This sporting life

Real men do wear fleece, says Melanie Rickey, but that doesn't mean they all want to look like sheep
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The Independent Online
Take a nationwide high-street clothing store for men - one that hasn't got the most stylish reputation, but one that sells good quality clothes to everyman on the street - add the latest in fabric technology, a dose of functional modern design and the result is one of the most affordable, and good-looking sports ranges to appear for some time.

Before switching off completely, thinking "not another sports range", this one has been produced as a direct response to the demands of Burton Menswear customers who want their activewear to be more than a walking advertisement. So Burton launched Atlantic Sports. Instead of a designer logo which supposedly imbues the wearer with kudos and individuality, but actually makes them look like sheep, the range offers logos for those who want them, and discreet tabs for those who don't. It also uses the latest in performance fabrics such as micro-fleece, a "warmth without weight" fabric; Tyvek which prevents leakage in down-filled jackets and Teflon, a stain repellent and waterproof coating - the very same stuff used on frying pans. This is what the customer really wants, and in reality needs when he (or she) goes cycling, canoeing or mountain biking.

Sportswear has infiltrated every aspect of fashion this decade from the late Gianni Versace's go-faster stripes in his Atelier (haute couture) range to the spin-off lines from Paul Smith, Ralph Lauren and Donna Karan. In fact, there are probably young people in this country who don't know that Ralph Lauren designs women's clothes. It is no wonder, then, that a high street store has been able to produce a range of this quality at a time when a designer T-shirt can cost anything around pounds 50, and a fleece top well over pounds 100.

The campaign to go with the launch is called Local Heroes and shows "real" British men at play - like Ron Rodden, Linford Christie's former trainer, or Mick Towers, a stock car racer. "I really liked the clothes," says Rodden, "they're not about being in a gang like Nike or Adidas clothes are. I would even wear them down the high street and I'm 66, but I could also imagine a 16-year-old wearing them." Rodden likes the idea of real men modelling clothes because, he says, "that way you're looking at the garments, not the faces". It also means that there are no alienating muscle- bound bodies, typically handsome faces, or aspirational sports stars to contend with.

Mick Towers, 31, feels the same. By day he runs his own garage, but the weekends are taken up with stock car racing. "It was fun being a model; they were after average guys who do fun things at the weekend, and that's good. I've got a jacket and a fleece from them, but as soon as I received them, my wife Suzanne nicked them," he says. When racing, Towers wears regulation fireproof racing overalls, but needs a warm jacket as soon as he steps from the car. He's planning to retrieve the jacket soon. Towers likes good quality clothes, but isn't that concerned with labels. "If I need a new coat I just go and get it. I tell the shop assistant what I want and if the quality is good and I like it, that's it," he says.

Atlantic Sport is just the thing for Rodden, Towers and men like them across the country. The range comprises T-shirts from pounds 12, fleeces from pounds 25 and jackets from pounds 60. The colours are bright and functional, and the designs modern enough to be worn for fashion, but classic enough to rise above being simply trendy. These clothes can be worn in a year's time without fear of sneers from the label snobs. And the good news? Burton is getting in a healthy supply in small sizes so women can wear it too.