history

From the French Alps to the summit of K2

di Chiara Beghelli


4' di lettura

When, sent by Charles VIII of France, Antoine de Ville became the first man to reach the top of the “Mont Inaccessible” in June 1492, Christopher Columbus was still planning the voyage that would see him set foot in the New World. The French king was certainly not au fait with the term yogaruda, he who, according to yoga doctrine, manages to scale a mountain and from there look down on the world with detached and satisfying serenity. Yet it was as a result of this ambitious mission that mountaineering was born. From then the moniker “Mont Inaccessible” was no longer appropriate and it was rechristened Mont Aiguille. Four hundred and sixty years later, in 1952, in the little village under the mountain, Monestier de Clermont, entrepreneur René Ramillon decided that the profile of the mountain, symbol of mountaineering, would also become the symbol of his new mountain gear business: he called it Moncler, a simple but euphonious crasis of the two parts of the name of his village.

In his little store on the Grand Rue the first climbers of the Aiguille could find padded sleeping bags, a single model of a lined cape featuring a hood, and tents. In the meantime, workers in Moncler wore eiderdown jackets to protect themselves from the cold. It was a mountaineer, Lionel Terray, who noticed them and imagined wearing them during a climb: he therefore asked Moncler to not only make some similar jackets for him, but also salopettes and gloves. A first, small collection did very well, so much so that in 1954 Moncler ’s fleeces were chosen for members of the Italian expedition to Karakorum, which culminated in Achille Compagnoni and Lino Lacedelli reaching the top of the second highest mountain in the world; the following year they scaled the 8470-metre high Makalu, between China and Nepal, with a French expedition, and in 1964 they once again accompanied Terray in Alaska.

But in those years another form of mountain life was also beginning to develop: the first holidays in the snow, which would turn the technical equipment into sports gear and lead to the first involvement with the fashion world. North of Monestier, in Megève, Audrey Hepburn shot Charade wearing a sophisticated Givenchy skiing suit. Moncler was also ready to enter this world: the opportunity came in 1968 at the Winter Olympics in Grenoble, Moncler ’s hometown, with the French downhill team dressed in Moncler ski suits.

It was also time to change the logo: Mount Aiguille made way for the cockerel, the symbol of France. And as the ski slopes became increasingly busy, the technical input of the French team resulted in Moncler bringing innovations to its fleeces, making them both lighter and more resistant. They became more wearable, perfect for heading even further down into the valley and leaving the slopes for the city streets. Thanks to the collaboration with designer Chantal Thomass, already well-known for her innovative lingerie brand, in the 1980s the jackets were produced in gaudy colours and adorned with their first fashion details, making them must-haves among the “paninari”, the first contemporary fashionistas who paired them with Ray Bans, Timberlands and Invicta rucksacks.

The mountains now seemed very distant, perhaps too far away. The brand began to lose its identity, becoming a sleeping giant in the 1990s. That was until the arrival of a young textiles entrepreneur from Como called Remo Ruffini: he had studied in Boston in the US, the capital of preppy style with its understated comfort and elegance, and was ready to bring what he had learned to Italy. Long before the concept of heritage was seized upon and used as a marketing tool, Ruffini understood that the origins of a brand must not be forgotten but protected and celebrated, also as a competitive advantage, and that the past must be a guide and a form of positive inspiration, not an untouchable monument. By the time Moncler celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2012 it had become a brand synonymous with constant evolution, the breeze of the mountain peaks still perceptible in its practically haute couture garments. Indeed, in 2014 it supplied the team of the “K2 – 60 Years Later” expedition - held to mark the 60th anniversary of the Italian conquest of K2 - with their technical equipment.

Alessandra Facchinetti, Thom Browne and Giambattista Valli worked with the forms of the quilted jacket, even transforming it into dresses, before the most recent chapter in the evolution of Moncler, Genius, subverted and went beyond one of the cornerstones of the brand: seasonality. In the Moncler boutiques designed by French architects Gilles & Boissier the various collections include the “1952” and the “Grenoble” collections, displayed among marble and mountain rocks, like those from Carnia, “global” eucalyptus and alpine woods, steel and leather details. There is even a woody fragrance to the displays, which dialogues with the smells and sounds of the city. Looking down on its achievements, including its financial successes (see article alongside), Moncler will probably never attain the state of yogaruda, a satisfying sense of bliss which however conceals a state of motionless. The mountains waiting to be climbed are made of more than mere stone.

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