High fashion on the high seas

High fashion on the high seas

The once disparate worlds of luxury fashion and yachting are becoming increasingly intertwined, writes Josh Sims.

When Monaco-based yacht-builders Wally launched its acclaimed triangular hull concept, proposing something akin to a floating apartment, its partner in the project was no mistake. Wally’s co-creator was French fashion brand Hermes.

Certainly, if high fashion and yachting used to go together like oil and water, now private commissions and sponsorship deals have seen the likes of Giorgio Armani devise yacht interiors, Louis Vuitton launch the Louis Vuitton Trophy and, more recently, the Trophy Auckland regatta, and Prada pour money into its own America’s Cup racing team.

Small wonder then that such brands have followed with a new breed of style-driven sailing clothing: Prada’s Luna Rossa line - named after the yacht and including replicas of the sailing team’s clothes - alone has annual sales of over _20m.

Puma has now set sail for the first time, Italian luxury textiles company Loro Piana has launched its Regatta clothing collection and Porsche Design its Marina Collection, its first specialist sailing clothing line, developed in conjunction with three-times Olympic gold medal sailor Jochen Schuemann.

“Sailing has become much more a topic of media and public interest than it was, say, a decade ago,” says its CEO Juergen Gessler, “and that is driving demand for stylish, new products.

And while boat-shoes have long been a fashion must-have, of course, you can see other types of sailing clothes increasingly making the transition to being worn casually too.”

Indeed, the interest of fashion brands in the sport, as well as that of a younger consumer, is now also prompting a reassessment of the place of style among the marine clothing brands who have traditionally placed functionality well to the fore - with issues of weight, waterproofing, articulation, corrosion, layering and storage all deemed priority.

Visitors to such famed sailing events as the Round the Island Race on the Isle of Wight this June, or the Tall Ships Race in St. Malo and Lisbon in July or Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez in September might expect a more stylish line-up from the sea-dogs.

Boat shoe companies are already deep into the style market: Sperry Top-Sider has launched its new lifestyle stores in the US, while competitor Sebago has created a limited-distribution fashion line.

But now Gill Clothing, for example, the official technical clothing sponsor for Cowes Week, has also created its Race Collection, a co-ordinated 12-piece range aimed at providing the teams in match races - the F1 of yachting - with a distinctive look: in an unusual silver-grey with hi-vis colour flashes.

“Fashion brands might develop a capsule line for what is now a highlyaspirational sport before moving onto something else, while marine brands have to be careful not to dilute their perception in the rather insular marine market.

"But there is no question that that market is developing an appreciation that a technical garment should look as good as it possibly can,” says Matt Gill, Gill’s product development manager.

“Now consumers don’t just want red, yellow or navy, for example. Up until just a few years ago you would never see black. It might be low-visibility in the water but it looks good and has seen real demand.”

Nor is Gill Clothing alone in pursuing the likes of Hugo Boss and Tommy Hilfiger in bringing such fashion names’ more pleasing aesthetics to their specialised clothing. Norwegian brand Helly Hansen has sought to blur the fashion/function boundary with its new Ask advanced sportswear line - “because there’s a readiness to buy new sailing kit in line with changes in fashion now,” suggests its watersports manager Tor Jenssen.

“People used to buy new every decade. Now it can be very other year.” Application of the latest manufacturing technology - in which the marine brands are ahead - has resulted in attractive but utilitarian detailing too.

Henri Lloyd has teamed up with Japanese fabric and chemical manufacturer Teijin to launch Blue Eco, sailing’s first fully recyclable, waterproof/breathable collection.

“We’re aware that the same people who sail often ski or climb and are influenced by the style of those sports too, and as the market gets more competitive bringing aesthetics to the technology is what’s giving an edge,” argues David O’Mahoney, Henri Lloyd’s technical design manager.

“Now it’s about using that technology to create more stripped-back, streamlined style which is its own look. Ugly garments won’t cut it on the water anymore.”

But when kitting yourself out for sailing, be cautious not to go overboard either. After all, one conclusion of a study paper in consumer research entitled ‘The Consumption of Clothing in the Sailing Community’ by the Universities of Strathclyde and Stirling, was that the close-knit subculture of the sailing world was quick to identify and dismiss neophytes by their style.

Newbies typically wore either inappropriate clothing or the unnecessarily hi-tech. ‘True’ yachtsmen and women, on the other hand, expressed their experience by simply donning the rather careworn and mis-matched.