The spirit that inspires the adventurous gentle-man of today may be as delicate as the breeze that rustles the pheasant from the blind or as consuming as the obsession that summons the salmon toward its spawning ground. Just as diverse are the forces that compel men to dress for outdoor exploits.
The elegance of Old World macho--when men were men and dressed like it--is still with us. The difference is that it used to be fairly certain that when a man donned a hunting jacket or a fishing vest, some blood would spill. Today, those garments may just as well be uniforms for a walk through the park or a visit to a tobacconist. The bravado of the heroic types created by authors such as Ernest Hemingway and Jack London continues to inform much of the adventure wear for men, especially that which is designed by venerable companies that combine sportsmanship and fashion, passing the mantle from generation to generation.
Yes, men still yearn for thrills (see related story, page 184), but they have further learned that the clothes designed for seeking them also offer craftsmanship and details that relate to other parts of their life. When it comes to finding superbly made garments that bridge many uses, the hunt may be over.
Through the ages, decorum has demanded that men attire themselves in a certain manner for genteel sporting events. Even today, in spite of the trend toward extreme sports, radical stunts and megadeath confrontations, the tradition of more sophisticated gentlemen's sports exists. Still popular are the precision of equestrian competitions, the subtle art of falconry,the bold rush of a safari, the quiet reflection of angling.
However, clothing designed for weekends at the manor house now are constructed of modern fabrics that make them perfect for tooling around in the Hummer or for a getaway to an Alpine ski resort. Refined enough to suggest flawless taste, rugged enough to appeal to those seeking avid adventure, gentlemen's performance sportswear is a special hybrid breed.
Italian-based Beretta perhaps best understands this complicity. Founded in 1526 to manufacture barrels for guns, Beretta now excels in forming fashion as well as firearms. Today, the company is headed in part by Franco Gussali Beretta, the youngest member of the 15th generation of the Beretta family. For gentlemanly sports, Beretta features hand-tailored hunting or safari jackets produced with the luxurious expertise of the Italian menswear manufacturer Brioni.
Care is taken with detailing of special pockets, leather or horn buttons, and suede or leather gun patches. Exclusive ties are created by Marinella, the famous Neapolitan luxury neckwear maker. Shirts, trousers and vests in the lightest-weight luxe fabrics are made exclusively by the acclaimed Loro Piana mill. Franco Beretta touts his company's modern-day collaboration that laminates high-tech luxury fabrics like Loro Piana cashmeres with Storm System, a waterproofing technique for the ultimate in hunting or outdoors wear. Talk about being dressed to kill.
When a sporting gentleman walks into the world of Wathne, which boasts boutiques in Los Angeles and New York City, he istransported into an Old World French sporting lodge. Wathne specializes in fly fishing gear, for both the rod and the bod. Continuing classics include the made-in-Scotland rubber-coated cotton Macintosh finished with seams sealed against inclement weather. And while thigh-high waders may not make the move from the stream to the street, the angler's vest in wax-treated cotton with multiple pockets that keep fishing gear dry is perfect for transporting picnic paraphenalia, camera accoutrements or children's Pokéman cards during off-angling hours.
For those true trout tacklers, Wathne has commissioned the House of Hardy in London to create a limited edition of custom-designed high-performance outfits, which are individually numbered. According to Wathne, the House of Hardy is the holder of the royal warrant as manufacturers to His Royal Highness, The Prince of Wales, and is one of the foremost makers of fly fishing equipment, with more than a century's worth of tradition behind it.
Well over a century stands behind British-based Holland & Holland, which since 1835 has become known as the Rolls-Royce of the rifle. The company has always approached the making of guns with a precision similar to that of a tailor making haute couture garments. The company takes up to two years to create an instrument customized by measurements, a thorough study of the individual's shooting technique, and the customer's choice of wood type. Jose Levy, a young French designer hired in 1998 to design the Holland & Holland menswear collection, pursues his duty with the company's intense concern with quality.
Over the last two seasons, Levy has "lightened up the fabrics, modernizing and re-newing them. I've spoken to hunters and tried to understand what they wanted and what was lacking in the collection. The clothes had been incredibly beautiful, but very heavy," he admits. "I like the tweed jackets, love them, but if they're so heavy and not comfortable, they cannot be truly protective."
Levy has reworked the pieces that complement the Holland & Holland hunting accoutrements, using very light tweeds and fabrics, coating many of them with a Mylar or Teflon finish to make them waterproof. "Now, everything is more real, more practical," says the designer. Whimsical in nature, Levy has incorporated the look of Holland & Holland's hallmark wood grain into scarves that look like sticks. He has also artfully created a cashmere scarf that has a rifle motif.
Orvis, founded in Manchester, Vermont, in 1856 by Charles F. Orvis, is the oldest sporting goods mail-order company in the world. Originally specializing in fly fishing equipment, Orvis casts a wider net today. After developing and introducing the ventilated fly reel--still the prototype for all modern fly reels--Orvis later added other reels, flies and tackle. Since its purchase in 1965 by Leigh Perkins, the company's catch of the day includes a lifestyle conglomeration of fowl-shooting clothing, shotguns, traditional country clothing, artwork and gifts.
The Perkins family, made up of avid sportsmen who remain devoted to country living, promotes not only fashions aimed at the sporting life, but fly fishing and shooting schools oriented to educating students with the proper techniques and good conservation habits as a way of life. As an ongoing program, Orvis is intricately involved in the preservation of fish and wildlife habitats across the country.
High-quality ad-venture wear exists not only in the well-respected sporting goods institutions. The sporting lifestyle influences high-end designers worldwide. Ralph Lauren has built a fashion empire out of clothes made for manor dwellers. Hunting jackets and fishing vests serve as a source of inspiration for items found in some form, season after season, throughout Lauren's collections.
The designer even usurped the name Polo--that paragon of horse sports elitism--when he created his company. Other designers, such as Jean Paul Gaultier, include the traditional riding coat, or redingote, in their collections. All of which goes to say that adventure dressing--whether for safari or dressage--can be an adventure in and of itself.
Kimberly Cihlar, a freelance writer living in New York City, covers fashion and lifestyle.