The Women Get Theirs Too

White Mountaineering showed their desirable outdoorsy womenswear… outdoors. Where else?

Just days after announcing their collaboration with Uniqlo, to the delight of fans (our post was one of the most viewed of the month), White Mountaineering showed their womenswear spring/summer 2022 collection during Tokyo’s Rakuten Fashion Week. It’s the brand’s first presentation in their home city in nine years (they’ve been showing in Paris), staged in the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden that dates back to the Edo-period, and one of the largest koens (公園) in Tokyo, just 10 minutes from Shinjuku Station. The easy-looking pieces welcomed the outdoor, just as they did in the men’s spring/summer 2022 collection, but rather than having the models navigate a mountain trail, the women scrolled down a garden path that, like remote elevations, had no visitors. Some may think that this is making it easier for the female models, but could White Mountaineering also be saying that their womenswear is better suited for the manicured, rather than the wild outdoors?

Designer Yosuke Aizawa, as we know, has a thing for outdoor wear. Passion would be a better word. But Mr Aizawa is not creating another The North Face. Rather, he is adept at melding different categories, styles, and parts of dress into an unexpected whole. Workwear meets outerwear meets river togs meet mountain gear in a happy, sometimes intriguing mingle. Femininity remain high on the agenda while the focus is on utility and functionality. Mr Aizawa is not opposed, for example, to allow a slit to go thigh-high or for the navel to be clearly seen. He has taken the potential frumpiness out of outdoor wear and given the collection the sexiness of ‘gorpcore’. And in all likelihood, for the women who are enamoured with White Mountaineering—and there are many, these clothes are as comfortable for working in an office as they would be for walking in the park.

Mr Aizawa worked with a lot of black this time, and some army greens. The chromatic darkness (save a fruit tree-printed tank dress, worn over a straight skirt!) does not quite appear to be a cheery collection for warmer days, especially in the garden known for its cherry blossoms, come spring. This is made more so when the layering does not look like a breezy affair, not the just-throw-on-a-cotton-voile-shirt kind. The jackets, also vests, are more for fashion survivalists than climbing enthusiasts. For those familiar with White Mountanineering, this is understandable and a good thing: Mr Aizawa has a way with outerwear, even when he is not designing those for going up-mountain. And it is our understanding that he sells these well, for both men and women. And these hardy-looking outers’ outdoorsy looks are teamed with gathered skirts, roomy trousers, knee-length shorts. The jackets and the like—even with pouch pockets and utilitarian straps (no paracords!)—immediately shed their non-oppidan vibe.

This collection only serves to heighten the anticipation of White Mountaineering’s collaboration with Uniqlo this season. Based on what we have gathered so far (and this may not be totally true yet), the capsule will feature mostly outerwear or, those “created as a common language for everyone”, as White Mountaineering announced last month. Uniqlo, of course, retails some of the handsomest jackets and kindred garb for colder climes, and often at irresistible prices. With White Mountaineering in the picture, some of Uniqlo’s already sophisticated ‘outers’ will get a welcome update. Many of us are possibly not travelling this year, but investing in good protective wear is never a bad idea. And since both brands veer towards the practical and wearable, longevity is on offer too. White Mountainering’s just-shown collection simply provide additional temptation.

Photos: White Mountaineering

Mountain High

Uniqlo X White Mountaineering could be the most exciting collab for both Japanese brands this year

White Mountaineering (WM) has just announced on social media that they will be collaborating with compatriot brand Uniqlo for an autumn/winter 2021 capsule. Fans of Japanese ‘Gorpcore’ would be thrilled (to us, it was in the Land of the Rising Sun that it all began). For us here at SOTD, this would probably be the most exciting Uniqlo collaboration since Undercover in 2012, six years after WM was born. These days, more and more fashion consumers appreciate outdoor styles that can be copped for a trendy and distinctive expression of self. WM’s designer and founder Yosuke Aizawa—a Junya Watanabe alum—will be the first to tell you that his clothes are not entirely suitable for serious mountain climbing. But his love for the outdoors and sports that brings one to higher altitudes is overwhelming, so much so that he saw the possibility of melding the functional and the utilitarian with the fashionable. And he did not see incorrectly. White Mountaineering predated the Gorpcore trend by more than a decade, way before Gucci’s pairing with The North Face.

