Outdoor Gear Is More Than Just A Fashion Statement; It's A Way To Stay Warm And Dry
G. Bruce Boyer
From the Print Edition:
Demi Moore, Autumn 96
The claustrophobic urban congestion gets to all of us. With the roar of traffic droning in our ears and the echoing blink of computer cursors fluttering in our eyes, we trudge along with our briefcase-cum-portable office, stuffed with laptop, cellular phone and calculator, dreaming of the peaceful solitude of a deserted beach at daybreak, or a brisk walk through dew-drenched autumn woods. Squinting down the carbon monoxide-filled concrete canyons, our numb brains have just enough energy to envision the verdant banks of a rippling trout stream, the cool clear water gurgling playfully around our Gore-Tex waders.
"I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky," we mutter (borrowing from poet John Masefield), ashen and hacking, our shirt collar constricting at every step.
Is there any further explanation needed for the flourishing of field and stream sports as never before? According to the U.S. Department of the Interior, more than 15 million people hold hunting licenses and 30 million own fishing licenses in the United States. These traditionally male-dominated sports are rapidly gaining popularity with women as well. Female shotgun target shooters and hunters, for instance, increased 79 percent between 1988 and 1993, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation.
On the business side, the foundation estimates that hunting and shooting sports annually generate more than $18 billion in economic activity in the United States and support more than 690,000 jobs. According to the American Sportfishing Association, fishing is even more popular: "The popularity of sport fishing has grown steadily over the past several decades to the point that one in four Americans now go fishing each year," according to the Edward Goldstein, the association's acting public affairs director. These anglers spend in excess of $24 billion annually. Of this amount, more than $530 million is spent on camping equipment--$195 million of that on special clothing.
This clothing encompasses a wide spectrum of gear, from custom-made tweed shooting suits and reversible parkas made out of loden (a thick woolen cloth for outerwear), to old khakis and flannel shirts. Once upon a time, when the trout were bigger, a person could get outfitted from his local sporting goods shop, the venerable pages of the L.L. Bean catalogue or that monument to sybaritic sports gear on Manhattan's Madison Avenue, Abercrombie & Fitch. That revered store went the way of all flesh back in 1973 (although its shops in other locations still exist) as did many of the smaller local sporting goods shops, only to be replaced with mega-athletic mall stores whose floor space is predominantly taken up with racks of logo-encrusted T-shirts and piles of hideously over-designed sneakers.
But L.L. Bean is still chugging along, as are half a dozen other fine companies with catalog merchandise. Along with several U.S. purveyors, a number of renowned European shops have recently given a decidedly luxe boost to field and stream accoutering by opening stores in the United States. What these venues have in common is a matchless concern for quality, defined by a wedding of function and style.
Granted that a high proportion of this type of clothing has become very much the fashion cry--everything from loden shooting capes to safari shirts are fair game for designers. But good sporting gear must be made to withstand the rigors of the outdoors. Boots must be comfortable all day long; pockets must actually hold and store items; jacket sleeves must be constructed for both ease of motion and protection from cold and wet; leather belts must be stitched with thread that won't rot; gun patches, bellows pockets, two-way zippers, removable hoods, storm-fly fronts, game pouches, fleece quilting--they're all there for a purpose.
Herewith our choices for the best suppliers of field-proven country clothes with panache. Addresses are those of the main venues in the United States and elsewhere. Prices are approximate and may vary.
165-169 New Bond Street,
London W1Y OAR
725 Fifth Avenue,
New York, New York 10022
Founded in 1781, Asprey remains under the direction of the Asprey family, having expanded from its origins as a manufacturer of fine dressing and writing cases (its first royal warrant as a supplier of traveling cases to Queen Victoria came in 1862) to jewelry, antiques, decorative gifts and tableware, objets d'art, clocks, watches and silver. The firm began offering shotguns and rifles in 1990, with a wide choice of new, used and made-to-measure guns. But it is the sportsman's wardrobe, accessories and gifts that concern us here. Clothing and gifts for the discerning marksman are designed to be practical and elegant. Asprey furnishes tweed jackets (£350/approximately $537) and shooting breeks (short trousers) (£145/$223), check shirts (£40/$61) and wool challis ties (£40/$61), and wonderful "Windstopper" lined sweaters (£135/$207). The firm also has cartridge magazines (250 shell size) in thistlehide leather (at £650/$998), and cartridge bags (at £65/$100 in green canvas, £175/$269 in thistlehide leather), telescopic design shooting sticks with saddle leather seat (£125/$192), beautiful and practical leather-lined wicker cocktail and luncheon hampers (from £1,100/$1,689 to £1,500/$2,303) for those picnics on the downs and leather-bound game books to record the bag (£155/$238). And for the dandies, hand-painted, 18-carat gold game bird cuff links (£1,950/$2,993).
