The Hills Are Alive

White Mountaineering shows stylish outdoor clothes to live in

In Japan, there are spectacular open outdoor spaces to go to unwind and escape. And they are beautiful, immense and beckoning, too. Just any view, any angle of majestic Mount Fuji will leave you in no doubt the extent of nature’s striking gifts for the island-country. And for all seasons too (the colours!). Unsurprising, therefore, that the Japanese love exploring their stunning outdoors. White Mountaineering too—it is against a verdant hillside (and soundtrack by the uplifting electronic sounds of Yehezkel Raz and Jameson Nathan Jones) that the Japanese label presents their spring/summer 2022 collection, perhaps giving the brand the visual context it has never really needed. O’er vales and hills, to quote Williams Wordsworth, the models (a cast of just 18) walk down meandering tracks and on wooden footpaths over bubbling brooks. This is one of the most refreshing collections of Paris Fashion Week. Nothing arid! There is no desperate hope that after the pandemic eases, we will party like there’s no tomorrow. White Mountaineering has more pastoral pursuits.

‘Gorpcore’, of course, comes to mind. But Yosuke Aizawa is not such an obvious designer and White Mountaineering is not The North Face. Called Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, which, frankly sounds a little camp to us (anything that references the Supremes usually is, even when no Motown sound is heard!), the collection proves that even if the clothes are bound for the hills, they can still have the slickness of the city, and you wouldn’t look like you need to change before going downtown. If you step into White Mountaineering’s Tokyo flagship in Daikanyama, the log-cabin-like fixtures might remind you of ski stores in Niseko, but the merchandise are decidedly urban in their aesthetical bent and stylishness. These are worn by city folks with a holiday home—and somewhere to go—in the mountains.

White Moutaineering often notes that their clothes “blend into daily life”, but this isn’t akin to Uniqlo’s Lifewear. Lines are blurred: Seemingly simple pieces have the technical advantage of performance wear. Even if you need a suit for apres-hike soirees, it comes in such relaxed shapes (and are lapel-less) that they would not be different from wearing a cardigan-and-slacks combo, almost erasing the divide between casual and dressy. Even if there’s the severity of the functional, the collection do bear some semblance of fun. Mr Aizawa is no slouch when it comes to the slouchy that is sleek and designed with some twist of detail. Bomber jackets have the cheeriness of their souvenir cousins, walking shorts come with prints of fruits (some cut into halves—apples, lemon, dragon fruit, pomegranate!) or phoenix-like bird creatures, utility jackets are with front-centre chest pocket, bombers have the pockets of truckers, shirts have the pockets of utility jackets, trousers are half-cargos, half-chinos (pleated!), and we could go on. To be sure, these are not hybridisation in the vernacular of Sacai. Mr Aizawa, a former employee at Comme des Garçons, was a protégé of Junya Watanabe, and it is in the latter’s work that he finds common ground, but in aesthetically different ways.

White Moutaineering is, perhaps, more prescient than the credits accorded them would have us believe. When the brand was launched back in 2006, outdoor clothing was not part of fashion as we know it today. Now, even hip-hop styles cop the garments worn by hikers, after all the vintage track jackets and pants have become limited in their ability to provide deep inspiration (interestingly, Mr Aizawa is a serious hip-hop fan). White Mountaineering was born out of its founder’s love of outdoor sports, particularly snowboarding, and therein lies the brand’s realness and authenticity within what Mr Aizawa likes to refer to as “mode” (French for fashion). After a season of what-to-make-of-them looks, it is refreshing to see this (mountain) runway-to-(city) sidewalk relatability, or what SOTD contributor Ray Zhang calls, with palpable relief, “for the rest of us”.

Screen grab (top) and photos: White Moutaineering

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