High Fashion Featured

The close links between sports and runways have distant origins

by

 Google +

03 June 2013

In a way, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were there, in their tiny tent perched on a ledge at 8,500 metres above sea level, by chance. On 26 May 1953, Tom Bourdillon and Charles Evans had tried the final assault on the summit of Everest, but they had had to retreat when their oxygen system failed.

After eating sardines on biscuits, tinned apricots, dates, jam and honey, Hillary and Norgay slept for four hours, a gale pounding the tent. At 4.30 a.m., the wind abated, Hillary looked out and saw that the clouds were lifting, and decided to try for the top. At 6.30 a.m. they started, in sunshine and at -17°C. As they climbed, the snow deteriorated, but by about 10.00 a.m. they had reached a 50-foot vertical cliff. The last sting in the tail. Hillary found a cleft between the rock face and the snow, and levered himself upwards, trying not to look down the 3,300-metre drop into Tibet. After reaching the top of the cliff, he helped Norgay climb up. From there, they cut steps into the snow, and, their strength flagging due to having to ration their oxygen, they made their way up to the summit. The final metres were a narrow snow ridge. At 11.30, on 29 May 1953, they placed their feet onto the highest point of the earth.

The expedition had many connections to Switzerland, not least in the form of the boots worn by Tenzing, and by all the Sherpas. They were made by historic Swiss company Bally, who had begun crafting mountaineering boots in the 1940s for Swiss expeditions. Tenzing's boots had a reindeer fur shell, a separate inner, and a sturdy sole, based principally on rubber, with little metal, reducing the risk of frostbite. The lace-up system on the front made it easier for climbers to adjust their boots in extreme cold.

This year, Bally is celebrating the ascent with the Everest capsule collection. This comprises a number of boot designs, amongst which the Vilmos boot, based on Tenzing's boots. They are made using hooks by the same supplier as used on the original, and marmot fur lined in warm cashmere. The result: resort boots with an amazing appearance. These products will be available in Bally boutiques from 27 May 2013, exactly 60 years after the conquest of Everest.

Bally was founded in 1851, while in England, Thomas Burberry set up his own company in 1856. Like Bally, Burberry acquired considerable technical expertise, introducing the water-resistant fabric gabardine used in equipment for sports and expeditions. In 1911, they supplied garments to Roald Amundsen, the first man to reach the South Pole, and Ernest Shackleton for his expedition across Antarctica. George Mallory wore a Burberry jacket on his tragic bid to climb Everest in 1924. Today, this sports heritage can be seen in the brand's aviator jackets, and, this season, in its fantastic reflective colours, which have the same function as the bright tones used for sports gear: to be noticed.

Moncler is famous worldwide for its quilted jackets, which were first designed in the early 1950s in order to help workers in the Grenoble Alpine area keep warm. French mountaineer Lionel Terray saw them and worked with the company on the development of a range of sports equipment: quilted jackets, gloves and sleeping bags. Moncler jackets were used by the Italian Karakorum expedition, in which Achille Compagnoni and Lino Lacedelli became the first to climb the earth's second highest mountain in 1954. Today, Moncler, like Burberry, has successfully made the transition to a global fashion brand, but its range still includes a lot of sports-influenced garments, above all in its Gamme Bleu and Future Heritage ranges, with sailing and climbing influences.

The world of fashion includes many other brands with distinctive notes of sport: Hermès and Gucci, with their echoes of saddlery and the riding tradition; Dirk Bikkembergs, probably the first designer to bring football onto the runways; LaMartina and Ralph Lauren, with their polo connection; Lacoste and tennis, and many others. Sports has become so popular with the general public that it is no surprise that designers of all brands keep a weather eye open to the shapes and colours that appear on playing fields, courts and pitches. Sports and fashion continues to be a profitable and exciting combination.