J. Barbour & Sons
Simonside, South Shields, Tyne & Wear,
NE34 9PD, England
55 Meadowbrook Drive, Milford,
New Hampshire 03055
J. Barbour & Sons has been making fine outdoor clothing for a hundred years. Its specialty is its famous green waterproof and thorn-proof country jacket. Designed in 14 models--from a short, waist-length wading jacket to the calf-length "Burghley" overcoat--each is made of fine, long-staple, oil-proofed Egyptian cotton. All seams are double-rolled, zippers are corrosion-proofed and press studs are solid brass. The linings, collars and cuffs are designed for the best protection and lined with quality corduroy, cotton and wool. Available in heavyweight and lightweight versions, jackets are priced from about $275 to $400. Very pre-synthetic. The firm also stocks a selection of canvas field bags, socks and stockings, tweed hats and caps, knitwear and country shirts.
Freeport, Maine 04033
L.L. Bean is the grandfather of all sports mail-order catalogs. Started in 1912, the year that L.L. himself invented his now legendary rubber-and-leather Maine hunting boot, the company now publishes five outdoor catalogs--Spring Sporting, Summer Sporting, Winter Sporting, Fly Fishing and Hunting--in addition to its more general seasonal ones. Each catalog's hundred-odd pages is chockablock with products for camping and backpacking, cycling, skiing, hunting and fishing, boating and hiking--everything from kayaks and portable stoves to bike racks, binoculars and balaclavas. Apart from its famous hunting boot, Bean stocks perhaps the largest selection of outdoor footwear available: lightweight canvas-and-leather hikers ($55) and nylon trail-running shoes ($75), several dozen models of sandals and sneakers, and its hand-sewn camp moccasins, introduced in the 1920s (in three models: bluchers, camp mocs and boat mocs, each at $69). The "North Col" hiking boot of Gore-Tex and leather is a poem to rugged practical footwear ($185); Bean's "Aqua Stealth" wading shoes are ideal for mountain streams ($90). You'll also find a full complement of cotton chamois and flannel shirts, canvas duck field coats, insulated waders, whipcord and moleskin shooting trousers, cargo jackets and fishing vests, heavy and reinforced wool sweaters, deerskin gloves, down-filled camouflage parkas, insulated boot socks, Gore-Tex and neoprene waders, a dozen styles of fly vests and everything else for a day by a trout stream or a week in deep woods. Then there's the traditional and genuine split-wicker fishing creel for carrying your catch, complete with leather shoulder harness, latch strap and waist belt ($48).
718 Madison Avenue,
New York, New York 10021
317 South Washington Street,
Alexandria, Virginia 22314
Beretta is the world's oldest industrial enterprise: it has been making superior firearms in Italy since the sixteenth century. Bartolomeo Beretta, a contemporary of Leonardo da Vinci, became a master gun-barrel maker; a descendant, Pietro Beretta, made weapons for Napoleon. Today, in addition to the extraordinary guns and rifles, the firm creates a full range of hunting clothes and accessories--marvelous field jackets in water-repellent Rovertex cloth (with or without goose down) with all the authentic details: removable hood, adjustable waist, bellows pockets, zippered game pocket, quilted liners and storm cuffs (from $250 to $575). Beretta also offers extremely durable and handsome shirts in cotton gabardine, fine poplin and pinwale corduroy, with large button-flapped chest pockets (from $60), water-repellent cotton hunting trousers with cargo pockets ($95) and a good basic selection of sport luggage in green resin-coated cotton and tan leather (from $60 for a Dopp shaving kit to $550 for a hunting bag).
812 Thirteenth Avenue,
Sidney, Nebraska 69160
Cabela's chunky 200-page catalog is crammed with selections of duck decoys, binoculars, thermal underwear, plaid wool shirts by Pendleton and Woolrich, the firm's own label flannel-lined and Thinsulate-lined chamois shirts, 18-ounce wool-and-nylon shirts, wool shirts with suede collars and elbow and shoulder patches, and hunting and fishing hats and caps of every conceivable style. Cabela's has the largest collection of camouflage hunting clothing to be found anywhere.
