Digging the trenches (Financial Times How to Spend it)

London’s young, trend-obsessed men have, over the last couple of years, seized on a short version of the classic trench as their de facto outerwear: double breasted, jauntily collared, belted at the waist. Along with a striped Breton top and thick-rimmed Kissinger-style spectacles, it’s become a staple of the risible East London hipster uniform. Versions of it have appeared in just about every high street outlet. Now, in a reversal of the usual fashion rules, there’s been a trickle-up effect. Reworked versions of the gentleman’s raincoat – longer and infinitely more luxurious than those disposable chain-store casual trenches – are now high fashion items. This is serious clothing for grown-ups with their own style. The focus is on flawless performance and refinement of styling: stay dry, look sharp. The likes of Aquascutum have narrowed their silhouettes and lightened the weight of their textiles by making use of waterproofing techniques usually associated with high performance sportswear. Almost every international collection – from Alexander McQueen to Issey Miyake – has its own take on it, and a four-figure coat designed to resist a downpour has become as desirable as it is practical.

When the recently rebooted heritage brand Mackintosh (now with style-savvy Japanese owners) opened a Mayfair store at the start of the year, it wasn’t amidst the gent’s outfitters on Jermyn Street, it was on Mount Street, the thoroughfare that has, since the opening of super-power-lunching seafood restaurant Scott’s a few years ago, become a peerless barometer of high style in London. From Roland Mouret’s new HQ opposite the Connaught to designer Rick Owens’ brutal, elephant-grey modernist bunker on South Audley Street, the area is an ever-developing snapshot of the most influential international brands: Aesop, Balenciaga, Christian Louboutin. Mackintosh’s arrival on the same stretch as Lanvin, in a store designed by Masamichi Katayama with glass cabinets reminiscent of Victorian natural history museums, was a bold statement of intent: performance wear can be as covetable as fine leather or vicuna. Sleek men’s pieces that echo Prada at its most austere hang alongside frisky Holly Golightly polka dot A-line coats for women. As Daniel Dunko, MD of Mackintosh says, ‘We now have a customer discovering the brand for the first time through our associations with Junya Watanabe, 10 Corso Como, Kitsuné, etc. These pieces have an appeal to the stylish and fashion-aware that goes beyond mere practicalities.’

Mackintosh Cloth is a trademarked textile as well as a clothing brand, and the company continue to produce textiles for rainwear at Balenciaga, Louis Vuitton and Nigel Cabourn. They’ve been producing functional textiles since the early 19th century, and at the Mount Street store there are vintage uniforms for British Rail workers and World War II despatch riders exhibited behind glass. As cool as their collaborations are right now, and as vivid as the Tiffany-blue colour is on their men’s Dunoon coats, the brand is about nothing if not science: these coats keep you dry. End of. They’re waterproof, not just shower-proof. Everything else is just detail. But then, such details: the reassuringly stiff one-button Dunfeld (£615) in navy or blue is minimalist and sharp while the softer, looser, double-breasted Fetlar (£465) in black, with the Mackintosh name in white type on the buttons, is the most elegant use of a techno-fabric that you’ll ever hope to encounter. All of the coats are cut to work as either an overcoat over a suit (buy one size up from your usual), or in place of a jacket.

There was a time when style was sacrificed in Grand Guignol manner for notions of practicality. In the archives of Alfred Dunhill there are images of a 1903 attempt at rainwear, the Umbrella Coat. It looks hilariously HG Wells: part garment, part vehicular tent. ‘It was ludicrous, you could have swum in the sea in it,’ says Jason Beckley, Dunhill’s Global Marketing Director. ‘The British look that our contemporary rainwear has today is very elegant. Things have been quite modernist for a period, now our collections are more referential, with shawl collars and wider lapels. We are a brand for a customer who is already established and knows their own style, we’re not trying to define anyone’s look.’ This season’s reversible Mac (£825) comes in stone to blue and grey to black, and is fresh, smart and instantly classic.

Burberry – another quintessentially British brand – have riffed on their raincoats since their own relaunch as a premium and newly directional label in the mid-90s. The Burberry Mac has, of course, never gone away, and there are no fewer than 15 versions of a trench in the current London collection – including a short, cotton gabardine one (£895) for which many hipsters in East London would give their right arm – but it’s within the catwalked, premium Prorsum range that you’ll find the most interesting and stylish pieces. Much of the current collection features a military, or aviator style; a double-breasted poplin trench (£1395) carries brown leather buckle details on its cuffs and epaulettes. Within many of the coats, inside seams are rubber-bonded (the tape is detailed with Burberry branding) to prevent any wet weather seepage. So central is the raincoat to the Burberry brand that they curate the artofthetrench.com website, which started with a gallery of images by Scott Schuman of the street fashion blog and book The Sartorialist, of ‘real people’ in their trenches. It’s now updated with open submissions from customers.

The trench coat may be aligned with Brit-brands like Burberry, Dunhill and, of course, Aquascutum (whose Walton Raincoat, £695, is a standout potential purchase), but it also has a long, emotive, history with Yves Saint Laurent in Paris. Those aforementioned East London boys have been channelling 1970s rive gauche style more than they have wet-weather commutes across the Thames, but could never afford the real thing. This season YSL have a beautiful, classic, showerproof cotton gabardine Le Trench (£1230). It’s a luxe, masculine coat that would suit those who inhabit the front row at fashion shows, while also being understated, credible and classic enough for Monday to Friday in the city. Recently launched menswear portal Mr Porter stocks a more pared-down, updated YSL raincoat (£825) in sand cotton. It has a smart, well-tailored line, with concealed buttons and two oversized pockets, sized precisely to carry an iPad (or indeed two). Again – such details!

