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It’s not news that a lot of ski culture hinges on a reminiscence of the past. Memories of bluebird ski days last season to visions of snow-covered A-frame cabins, skinny skis, and stories of parents ski bumming in the 1970s all apply. Ski culture’s obsession with nostalgia runs as deep as a powder day at Jackson Hole. Gaper Day, an affinity for old ski films and the conceptions of vintage-inspired, parody clothing companies like Shinesty or Tipsy Elves all come to mind. It all hits at the heart of skiing: playful, light, and fun.
Beyond just closing day costume parties however, new and old brands are paying homage to the past by revitalizing old looks with new, technical details and updates all over the place. SPYDER’s “Rad Pad” ski sweater, which was one of the company’s first products after being founded in 1978, came complete with padded arms for racing gates.
“The 1980’s was when SPYDER was really taking off,” says SPYDER’s Brand Manager Michael Suleiman. “The new Heritage line, specifically the Legacy Sweater, takes the look and feel of that era, but with new materials.” At first glance, this Merino Wool sweater’s chevron pattern looks truly old-school but, priced at $449, its updates include a Gore-Tex Infinium liner and a Gore-Tex V-neck gusset, making it a real option in 2020 for outerwear.
“I believe the best way a brand can revitalize ‘retro’ or bring back other decades is to build those prior trends with the brand’s DNA in mind,” says Emily Mercer, Fashion Market Editor at Women’s Wear Daily. “Consumers, especially now, are desiring nostalgia—be it childlike motifs, eighties workout garb or retro après-ski style.”
A brand referencing its own history and staying true to its DNA seems key. Like SPYDER, many legacy brands have always had signature pieces that seem to reflect the brand’s overall ethos, like Patagonia’s iconic Snap-T Fleece, or The North Face’s 1990 Mountain Jacket made with Gore-Tex but described as a “retro, weatherproof jacket for bringing back the ‘90s in functional style.”
The popularity of these vintage-inspired designs is a win-win for long-standing companies like SPYDER because, according to Suleiman, “even if people are going into thrift stores, odds are high they are finding older SPYDER gear, but if they want something newer that is more technical, we have that as well.”
Brands nodding to their legacy isn’t something new. “Obermeyer and Helly Hansen are brands that have also been mining their long history and producing heritage pieces for several years now,” says Sam Berman, Content Director at SKI who also covers apparel. “I think that the main reasons that the more storied brands are doing this is to remind consumers of their respectable history as a ski brand and to invoke nostalgia in their customer base.”
But it’s not just older brands paying tribute to a different era, new brands are working the past into their colorways, trims, and overall designs as well. Skida, founded in 2008, has launched its Vermont Collection of hats, buffs and headbands for the 2019/2020 season which celebrates the founder Corinne Prevot’s aunt Isle, who was a mountaineer in the French Alps in the 1980s and ‘90s. Isle died in an avalanche in Switzerland in 2003.
Made with Poly-spandex jersey with MAX-Dri moisture management technology, “the collection has been a few years in the making,” says Prevot. “But the inspiration comes from family legacy and the process of bringing this product line to you is steeped in experiences and memories of loved ones who shared a love for big mountains and the joy of skiing.”
So, whether it’s because of consumer demand for nostalgia, a brand practicing dynamic storytelling or larger fashion trends, retro wear isn’t going anywhere. “It’s all its own category at this point,” says Berman. And if this category means we’re donning brighter colors, paying homage to the renegades on skis who came before us, embracing thrift store finds and loving the look and fit of these updated looks, then here’s to the memories.