London W1V OPE
Renowned for its English country clothes of traditional styling and durability, Cordings has been outfitters for gentlemen for more than a century and a half. It stocks a complete range of Grenfell cloth rainwear and Barbour jackets; the justly famous Veldtschoen shoe (it's like a shoe built within a shoe, for maximum protection) made by Crocket and Jones, long considered the best country walking footwear ever made; three-piece tweed shooting suits (jackets £325/$499, waistcoats £145/$223, plus fours--long knickers--£150/$230) and field coats (£395/$606); rubberized cotton mackintoshes--raincoats--short or long (£215 to £395/$330 to $606, respectively); a good selection of cotton-and-wool blend tattersall shirts (£52/$80); heavyweight corduroy and moleskin trousers in some 10 colors (£67/$103); and the Cording leather-lined rubber field boot (£195/$299).
41 East 57th Street,
New York, New York 10022
Marley Hodgson, Ghurka's founder and head designer, created the first Ghurka bag, the now famous khaki cotton twill and saddle leather "No. 1," as a bookbag for his son in 1975. Today the line includes about 200 choice items--the largest selection of the most elegant, yet durable, sportsman's luggage we know of: duffels, overnight bags, knapsacks, field bags, rod and creel cases, garrison bags, hip sacks (priced from $295 to $800); not to mention saddle flasks, camera bags and folding travel alarms. Of special note is the "No. 45 Valet," a veritable hanging closet with half a dozen zippered compartments, detachable vinyl-lined toilet pack, spacious main compartment and several large pockets for shoes, laundry, shirts and other bulky items ($995 in khaki twill). Most items are available in several handsome, natural grain, water-repellent leathers as well as the original twill.
777 Madison Avenue,
New York, New York 10021
Goldpfeil is included here because, since 1856, it has been a premier international leather goods maker. While the firm is perhaps best known among those with a taste for real luxury for its array of superior handmade purses, handbags and wallets, it is to the lightweight travel luggage and smaller personal leather goods that we turn here. The high-quality nylon bags with brass fittings and fine leather trim come in five colors and are the epitome of lightweight travel gear: backpack ($269), weekend carryall with rollers ($461), duffel ($271), garment bag ($767) and toilet kit ($91). Small leather items of a decidedly elegant practicality include a travel flask ($116), double compartment pillbox ($37), manicure kit ($138), stainless steel pocket knife and case ($146), and for those who want to get away but can't completely disconnect, a cellular phone case ($96).
Holland & Holland
31-33 Bruton Street,
London W1X 8JS
50 East 57th Street,
New York, New York 10022
"Making the best products is simple," says Alain Drach, chairman of Holland & Holland. "It's merely a matter of refusing to compromise at any stage in their manufacture." That's the kind of thinking that has made Holland & Holland a premier London gun maker since 1835. It holds the royal warrants of the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Edinburgh, among others. Its shotguns and rifles are meticulously custom-built (clients are measured with a "try gun" at Holland & Holland's shooting grounds, established in 1880), cost the equivalent of a small luxury car and are legitimately considered to be works of art as well as precise sporting guns.
Naturally, a firm with such tradition and expertise takes dressing for the occasion very seriously. Which is why it eventually produced its own range of country clothing: it wanted the best. The apparel, from broth-of-the-heather tweed jackets to handsome loden stalking capes, is the epitome of English sophistication: superior craftsmanship, highest quality fabrics, unsurpassed refinement of design.
The tweeds for the shooting jackets, breeks and field capes (£395/$606, £165/$253 and £425/$652, respectively) are as rugged and beautiful as the Highlands from which they come. Country shoes and boots (priced from £350/$537) are made from the finest calf leathers, "stuffed with oils," as the company succinctly puts it, to ensure they are waterproof; and shooting stockings in the most glorious colors are individually hand-knitted (from £45/$69 to £60/$92). The firm's field jackets are absolute paragons of the form, done in several versions--rubberized or dry wax cotton with snap-in loden lining, bonded tweed, reversible rubberized cotton, and quilted tweed or loden--all with heaps of pockets (£275/$422 to £445/$683). There are also perfect wool challis ties with game designs (£55/$84), tattersall waistcoats (£125/$192), tweed caps and felt hats (£45/$68 and £85/$130) and wonderful marled cashmere sweaters (from £350/$537 to £450/$691). The last word in estate dress.
16 East 53rd Street,
New York, New York 10022
While Hunting World carries a variety of tasteful clothing and accessories from handbags and beautiful silk scarves to wristwatches, it has been best known for three decades for its luggage and safari clothing. Store originator Bob Lee developed the "Battue" fabric during his years in Africa, when he became dissatisfied with other luggage material. Battue is a three-ply nylon fabric with a polyurethane coating, a shock-absorbing foam core and a nylon jersey inner layer; very protective in even the most extreme conditions. There are dozens and dozens of styles, from a small waist pac, tote or mini-pouch ($235, $757 and $500, respectively), to suit pacs, classic duffels and safari bags ($915, $710 and $857). The most extensive selection of quality cotton safari jackets (about a dozen different models, starting at $145) and shirts (from $85), as well as the real thing in a safari hat: impala brown felt with a 3 1/4-inch raw-edged brim and beige pleated puggaree band ($110).
