Cutting figures, carving lines

Stephen Wood reveals next season's ski fashions
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The Independent Travel
Hold on to your bobble hats: "The 1997/8 winter season will not focus on the `wild Seventies', `modern style' or `technical skiwear'," says a report from this month's Munich winter sports fashion show, "but on the carving theme. Basically, carving lines [are] a mixture of casual snowboard fashion and technically sophisticated, sporty-looking skiwear."

That's the men sorted.

"Ladies ski fashion is quite different, almost unaffected by the carving style," the report continues. "It focuses on the retro themes [of] snug- fitting lines and almost severe contours ... waisted blousons with a hint of peplum and the occasional real or imitation fur collar." Although "the range of colours is enormous" - from coral via beige to black - "white is an absolute must for ladies, combined for contrast or on its own". And fabrics? "The glitter of gold and silver, the sheen of satin on tone- in-tone jacquards, layered micros, coarse-structured stretch, soft smocked inserts and shimmering shot fabrics are all back again."

My contribution to fashion has been limited: I bought this season's outfit from a rack at C&A in 1988. But I don't feel that anybody else has been trying recently, either. The last time I had a good laugh on the slopes was in 1990 when a friend of mine, normally to be seen wearing well cut double-breasted suits, turned up in a zebra-print one-piece. Sharon Campbell, fashion director for the Snow+Rock chain, agrees that recent skiwear has been "dead boring". And she has had great difficulty selling fashion items in the Nineties: there are fewer skiers. "Those that are left are the serious enthusiasts - and, anyway, British skiers are conservative, and will always go for practical clothing made of waterproof, `breathable' fabrics."

As you will have noticed, other European skiers take their outfits more seriously. And for Martin Phillips, who buys women's skiwear for C&A throughout Europe from its Dusseldorf office, spotting variations in taste is important: he can identify a skier's nationality at 100 paces. C&A's curiously named skiwear label, Rodeo, which dominates the UK market, is also sold on the Continent, but the garments to which it is attached differ.

"The big difference is between the German and French markets, which have almost nothing in common. The French like very classical, simple clothing, and natural materials; their market is dominated by `technical' [sporting] skiwear. But the German market is much more fashion-oriented: they favour snowboarding styles, and go for those prints that I find so distasteful." He agrees with Sharon Campbell that "the style in Britain is now `dressing down' rather than `dressing up'. You can relate it to the high street where there's more classic, Escada-type fashion around, less of a hip, fashionable look."

British skiers' conservatism is partly a result of general high street austerity, but Phillips (who talks nostalgically about the Eighties, when people were "spending money like water on skiwear") adds two other causes. First, "because school skiing trips have been cut back so drastically, the influence of young people has weakened: the same people are going skiing, and they're getting older". Second, snowboarding hasn't taken off to the same extent in the UK as on the Continent, and skiing fashion has recently looked to snowboarders for inspiration.

Austerity does tend to take the fun out of fashion, and snowboarders' styles haven't put it back. Their late-grunge, "street" look - baggy shapes in drab colours - wouldn't bring a smile to anybody's face, the only mild diversion being its reading material: the proudly displayed labels (Billabong, Fishpaw, Fat Face) and bizarre slogans (one C&A teenager's parka carries the message "A special design for your great pleasure to wear", another the more enigmatic "MCP-9169"). Similarly, in this year's racks of technical skiwear uniforms, the decorative elements are largely textual, each one carrying a handful of swing tickets ("the Christmas tree effect", C&A's Martin Phillips calls it) proclaiming the virtues of its hi-tech fabric. Competition for expensive, "breathable" Goretex is tough, since Tactel , EcoTemp, Superskin, Entrant GII, Kaporous and Rhino Skin not only live and breathe, but sing and dance, too.

But the dark days are now over. I expressed some cynicism about next season's trends to Snow+Rock's Sharon Campbell: the Munich declaration that menswear would somehow combine snowboarding styles and technical skiwear under a buzz-word taken from this season's fashionable "carving" skis suggested desperation to me rather than confidence. And the "retro" look for women? That's already retro: this season, Snow+Rock has been offering a one-piece "pilot" suit that looks like one of Amelia Earhart's cast-offs (price pounds 479).

Campbell insists, however, that "next season the fashion element is coming back. Sales have been excellent at Snow+Rock this year, particularly of high-priced items: the demand for `cheap-and-cheerful' outfits is declining, and the Mr Mountain look [the rugged, recession-style clothing adopted from mountaineers] has had its day. The manufacturers have had a very good season, too," she adds, "so there's more money - and confidence - going into their outfits for next year."

The "carving" look for men may be hard to define (the Swedish company, Mover, has embroidered a razor blade on one new jacket's lapel to establish its carving credentials), but Campbell identifies "a more streamlined shape, with a shorter jacket - half-way to a blouson gathered slightly at the waist"; the bright new colours include apple green and yellow. Retro outfits for women are a certainty: "the waisted jacket, with stretch trousers, looks very good on them," she says. And she is still optimistic about the tight-fitting "pilot" suits - a retro look made possible by a new technology for thinner insulation materials.

There will also be a retro look for men. But I don't think my puffy blue jacket and baggy black salopettes, 1988-style, are quite old enough yet to qualify. Perhaps I should do my bit to brighten up the slopes by buying something streamlined next season, maybe with a hint of peplum and soft smocked inserts? Perhaps not.

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