Many of the more adventurous design houses are surprisingly great places to find men’s rainwear. Balenciaga’s double-breasted raincoat (£1385) is in a sleek anthracite grey with a contrasting leather collar, while the off-beige, voluminous A-line coat (£1195) at Alexander McQueen has a quirky curved front hem and interesting, but not overly complicated, lapel and buttoning details. It’s a useful, shower-proof garment, with a light touch. Issey Miyake has always had an innovative approach to fabric development, and this season’s shower-proof single-breasted black overcoat (£850) has a texture and cut that’s absolutely modern. It has an exterior breast pocket and a single vent at the back, which can be secured with discreet drawstrings. As with much Japanese fashion, it’s deconstructed enough to be able to shove into an overhead locker, but chic enough to make your way through dreich and drizzle to the Royal Opera House.

‘There’s a new ease of wear in men’s rainwear,’ says Ivan Donovan, men’s wear buyer at that most influential of multi-brand boutiques, Browns. ‘There’s a breathability and an invisibility because of special coatings that can be applied to virtually any textile to make them water repellent. Last year’s Mackintosh/Junya Watanabe collaboration was particularly strong, as is Burberry. We stock Moncler who have interesting, contemporary pieces for this season, particularly the Grenoble collection which is cut and detailed like shirts.’ Moncler has a slavish following amongst many men and veers towards the off-duty, sportier end of the performance wear market. At the same time, it’s relaxed, with minimal exterior branding. This season’s black shower-proof jacket (£585), with a zip-collar concealing a drawstring hood, is a very versatile item of clothing.

Some of the most appealing rainwear right now is from overseas heritage or heritage-inspired brands. Italian brand Sealup has been producing performance-wear for its own label, and others, since 1935. Its Filippo Chiesa range boasts sharp, minimalist, Milanese-styled coats, while the eponymous Sealup line is more dapper and traditional in style. Both are stocked at the Sealup Club boutique, half an hour drive from central Milan, while the company continue to meticulously and discreetly produce rainwear for some of the biggest international designers around.

On a much smaller scale, Stockholm-based Stutterheim make just one kind of raincoat (£350), which comes in black (the Arholma Svart) or off-white (the Arholma Vit). Each coat is handsewn, and the seamstress responsible handwrites her name on the label. It’s based on a 1960s Swedish fisherman’s coat, reworked by Alexander Stutterheim and ex-Yohji Yamamoto designer Kumi Kawaji Edström. ‘I was tired of wearing golfer wear in a downpour,’ says Stutterheim. ‘I wanted to produce a state of the art raincoat. No Gore-tex. No Velcro. No reflectors. Slowfashion and handmade.’ The Stutterheim Arholma might just be the only raincoat you’ll ever need. It’s a serious piece of kit, so you could wear it for an unwelcome storm lashing on holiday in the Hebrides, but at the same time its pared-down Scandic style makes it fit for urban purpose too. In parallel with Burberry’s Art of the Trench web-project, Stutterheim has a Facebook page that invites their customers to send pictures of themselves in the Arholma, along with their musings on why they feel melancholy in the rain. ‘Swedish melancholy at its driest’ is the company motto.

In cities like Stockholm, New York and London, where rain is as inevitable as the loss of an umbrella, there comes a time when every man should own his perfect raincoat. The emergencies-only bright nylon pack-a-mac isn’t a credible option. While no one with anywhere to get in a hurry would ever invite a downpour, once you’ve acquired an Arholma, or indeed a Mackintosh Dunfeld, a Burberry Prorsum trench or any of the new crop of all-weather coats, it’s impossible not to hope for dark clouds to assemble, just for an excuse to dress for the occasion.


Alexander McQueen, 4-5 Old Bond Street, W1 (020-7355 0088; http://www.alexandermcqueen.com) and stockists.

Alfred Dunhill, 2 Davies Street, London W1 (0845 458 0779; http://www.dunhill.com) and branches.

Aquascutum, 100 Regent Street, W1 (020-7675 8200; http://www.aquascutum.com) and stockists.

Balenciaga, 12 Mount Street, W1 (020-7317 4400; http://www.balenciaga.com) and stockists.

Browns, 23 South Molton Street, London W1 (020-7514 0038; http://www.brownsfashion.com).

Burberry, 21-23 New Bond Street, London W1 (020-7968 0000; uk.burberry.com) and branches.

Issey Miyake, 52-53 Conduit Street, W1 (020-7851 4620; http://www.isseymiyake.com).

Mackintosh, 104 Mount Street, London W1 (020-7493 4578; http://www.mackintosh-uk.com).

Sealup, Vicolo Sardegna 14, 22074 Lomazzo (+39-02 96779510; http://www.sealup.net).

Stutterheim, Aktiebolaget Svenska Regn, Högbergsgatan 30, SE-116 20 Stockholm (+46 (0)723 28 83 00; stutterheim.se)

Yves Saint Laurent, 32 Old Bond Street, W1 (020-7493 1800; http://www.ysl.com) and stockists.


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