1711 Blue Hills Drive, Box 12000,
Roanoke, Virginia 24012-8001
and 21 other locations throughout the United States and England.
Orvis has been accoutering field-and-stream sportsmen for more than a century, has its own fishing and shooting schools (800/235-9763 for information), and even offers a toll-free help line for technical questions about those sports (800/778-4778). While the firm has recently devoted more of its catalog to women's casual clothing, rustic home furnishings and pet paraphernalia, it still does a nice selection of sporting attire and accessories. Particularly noteworthy is the fine line of "Battenkill" canvas-and-leather kit bags: four sizes of duffels (from $139 to $225), club bags ($195 and $215), garment bags ($195) and Gladstone carryalls ($110), as well as bottle cases, rolling Pullmans, field bags, salt- and freshwater rod cases, camera bags--even a bag for your personal computer--if you must take the office with you! Also available is a range of nine-ounce bull-hide hunting boots and shoes by Gokey: fisherman shoes ($145), snake-proof boots ($395), hiking boots ($155) and camp moccasins ($135).
James Purdey & Sons (Accessories Ltd.)
84 Mount Street,
London W1Y 5HH
Next door to its famous Purdey Gun Shop at 57-58 South Audley Street, James Purdey & Sons has a shop devoted to a wide range of shooting clothes and accessories. Shooting coats come in a variety of fabrics--loden ($400), tweed ($530) and weatherproofed cotton ($210)--and they are everything one could want in craftsmanship and design. The selection of waxed cotton clothing includes shooting coats ($210 for medium weight, $250 for heavyweight), overtrousers ($80), hats ($30 to $134) and overskirts for the ladies ($150). You can also find hunting breeks in tweed, moleskin and corduroy ($110 to $179); a good selection of cloth hats and caps; wonderful rubber boots (including the Vierzon leather-lined, side-zipper model, at $300); gloves and sweaters.
W.C. Russell Moccasin Co.
285 S.W. Franklin Street,
Berlin, Wisconsin 54923-0309
Founded in 1898, the W.C. Russell Moccasin Co. produces more than 50 styles of handmade moccasins, boots and casual shoes--both in stock and made-to-order. Many hunters say that the popular nine-inch "Bird Shooter" is the best lightweight, all-purpose hunting boot ever made: uppers of water-proofed leather, single vamp construction, handsewn toe seams, oak leather midsole and counters, as well as traction rubber soles ($165, made-to-order; $220 in waterproofed French veal--calfskin--leather). The 18-inch snake boots are handsewn works of art in 10-ounce bull-hide leather ($325 made-to-order), as is the kangaroo chukka (double vamp construction, closed gusset, crepe soles, glove leather lined, $166 made-to-order). A variety of comfortable casual camp moccasins with or without soles are also available.
808 Smith Avenue, P.O. Box 2055,
Thomasville, Georgia 31799-2055
Last year, Stafford's celebrated its 50th year as a supplier of hunting and other outdoor apparel and gifts. Clothing includes Lewis Creek shooting jackets and vests, selections of luggage by Filson (22-ounce oil-finished canvas and saddle leather duffels and shooting bags from $85 to $205) and Holland Sport (Latigo saddle leather English field bags, anglers bags, weekend bags and gun cases from $155 to $450). A variety of English-made shooting sticks ($115 to $130), traditional and ranch-style cotton poplin brush trousers with reinforced canvas leg facings ($62 to $69), leather-faced whipcord hunting trousers ($200), poplin shooting shirts with suede gun patches on the shoulder to cushion your shotgun or rifle ($40) and cotton moleskin quilted shooting jackets ($210) are some of the outstanding items. There is also an extensive sportingbooks library.
10 Old Bond Street,
London W1X 3DB
Swaine Adeney has been trading in London since 1750 and has held a royal warrant since it was first granted one by King George III. Suppliers of whips and other riding equipment to 10 successive monarchs, the family-run business now includes riding clothes and kits, casual clothing, gifts and accessories, and its famous umbrellas and canes. The travel umbrella, with detachable handle and tip, is the best of its kind (priced at around £145/$223). A complete selection of the estimable green Wellie country boots (£49/$75), country checked shirts in wool-and-cotton (£65/$100) and soft-as-chamois moleskin shirts (in lovat, fawn and olive, at £79/$121), and hard-wearing corduroy trousers (in dark green, corn and navy, at £81/$125) are some of the more notable items. The firm is also good for those heavy-ribbed, military-styled sweaters with the suede elbow and shoulder patches (£107/$165).
