The Great Outdoors Becomes Luxury Fashion’s New Frontier

From disrupted supply chains to unexpected acquisitions, 2020 changed everything we know about the fashion industry. As the year came to an end, brands gave us a glimpse into one trend that looks to just be gaining steam: the elevation of outerwear from functional to luxury. Here’s why it’s poised to become luxury fashion’s new frontier.

Despite unprecedented market conditions, fashion marched forward in 2020. On the collaboration front, French house Dior captivated sneakerheads around the world, releasing 13,000 pairs of luxurious Air Jordan 1s in June, priced at $2,000 a pair. Australian sunglasses powerhouse Quay teamed up with Grammy Award-winning sensation Lizzo on a charitable collection of shades in May, followed by a second collaboration in August focused on encouraging voter registration.

Beyond partnerships, 2020 set the stage for a number of acquisitions including VF Corporation’s purchase of Supreme for $2.1 billion and Moncler’s buyout of Stone Island for $1.4 billion. 2021 even kicked off LVMH’s takeover of Tiffany for $15.8 billion, an acquisition a year in the making.

Buried beneath these defining moments is a trend that’s been bubbling under the surface for months with a tipping point just a few key releases away: luxury fashion’s infiltration into the world of outerwear.

Anchored by Gucci’s collaboration with The North Face, the sector looks poised to receive a premium makeover, aided by the couture touch of the world’s biggest fashion houses.

Here’s why it’s poised to become luxury fashion’s new frontier.

Streetwear Has Flirted With Outerwear For Years—and Streetwear is Luxury

Supreme has written and rewritten the rules of what a streetwear brand can be so many times, it’s easy to forget the New York label’s humble beginnings.

In 1994, James Jebbia understood something special was brewing on the streets of New York. He soon set up shop on Lafayette Street fusing the subcultural cues of the city’s underground skate scene with the airy chicness of Downtown galleries. 26 years later, Supreme can slap its logo on anything from $14,000 Jacob & Co. watches to literal bricks and it will sell out instantly.

Over the course of nearly three decades, Supreme has released its own outerwear goods in addition to seasonal collaborations with The North Face beginning in 2007. Since Supreme first started collaborating with the outdoor experts, it continued to raise the profile of what a streetwear brand can be, eventually infiltrating the upper tiers of fashion, literally, by officially collaborating with Louis Vuitton in 2017 (an unofficial “collaboration” in 2003 led to a cease and desist from the French giant).

Fashion houses around the world took notice, understanding that Millennials and Gen Z think of luxury as knowledge as much as they do craftsmanship. That’s why hard-to-find Supreme x The North Face collaborations from the past decade command several thousand on the resell market. Fans of both brands know they can get a classic Nuptse for a reasonable $280. But they’re not paying for the quality—that’s a given—they’re paying for the social cues imbued in a cultural artifact.

And while Supreme infiltrated the hallowed halls of French maisons, legacy luxury brands co-opted street culture codes, bringing in creative directors with streetwear roots to apply their cultural knowledge to the house’s heritage.

The result is a fashion ecosystem that trades in ideas as much as it does price. For leading streetwear brands, that means outfitting $110,000 BMWs in splashy logos and selling out of them instantly. For bold luxury brands, that means teaming up with the world’s biggest outerwear outfitters to elevate products from functional to status symbol.

So when Palace Skateboards teams up with cult favorite Arc’Teryx, it shouldn’t be surprising to hear just weeks later that minimalist master Jil Sander is next in line to work with the Canadian techwear gurus.

City Dwellers (Re)discovered the Great Outdoors

Over the course of the pandemic, influencers and trendsetters, boxed out of their usual routines, retreated to nature to escape the quietness of their native urban jungles. Lil Miquela, the virtual sensation interviewed a few weeks ago on Elsewhere, spent time in Joshua Tree, while Justin and Hailey Bieber documented their road trip from Los Angeles to Southern Utah.

Taken as a whole, the sudden appreciation of the Great Outdoors was one of the few silver linings of 2020. National parks across the U.S. broke attendance records as families looked for ways to scratch their travel itch while most other activities remained on hold or otherwise inadvisable.

Yellowstone had its busiest September on record, up 21% increase from the previous September. The Great Smoky Mountains—the country’s most-visited national park—logged more than 1.5 million visits in August, a 9% jump from the same month last year.

While many broke away from city limits and rekindled their love of nature for the first time in years, others discovered the beauty of the Great Outdoors for the first time. Walking into any sporting goods retailer in the last 10 months told a similar story: camping gear was cleaned out.

As 2021 gets underway and vaccines roll out across the world, an appreciation of the outdoors and all that comes with it—tents, jackets, hiking boots, beanies—is here to stay. For city dwellers in Manhattan high-rises and gated Hollywood Hills homes, the next time they book a weekend in the Catskills or Yosemite, they’ll be packing a four-figure puffer jacket bought on Fifth Avenue or Rodeo Drive.

Because Elevated Athleisure is So 2010 & Outerwear is So 2020

Legendary German designer Karl Lagerfeld once said, “Sweatpants are a sign of defeat. You lost control of your life so you bought some sweatpants.” That’s why less than 10 years ago it was shocking to hear of a luxury brand a) producing sweatshirts and sweatpants in the first place and b) actually charging luxury prices for them.

But once the bottle was uncorked, it quickly became the norm. Hip-hop artists, pop culture’s most valuable tastemakers, could be spotted any day of the week touring the world in crisp white Alexander Wang sweats. Kanye West built his entire YEEZY empire on a slouchy, relaxed silhouette, influencing Kim Kardashian’s more recently launched Skims label. Brands from Lululemon to Outdoor Voices became commonplace, everywhere from Soho to West Hollywood.

And while elevated athleisure might be the most lasting style trend of the 2010s, it isn’t going anywhere any time soon, especially in light of home officewear becoming the new work uniform—and that’s not a bad thing.

But as flag bearers for What’s Next in fashion, creative directors from Paris to Milan to London are looking past athleisure and exploring uncharted territory: outerwear with outdoor brands.

With athleisure par for the course, brands like Gucci and Jil Sander are looking toward the success of Moncler, who recently purchased Stone Island for $1.4 billion, as a way to bring their perennial popularity to a completely new setting. They’re betting the best way to do that is by partnering up with others, letting pop culture’s ongoing obsession with approachable brands like The North Face and Arc’Teryx do the heavy lifting.

The Tipping Point

In the last few years luxury brands began dabbling in video games and esports, seeking to tap into a market consisting, mostly, of Millennials and Gen Z. The data provides strong arguments for the reasons why: the former is expected to represent 40% of the global personal luxury goods market by 2025, while the latter is set to be the most disruptive generation ever.

Luxury’s blooming romance with the Great Outdoors follows along a similar path: Millennials represent 38% of the U.S. outdoor consumer population, and spend more time outside and more money on outdoor products than the average outdoor consumer.

Gen Z, while it doesn’t yet have the spending power of its older counterparts, cares most about nature and luxury brands are no doubt looking to speak with the upcoming generation on their own terms, whether through greener practices or clearer positioning.

So while it may have taken years to arrive at this point, make no mistake: luxury and outerwear are embarking on a beautiful friendship.