When Italian entrepreneur Remo Ruffini acquired the struggling Moncler label in 2003, he dreamed of transforming the utilitarian jacket maker into a global luxury brand in which the French company’s signature goose down feather linings could be used for more than just fighting the arctic chill. Now, with the opening of the first Moncler shop at Bal Harbour, the firm’s cold weather designs are getting their first warm welcome.
“Moncler has always been very classic—functional but in many ways all about sport, particularly ski. So the goal was to make something more contemporary and ‘of the moment,’” says Ruffini, who enlisted the services of a handful of international designers—from Nicolas Ghesquière and Junya Watanabe to Giambattista Valli and Thom Browne—to collectively transform his vision of “the global down jacket” into a red hot fashion label identifiable by its distinctive red, white and blue logo, picturing MonDuck, the brand’s iconic duck character, behind twin mountain peaks.
Together they created a series of fashion-forward, street-worthy collections—including Gamme Rouge and Gamme Bleu, as well as the updated Grenoble ski line—to bring an element of cool (as in hip) to a younger generation. More recently Ruffini launched a line of eyewear through Mykita and a joint partnership with Pharrell Williams, the clothing designer and Grammy-winning music producer, as part of the brand’s global expansion beyond outerwear. The idea, says Ruffini, is “to expand our collections to address the daily demands of contemporary life. It doesn’t have to be just for the ski slopes; it can also be for a man to wear over a suit to the office or even a woman to wear to the opera.”
Of course, the Moncler name was hitting the streets long before Ruffini made the transition official. As early as the 1980s teenagers began adopting the puffy coats as a kind of serviceable urban uniform, a look subsequently adopted by everyone from Giorgio Armani and Ralph Lauren to Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent. Nevertheless, the transformation into a bona fide fashion label springboarded in 2009 when celebrated photographer Bruce Weber was brought in to create a buzz and celebrities like Christina Aguilera, Hugh Jackman, Madonna and Kanye West took the look to the masses. For his fifth and latest campaign, Weber creates a series of whimsical images depicting models in storm jackets mixing it up on an ice cap with a few frolicking polar bears, a nod to the company’s charitable effort in collaboration with Green Chimneys, which provides animal-assisted therapy for kids, as well as care for the animals.
Moncler’s success under the helm of Ruffini would no doubt please Rene Ramillon, the brand’s intrepid French founder, who began making sleeping bags in 1952 and later, in 1955, designed the first down-filled jacket for mountain climber Lionel Terray’s foray up the Himalayas’ Makalu peak, the fifth highest in the world.
By the 1960s, the Moncler name was so well known for cold weather jackets that the company was commissioned as the official apparel supplier to the French team at the 1968 Winter Olympics. Four years later, at the request of the French Olympic ski team, Moncler refined its puffy jackets again using a new micro-thin nylon fabric that rendered them extremely warm yet remarkably lightweight. Since then innovation has become the company’s calling card. For example, to keep the sporty outdoor spirit of Moncler’s origins intact without layering on the bulk for summer, designer Thom Browne used the down stuffing more sparingly in his Gamme Bleu line, creating lightly quilted nylon hooded vests and shirts layered over suits, trousers, shorts and even seersucker swimwear.
More recently, during the fall runway shows in New York, Moncler literally put its models on ice, as in the Wollman Ice Rink in Central Park, and had them swirl and twirl, with the Manhattan skyline as their backdrop. At the same time, professional skaters illustrated how Moncler’s penchant for experiment has paid off with jackets made of synthetics like Naplak, a material used for bags in the 1960s, and tri-laminate nylon, as well as Scottish wools, flannels and tweeds employed in unexpected ways on outerwear. “Moncler has always been a sport company, and the consumer doesn’t have to miss that message just because we are making something more tailored,” says Ruffini. The sports attitude will be forever attached to the label, he adds, “even if the person wearing it doesn’t play any sport at all.”