Willis & Geiger
1902 Explorer's Trail,
Reedsburg, Wisconsin 53959
Willis & Geiger first published a catalog just last year, although the firm has been making wonderful outdoor clothing for more than 90 years. It has outfitted such famous sportsmen as Teddy Roosevelt and Ernest Hemingway; explorers Sir Edmund Hillary, Charles Lindbergh and Adm. Richard Byrd; and a host of other high-wattage personalities such as generals Douglas MacArthur and Jimmy Doolittle, and actor Clark Gable. The firm's all-time coup is its legendary "Type A-2" brown horsehide flight jacket that it first designed for U.S. Army fighter pilots in the 1930s and which was used extensively during the Second World War. The original and authentic jacket is still available--brass zipper, merino wool waist and cuff ribbing, stitched epaulets and all--at $368 to $388. Recommended for warm-weather wear are the firm's 340-count cotton poplin clothing: bush jackets ($120), trousers ($76), shirts ($66 and $84), fishing vests ($178) and its "Professional Outdoorsman" jackets (with eight very practical pockets, recoil pads, epaulets, bi-swing back--for greater freedom of movement--gusset cuffs and concealed hood, at $188). Cold-weather coats include goose down parkas with waterproof and windproof shells ($278), quail coats with button-out wool linings ($288) and substantial shearling hooded parkas that look like they could take the Arctic in complete composure ($788).
G. Bruce Boyer is the author of Eminently Suitable (W.W. Norton, 1990). A New Generation of Fabrics
Leave it to the Italians to design the perfect blend of fashion and function. Two of the world's leading textile and clothing manufacturing firms-- Ermenegildo Zegna and Loro Piana--have introduced new fabrics this year, the results of advanced research in material technology.
Zegna has been a world leader in prestigious fabrics for most of this century. Since the 1960s, it has been producing its own line of handsomely tailored clothing and sportswear. This spring the firm introduced its "Yachting" collection of outerwear--from winter to summer--made from a new cloth called Microtene 10.000. A superthin polyester fiber is used to produce a yarn of extraordinary lightness--much finer than silk, a mere kilo of it would stretch around the equator--which means it can be densely compacted, allowing it to be both porous and virtually waterproof.
The fabric has a very pleasing peach-skin feel, the result of an emery-polished finish, and the garments perform exceptionally well in the wet and cold. The various jacket styles are so handsome they can serve admirably as outerwear around town.
The firm of Loro Piana has created another breakthrough cloth. Its truly remarkable patented "Storm System" all-weather fabric guarantees warmth, lightness and protection from wind and rain. Loro Piana used its expertise in spinning, weaving and finishing techniques to exploit the natural thermal properties of the finest cotton, wool and cashmere. Then, working with U.S.-based Gore Technologies, a world leader in the field of synthetic polymers that developed a special microporous membrane for an all-weather lining, Loro Piana created a new generation of outerwear fabrics.
These fabrics have been taken up by such fashionable firms as Faconnable, Brioni, Canali and Armani for raincoats, parkas, sports jackets and other outerwear, as well as a line from Loro Piana that includes riding and field jackets (originally designed for the Italian equestrian team). This is sumptuous, high-performance gear, guaranteed to retain a dry and elegant appearance even in the most challenging weather.
--GB Custom Shooting Suits
If you were thinking of having a nice tweed shooting suit custom made, the chap to see is Leonard Logsdail, an English gentleman and one of the finest tailors on Savile Row, but now practicing his art of bespoke cutting in New York City.
"We used to do tweed shooting suits on a regular basis in London, and I still do several every season over here," says Logsdail. "We prefer what I call 'working tweed,' stout 18-ounce thorn-proof cloth that can stand up to the rigors of the hunt. The second criterion is comfort: we provide bellows pockets, bi-swing back, suede gun patch, throat latch, even an inside hare pocket with a waterproof lining in the jacket if the customer wants. And since the swing of the gun is the most important movement in the field, we want to make sure the back rides free and that the sleeves are slightly longer for breaking in. On the plus fours we can do strap-and-buckle knee fasteners or Velcro, whatever the customer wants."
That kind of attention and perfection, of course, does not come cheaply. Logsdail will want $2,500 for a custom-made, two-piece estate shooting suit, and three fittings to complete it over a six-week period. And, for another $100 or so, he'll add a custom-made flat field cap to complete the outfit.
510 Madison Avenue,
New York, New York 10022
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