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The great coat reinvention: the smart outerwear brands that combine fashion with function

Caroline Issa
This season's best coats combine fashion and function - 2017 Timur Emek

If Uber, Airbnb and Spanx could hijack all that we thought we knew about their respective categories, why can’t someone successfully disrupt the outerwear market? I recently met with two women who have taken their passion for functional luxury and used it to update the classic coat, launching just in time for the new season.

Emel & Aris 

“My son, Mathias came up with the idea,” explains Rana Nakhal Solset, founder of Emel & Aris. “We were going to visit Father Christmas in Lapland and given how cold it is at the North Pole, he asked if I could make sure I packed heated coats. That's when the lightbulb moment hit: how is it that in this day and age, with all the technology we have at our disposal, the weather can still affect the way we look and what we're free to do? How is it that heated coats are not a ‘thing’?”

So started Solset’s quest to insert heat technology into two classic coat shapes – the trench and a double-sided cashmere jacket wrap – to create what she calls a “smart coat”.

“Heated clothing has existed in workwear for quite a while now,” Solset acknowledged, “but the technology typically used has a number of downsides which make it hard to incorporate into more delicate clothing.”

Emel and Aris coat

Petrol 100% cashmere made-to-order trench coat, £3,000, Emelandaris.com

She spent years perfecting the wearable technology with a manufacturer who believed in the idea, and found that “inert” technology would be essential to enabling them to incorporate it into natural fabrics such as cashmere, cotton and silk. Sourcing Loro Piana storm-proof cashmere, the coats have the quality and cut that enable them to stand side-by-side with the established luxury brands of today.

Despite having to recharge the small battery pack nightly (I do the same for my Apple watch – initially an annoyance, it soon becomes habit), there are purported health benefits to this wearable technology. The infrared heat it produces stimulates better circulation and collagen production in the body, as well as soothing aches and pains (think of those heat pads you can buy in Boots for muscle injuries). 

Emel & Aris coat

Wool and cashmere wrap coat, £1,495, Emelandaris.com

“I strongly believe that if technology has a place in fashion, it has to have a real benefit,”  Solset shares. “Let the cut and fabric of the clothing take the main stage. The technology should never be a gimmick.”

Tricouni

Relaunching this month, Tricouni is a refocused coat brand that derives from the history of the Swiss jeweller Félix-Valentin "Tricouni" Genecand, the man behind the invention of the climbing nail clamp (an innovation that would be indispensable to Mount Everest climbers and world explorers).

Keeping the provenance of intrepid adventure and innovation, Tricouni’s CEO Katerina Ericsson has spent the last year using her experience at luxury houses Jimmy Choo, Burberry and Céline to imagine a tight collection of outerwear that not only looks chic, but protects you from the rain and wind.

Tricouni pink coat

“I felt that there was not a great deal of choice in the coat market, choice that would allow me to easily transition between the different aspects of my life,” Ericsson explains when asked what got her excited by the idea. “Some days I might be in business meetings in the morning before going to pick up my children from school and taking them to the park. Having a coat that would keep me warm and dry, but also look elegant, was something I felt was missing.”

When I met her in her showroom in August, there were the usual black and white classic silhouettes alongside duffle coats and wrap cashmere jackets, but also beautifully tailored single and double-breasted coats in pale pink and duck-egg blue that seem to wonderfully balance fashion with function.

“For us, functional elegance is about designing coats that allow the wearer to be protected against the elements without compromising on style,” Ericsson says. “All our fabrics are either waterproof or water-repellent and many have detachable gilets or liners for added versatility.”

I ask Ericsson for the one coat that every woman should have in their closet, and her answer is clear: “A great peacoat is the perfect item for every woman’s wardrobe. Not only is the ideal cross-seasonal item, it is also smart enough for the office but casual enough to be worn with jeans and sneakers on the weekend. Our Tricouni peacoat is made out of 100 per cent virgin wool but enhanced with an innovative membrane that makes it wind and rainproof, while it also features knitted cuffs and fleece-lined pockets for added warmth and functionality.” What more could we need?

Lightweight coats to fend off the autumn chill