THE ANORAK: IT'S BACK

The triumphant return of the humble anorak is under the forgiving banner of retro chic. Our panel experience parka life
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The Independent Culture
Just as the twin-set revitalised that 1950s carry-about, the cardy, so a Nineties penchant for three-quarter-length coats has led to a rethink of the anorak. Far from indicating a person whose fashion sense is on a par with their trainspotter-esque hobbies, the anorak - originally an Inuit garment for use in Arctic regions - is now alleged to be an example of retro chic for all ages, even, in its most traditional forms, raiment for pop stars.

THE PANEL

No fashion designer we consulted would admit to calling their padded autumn jackets "anoraks", but our panel knew exactly what they considered acceptable under this label. Aged 23 to 45, they included self-confessed fashion victim John Moore, keen walker and climber Justin Silk, travel writer Martin Wright, actor Robert Farrant; clubber Vivienne Fairley and cyclist Penny Hudson.

THE TEST

First and foremost, we considered whether the jackets in our selection were stylish enough to survive the appellation "anorak" and benefit from such a subtle irony. Warmth and comfort were other key issues, as were some surprisingly high prices.

***KARRIMOR UNISEX "WEATHERTITE" WITH ZIP-IN FLEECE

pounds 199

Despite being "hideously practical" (according to Vivienne Fairley) and being supplied in a dubious blue with red zip-in fleece, this dual purpose ensemble from Karrimor gathered points all round for doing what many panellists thought an anorak should do: keep you dry under any conditions, protect you from the wind whilst still being "breathable" through modern fabric technology, and offer warmth without weight through the fleece. Justin Silk quickly spotted the zipped pocket beneath the jacket's central baffle ("Excellent - you can take your chocolate bar out without undoing the main zip and letting heat escape") and declared the Karrimor perfect for all active outdoor pursuits. Wear the fleece alone with the hood up and you could do a quick impersonation of Damon Albarn. Robert Farrant agreed it was "for the serious person who's prepared to freeze their butt off in Cumbria," adding firmly, "one would never buy this sort of thing."

** BONEVILLE UNISEX QUILTED

pounds 235

"This isn't an anorak, it's an eiderdown," protested Martin Wright, squashing all our pro-pop enthusiasm with an assertion that, "The day Liam Gallagher wears this, Oasis are finished." Despite its "mesh lining" (a silvery fabric which looks like an ironing board cover) for "wicking away moisture", you could bake a potato inside the Boneville, it's so warm. Supplied to us in an alarming electric blue, the sleeves extend into black sewn-in fingerless gloves, described by some testers as "bizarre" and others as "excellent". The tea-cosy-shaped hood reduced Justin Silk's good looks to something resembling a face painted on an Easter egg. "It could be cool," said Vivienne Fairley, "but as soon as you put the hood up you feel like a very sad pixie."

****STONE ISLAND UNISEX WITH WOOL GILET

pounds 449

This was our most nautical anorak - a cool, stone-coloured cotton jacket, with a "detachable" wool gilet on the inside, held in by looped ropes deemed far too complex to encourage detaching it ("I'm surprised they don't supply an able seaman to follow you round," said Robert Farrant.) The collar can be buttoned up, hospital orderly-style, but who wants to look like Hannibal Lecter? Several testers objected to an external label on the sleeve ("strictly for tag hags," said Martin Wright) and the impractical colour, but agreed that the black and white contrast is what makes this jacket, which was second favourite due to its great cut and comfort.

*****C P COMPANY UNISEX PADDED COTTON WITH GOGGLES

pounds 525

Immediately impressive for its luxurious, softly brushed fabric and understated chocolate colour, this jacket combines great styling ("a bit like a Barbour, but doesn't make you look like a point-to-point country twit") with a gimmick; aviator's goggles sewn into the hood. It has a gorgeously-made, detachable, quilted lining. Testers were inclined to fantasise: "I'm in fringe theatre - no, I'm part of a nuclear warfare protection unit!" said Martin Wright. "This is so macho, it hurts," beamed Penny Hudson, thrilled. Though most panellists judged the goggles ridiculous, they secretly adored them, proving it by voting this their favourite, despite the price. "The jacket is cheap," theorised Robert Farrant "Only pounds l. The goggles cost pounds 524. Well worth it."

***GAS UK IRIDESCENT

Men's pounds 120, women's pounds 115

Unsurprisingly, these shimmering, padded anoraks appealed instantly to the young clubbers, who fancied themselves on the dance floor in them, no matter what the sweaty result. But older testers also found the jackets "good value", "comfortable" and "rather cute" - especially the women's version; "what a great Italianate cut". Robert Farrant proposed to wear his to a film premiere over a white shirt and bow tie: "I think it would work." Penny Hudson said she would wear hers "to meet the men from Mars and show them we're as advanced as they are." Affordable, and would last a couple of seasons before you grew tired of them.

***SISLEY NYLON

Men's pounds 133, women's pounds 73

"I feel like the man from the gas board come to read the meter," wailed Martin Wright in the straight-up men's navy anorak with quilted detachable lining from Sisley. Other testers referred to policemen and airport workers in their style assessments, though John Moore said it was his second favourite, insisting that it was "Issey Miyake from two years ago." It's true that his modelling had a certain street cachet, but it would be hard to look like a policeman with a metal spike through your nose. The female version - a sort of Blake's Seven Seventies padded bunny jacket which takes decades off your age - was better liked. The problem with both was their l00 per cent nylon embrace, which makes "a horrible swishy noise" and heats you to roasting point within 10 minutes

**MULBERRY WATERSILK

pounds 525

Available for both men and women, these so-called parkas in showerproof silk from Mulberry sound and feel like the ultimate luxury, but were a disappointment off the hanger. The cut was quickly assessed as "saggy- baggy". "The fur round the hood and drawstring waist is the closest thing you'll find in this country to those chic anoraks worn by Italian women," said Vivienne Fairley doubtfully. In fact the fur hood was our most authentic approximation of a genuine Inuit anorak, but as John Moore remarked, "they just don't look like 500 quid's worth, even if they feel like it. You'd have to stroke the fabric all day to make buying one worthwhile."

STOCKISTS

Distributors of CP Company, Stone Island and Boneville, 0171 629 5592; Karrimor, 01254 385911; Sisley, 0161 929 9259; Gas UK from House of Fraser stores; Mulberry from department stores and its own shops.

Spectacles courtesy of Optika Opticians

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