Nothing very much is revealed (not even a photo) about the collab yet. Nor, date of release. But White Mountaineering did post on Instagram: “Announcing a new collaboration for Fall/Winter 2021. Outerwear created as a common language for everyone—LifeWear simplicity and White Mountaineering style.” To note is the deliberate mention of “outerwear”. Given that the collection is for the fall season and WM is known for their covetable parkas and such, it could be pieces we are unlikely to buy, especially when travel to colder climes this year seems unlikely. If WM’s own autumn/winter collection (or their collaborative output, such as last year’s pairing with Fila) is any indication, expect practical styling with silhouettes that are decidedly contemporary and cool. And yes, utility pockets, unusually placed too. You may not need these clothes this year (or here), but you can always purchase a couple to keep, especially when they would be priced at a fraction of what you’d have to pay for, if considering WM’s main line. Watch this space for more details.

Photo illustration: Just So

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

Through Snow And Ice

Performance wear right where it is needed

White Mountaineering has largely been, since its inception in 2006, an outdoor-wear sort of brand, but not in a hardcore sense, although, to be fair, designer Yosuke Aizawa has imbued much of his output with what adventure-seeking fashion types might wish to wear, whether hiking on a verdant hillside or a snowy slope, and Helly Hansen—or the like—isn’t calling (or, Gucci X The North Face). For the brand’s autumn/winter video presentation, Mr Aizawa availed a compelling and beautifully-edited video, shot in Hoshino Resorts (including their famed Ice Village) on Mount Tomamu, which sits in the heart of Hokkaido, and modelled by those who appear to be professional snowboarders and snowmobile racers. It is a sleek amalgam of scenes reminiscent of the 2014 documentary The Little Things, interspersed with fashion snaps, featuring those who might actually wear these clothes in a setting that would really require them. Few fashion films unite stunning action photography and runway against a rugged, natural backdrop so seamlessly. One just wishes to rush out to buy a parka and head for the (even if white-out) hills!

The thing is, even with its fashion-forward designs, White Mountaineering is also known for their high-performance wear. Mr Aizawa himself is a recognised and ardent fan of the great outdoors. The name of his label is proof of his mountain-sports leaning, as well as his desire to blend fashionable clothing with the usability of high-altitude gear. Or, using details found in, say, ski wear in city clothing (for serious mountaineering gear, there is the collaboration with French brand Millet Mountain). Fans appreciate the Junya Watanabe alum’s use of unexpected textile pairings as well as touches, such as hardware to create a decidedly forward style (carabiners, a/w 2018!) that straddles rather than distinguishes regions and climates that may be poles apart. Although this autumn/winter collection is shot in sub-zero conditions, the clothes don’t just look like they belong up there, between the powdery slopes and the log cabins; they are as suitable for exploring the towns at the foot of the mountains.

It is hard, in fact, to pin the pieces down to mere winter-sports wear. We are drawn to, for example, a plaid wool shirt-jacket with practical patch-pockets of different fabrics (but in the same tone), three in a row on each side, worn with trousers with a lighter shade of similar plaid, an ensemble that would not be out of place in Tokyo’s fashion-centric areas, such as Marunouchi or Daikanyama, where the White Mountaineering flagship is situated. Or any of those utility jackets, with the yoke that appears to be extended forward in the front (or is that to give the effect of a trompe l’oeil vest?), so effortlessly smarter than, say, a chore coat. In fact, with the cold-season collections, many pieces of Mr Aizawa’s outerwear, year after year, are as collectible as the other favourite labels for-extreme-weather gear, such as compatriot Eiichiro Homma’s Nanamica.

Japanese designers have, for years, been adept at adapting classic American-style outdoor wear to their own street-tinged (but not necessarily streetwear) looks, just as how they have been able to similarly rejuvenate denim jeans even earlier. They have also the particular skill in striking a balance between the performance ability expected of outdoors clothing and the stylish aspects so needed in the selling of fashionable garments. And if certain technical aspects require professional supervision, they won’t hesitate to collaborate. White Mountaineering, apart from working with Millet Mountain, has also paired with the Italian brand Colmar A.G.E. this autumn/winter season. No matter who Mr Aizawa teams up with, or whether he keeps his brand on the slope or down below, White Mountaineering continues to provide, within the shape of recognisable garments, elements not usually found in menswear destined for mundane city life. And therein lies the mountain-high some of us often happily derive.

Screen grabs (top) and photos: White Mountaineering