Now synonymous with haute winter fashion, Moncler’s jackets earned their stripes for cold-weather endurance from the athletes and adventurers who spent decades putting them to the test.
A wintertime display in the Moncler boutique at Wynn.
Early in his career, Frank Lloyd Wright challenged the axiom that form follows function. The idea, he said, had been misunderstood: “Form and function should be one, joined in spiritual union.” Perhaps no wearable design better exemplifies the renowned architect’s philosophy than the eye-catching— and surprisingly high-tech—puffy parkas by Moncler. While the brand is recognizably high fashion, its roots are in utilitarian gear for working in high altitudes, and that’s where the marriage between function and form was born.
Moncler parkas begin with the finest feathers. Ninety percent of their filling is a wispy type of goose down (rather than duck) called duvet neuf (or “new down”), used for its fuller tufts. (The remaining 10 percent is small feathers.) This creates a denser fill, meaning the jackets hold a higher volume of down, which keeps them light and fashionable while still insulating the body and retaining its heat. Warmer than wool coats, the parkas vary in weight, depending on their intended season. (The down in a winter parka weighs just 180 grams, or a little over 6 ounces, while in the spring and summer jackets it’s only 31 grams, or a single ounce.) The down is encased in high-performance nylon and canvas to protect the wearer from the elements.
Now produced in style-conscious Italy, Moncler’s slim quilted jackets don’t skimp on performance, having been worn by ski teams, mountaineers, and other extreme-weather athletes. They’re sleek and aerodynamic enough for downhill racers yet stunning enough for après-ski. The story behind these fashion paragons begins in the French mountain town of Monestier-de-Clermont, near Grenoble, in 1952, where founder René Ramillon started manufacturing quilted sleeping bags, cold-weather tents and raincoats, and other equipment for outdoor laborers and adventurers. The products were well-known for their fine craftsmanship and durability, and by 1954, Ramillon was making his first down jackets, mostly to protect his own workers at his growing slopeside company (whose name is a truncation of the town’s name).
Nylon and leather aviator-style Laredo jacket with sheepskin inserts ($4,550) by Moncler.
Seeing the coats worn by Moncler’s laborers, French mountaineer Lionel Terray, famous for his many daring expeditions, not only ordered an entire line of clothing and equipment, but also lent his name to the collection. Photographs showing him wearing his namesake helped make Moncler synonymous with staying warm in the mountains as winter tourism in Europe became more and more glamorous. “My most memorable experience of Moncler was attending the show in Milan and discovering the uniqueness of their stores,” says Hedy Woodrow, Senior Vice President of Retail at Wynn, who worked with the brand to open their store in Wynn. “Their designs are an incredible combination of fashion and functionality along with the most advanced technology in materials.”
In the ensuing years, the company grew in size and acclaim, outfitting such newsmakers as the 1955 French team that first summited Mount Makalu in the Himalayas, Terray’s 1964 expedition to Alaska, and the French downhill skiing team at the 1968 Winter Olympics in Grenoble. Further innovation followed as France’s downhill skiing team became de facto advisors to the brand, with Moncler replacing its jackets’ outer double layer with a lighter single version to help the team achieve faster times down the mountain. And in a stylish (but useful) twist, the company added leather epaulets to the shoulders, so skiers could rest their skis on their bodies without damaging the fabric.
Moncler continued working with athletes, scientists, and outdoors aficionados to perfect its parkas. Then, in the 1980s, the brand recruited Paris designer Chantal Thomass to give the jackets a chic makeover. She introduced hints of urbanity, replacing zippers with buttons and adding fur trim and satin. It was at this time that the jackets first appeared in bright reversible colors. Popular with snow bunnies worldwide, this versatile, high-performance version of a winter coat was the forerunner of the Moncler parka that the stylish love to flaunt today. In 1999, the company presented its first spring and summer collections, and four years later Moncler was purchased by Italian entrepreneur Remo Ruffini, who moved its headquarters to Milan.
An image from the Winter 1967–68 Moncler catalog.
Still the company’s chairman and CEO, Ruffini gets credit for the concept of a global down jacket and for dreaming up the puffy parkas—and their high-fashion offshoots—that are now worn year-round. While remaining true to Moncler’s functional origins, Ruffini initiated collaborations with a number of designers—including Alessandra Facchinetti, Giambattista Valli, and Thom Browne—to create a truly haute couture product. In 2009, the brand joined forces with singer Pharrell Williams to design a limited-edition collection of men’s jackets with a refined ecological motif.
The next year, Moncler debuted its men’s and women’s Grenoble collection in New York, reconsidering the past by giving its ski garments and après-ski wear an even more contemporary spirit. Guests can find these pieces in Wynn Las Vegas and in the boutique that opened in Wynn Palace in 2016. In 2012, Moncler celebrated its 60th anniversary at Art Basel in Miami Beach, and in 2013, Williams returned to guest-design the brand’s first eyewear.
The following year, in both a return to its roots in creating clothing for earth’s harshest environments and a look at the planet’s future, the company presented an exhibition of stark photographs of Greenland at Sotheby’s during the art fair Frieze London. Indeed, Moncler is now dedicated to eco-conscious production, with its new Sustainability Unit ensuring that its products are made responsibly, from concept to delivery. Call it the ultimate “spiritual union” of form and function.