19
Moncler might be one house but its success has really depended on many different voices throughout its lifetime. Ruffini celebrates this via Moncler Genius, a hub of exceptional minds that serve to add facets to the Moncler identity while cultivating their own singularity.
Directed by five designers, the offbeat range for SS 19 is each distinctly unique, as can be expected from such a lineup of fashion disrupters. Craig Green takes his avant-garde approach in menswear to new heights with his kite-inspired, Crayola-hued creations, recalling some of his past sculptural designs. Simone Rocha —loved for her rebellious take on romantic pieces — applies her famous floral motifs to a slew of technical fabrics. A see-through raincoat with black floral appliqués encapsulates her vision perfectly when layered over her feminine, frilled lightweight jacket.
Meanwhile, Fragment design’s Hiroshi Fujiwara opted for a more visceral approach, bringing the element of speed to the series with animated speed lines amidst the heavily-branded pieces. 1952 sought the retro look, while Rei Ninomiya’s signature off-kilter, all-black aesthetics look is set to contrast starkly with everything else on display once launched.
There could’ve been many things that could’ve gone wrong throughout Ruffini’s career as the man behind a puffer jacket business (we imagine selling jackets in the summer is akin to selling ice to an eskimo), but he’s somehow managed to captivate the fashion world. Appealing to a crowd that spans from fickle twenty-somethings and hardcore athletes to mature couture traditionalists isn’t common for a luxury fashion brand, but the constant creativity that’s injected into it has kept Moncler fresh and surprising for more than six decades now, and we imagine more to come.