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On the Upward Slope of the Rich Ski Aesthetic

fashion beauty runway on the upward slope of the rich ski aesthetic

Gstaad? Courchevel? Val d’Isère? Is it more Whistler or Tremblant? Whatever your winter playground destination this year, alpine chic reigns supreme since ski slopes have long provided the perfect blank canvas for fashion’s more dramatic looks. Perhaps that’s because winter sports activities require an entirely specialized wardrobe — while simultaneously attracting the flushest of the jet set, for whom skiing and being seen are on par.

Ski style is flourishing on and off the slopes. According to Google Trends, the interest in ‘rich ski aesthetic’ has increased by 72% in the past year, reaching its peak in December 2023.

It’s all about wearing ski-inspired clothing, cold-weather garments and accessories. Think puffers, which lie at the very intersection of streetwear and sports. The brands? High-end Moncler, of course, and all the other ultra premium designer labels. If imitation is the highest form of flattery, cue in the Super Puff, Canadian retailer Aritzia’s biggest hit. Moon Boots, one of the staples of ski style, have also been on the rise. Google says searches for moon boots have increased by 56% in the past year, reaching their peak in January 2024.

Also to be noted: a renewed interest in natural furs in the shape of purses, vests and shoes. How could you not love a mink Birkenstock for your sit-in-front-of-the-fireplace chalet moments?

“The luxe rich ski aesthetic trend emerged from the glamorous ski resorts frequented by the elite. Think difficult to reach places that are not usually serviced by commercial airlines. It’s where high fashion meets the slopes,” says Marie-Christine Sirois, a self-described Fashion Stylist, Interior Design Enthusiast, and Glamour Connoisseur, based in Quebec. 

Because it’s more than just fashion, the overall aesthetic “even moves into our decors, with Alpine-inspired luxury; faux fur throws, antler chandeliers, and plush, cozy textures and…Cheese fondue with a side of caviar and Champagne, reflecting a luxurious, adventurous and sophisticated way of life.”

“Imagine this – a blend of functional luxury and mountain elegance. It’s about looking effortlessly chic while braving the frosty elements,” emphasizes Marie-Christine.

So why not play up these two contrasts with your ‘fits, when headed for the hills? The elements dictate high-performance, waterproof, thermally efficient outerwear. But just as important to pack in your monogrammed suitcase: frivolous furs and shearling coats, oversized sunglasses and the fuzziest of knits, ready for the après-ski fun — and sunbathing for Spring skiing — scene.

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The Evolution of Cold Weather Sports

The pairing of skiwear and fashion is not really new.

The love affair between the two started back in the 1920s, after the first-ever Winter Olympics were held in Chamonix, France, in 1924. Designers of the era started creating beautiful skiwear that included two-piece pantsuits and woollens. But when American fashion label Eddie Bauer introduced the first goose down jacket in 1936, it was a game changer. Especially when it coincided with the opening of the first chairlift in Sun Valley, Ohio, attracting troves of wealthy vacationers to the area.

About a decade later, in 1947, another first. Italian Olympic hopeful and fashion designer Emilio Pucci created the one-piece ski suit. (No, alas, it did not have the highly saturated psychedelic prints the aristocratic Italian designer would become known for in the 1960s.) Thanks to Pucci’s innovative use of stretchy fabrics, skiers could now stay warm while gliding more aerodynamically.

But it would take a woman, German fashion designer and professional skier Maria Bogner, to inject a heady dose of sexiness in the winter sport with the launch of her form-fitting stretch ski pants made of water-repellent material. A new era was born, particularly since she also brought to the hills a rainbow of bright colours. A truly rebellious act since the vast majority of skiers were donning attire featuring (boring?) neutral colours such as black, navy, gray, and spruce green, with the very occasional splash of red as an accent colour on Nordic sweaters.

In the ’50s, the French term ‘après-ski’ was born, as skiers wanted to look equally stylish at the chalet, later on. The growing popularity of the sport as a pastime during that decade of renewed optimism, post Second World War, meant skiers could experiment with their outfits beyond them being purely functional. Seduction was definitely in the rarefied air of high-mountain cavorting.

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The sixties saw a collision of space age hype, technological innovation, and ready-to-wear fashion on a global scale that also took to the mountains. Technical materials like spandex, Gore-Tex, Lurex, and even vinyl, started popping on the slopes. It was the golden age of ski wear. Snoods, mod ski goggles and the aforementioned Moon Boots, created by Italian designer Giancarlo Zanatta inspired by the Apollo 11 lunar landing, were the accessories du jour. Meanwhile, designers like Christian Dior, Emilio Pucci, Pierre Cardin, and André Courrèges started producing high-fashion skiwear lines that appealed to jet-setters and celebrities.

Hollywood began taking note, as ski’s sexy appeal skyrocketed courtesy of slinkier-than-ever outfits. Bond film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was one of the first to show these stylish ski suits in action while The Pink Panther leading ladies Capucine and Claudia Cardinale were outfitted in custom Yves Saint Laurent for skiing and après scenes. So glam!
In the early seventies, echoing what was being shown on the slopes, ski-inspired fashion started trickling down into city dressing. Canadian footwear brands such Cougar, Kamik, Sorel, and coat manufacturer Canada Goose, began to integrate ski detailing and items into everyday streetwear. Quilted nylon ski jackets had zip-off sleeves, effortlessly turning them into vests for bar-hopping in the city.

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Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous?

If you’re wondering why ski style is so hot right now, several factors come into play. Some of them having to do with how everyone wants to document outings and big fashion moments. The ski slopes offer both. Yes, blame the hypnotic and addictive appeal of Instagram and TikTok. But the most impactful might be the huge return to travel. To all destinations.

Mountain resorts have that magical quality: far removed from daily life, high above the clouds, surrounded by the quiet of nature, they make the visitor feel like they’re on another planet. And even more so when we’re talking about super luxe destinations where the people Gstaad Guy parodies are definitely at home.

It probably took Miu Miu’s fall winter 2021 collection to propel skiwear back into the big fashion arena, with its oversized ski suits in dusty pastel satins, knitted balaclavas, girly takes on Fair Isle knits, and onesies. Yes, we have seen tons of them, since. And, well, ice and snow have been on the drawing board of many luxe labels, lately, for us to make a statement on the slopes with unrivalled style and functional panache.

Storied fashion houses like Dior, Chanel, Chloé and Balmain have taken the alpine chic to unparalleled highs with items that are all about balancing performance with style, tradition with innovation, and luxury with skilled resilience.

But is this rich ski aesthetic only for billionaire snow bunnies?

“Not necessarily, says Marie-Christine Sirois. Basically, you don’t need a trust fund! Opt for high-quality basics, focus on key pieces, and don’t forget thrift stores for awesome vintage finds.”

In terms of items to choose, she favours cashmere turtlenecks, sleek one-piece ski suits and fur-trimmed parkas. And, please, no holds barred with accessories! “Go for oversized sunglasses, leather gloves, and statement snow boots.”

Of course, Canadian brands like Mackage and Rudsak have created beautiful snow statement pieces that also offer high-performance cold protection. And even fast-fashion global retailer Zara has created a capsule ski collection for winter 2024. Translation: The rich ski aesthetic has hit the affordable market.

Which means we should all heed Marie-Christine’s words of fashion wisdom: “While it’s popular among the ultra-wealthy, this aesthetic is about style, not price tags. It’s an attitude.”

Well said!

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