Fashion

French Winter Chic, from the Slopes to the Streets

Fashion is coming down from the peaks once again this winter. Originally the preserve of shepherds, mountaineers, skiers, and mountain troops, alpine style is now making headway in the urban world. A number of French brands are embracing the mountain-to-city chic, and carving out a niche in the United States.
© Fusalp

The keyword #AprèsSki is everywhere on social media. This expression – not to be confused with the French term for Moon Boots and, by extension, any warm boots worn after a day on the slopes, is very popular in the United States. It refers to winter sports culture and its associated indulgences, including bars, fireside cocktails, fondues, and nightclubs, along with spas, five-star hotels, and DJ sets in the snow. The mountain equivalent of the third half in rugby or the 19th hole in golf.

This festive tradition is as old as skiing itself. In mid-19th-century Norway, when the first clubs and competitions were being organized, a small glass of aquavit and a platter of potatoes were shared as a reward for hard work. During the Belle Epoque, resorts in the Alps such as Saint-Moritz, Megève, and Chamonix combined winter sports with luxury hotels, attracting the British and American elite who gave skiing the prestige it enjoys today. The expression “après-ski,” which first appeared in Austrian Bierstuben, made its way into American dictionaries in 1951.

In the 1960s, après-ski was big among the happy few. American photographer Slim Aarons captured the jet set’s vacations, from summers on the French Riviera to winters in the Alps, Vermont, and Colorado. One of his shots, taken at Snowmass Village in March 1968, shows a fondue party amid the snow-capped peaks organized by Holiday magazine. In the image, a helicopter has brought in trays of charcuterie and pots of melted cheese, while laughing guests clink glasses in trendy ski suits.

Après-ski party at Snowmass Village, Colorado, 1968. © Slim Aarons/Getty Images

Snow-Mania

Fashion has followed in the footsteps of the winter sports sales potential. “We are witnessing an important shift,” says Sophie Lacoste Dournel, co-president of the Fusalp brand. Founded in Annecy in 1952 and renowned for its stirrup pants, jackets, and other sportswear for athletes, Fusalp opened a boutique in Manhattan in 2022 and two others last year in Aspen and Vail, in the Rocky Mountains. (Fusalp also has 18 retailers in the U.S., while Americans are its second-largest online clientele after the French.) “Our current best-sellers are city coats. In Europe, we sell 60% urban products and 40% mountain products.”

So why would someone in a city buy a Gezi parka from Fusalp, lined with feathers and duck down and rated five stars for “deep cold”? “We have a strong style that is glamorous, recognizable, and desirable,” says Sophie Lacoste Dournel, who spent nine years managing the Lacoste brand, founded by her grandfather. “But above all, Fusalp produces technical clothing that is resistant to cold, wind, and snow, and adapted to everyday life. Whether skiing or cycling, we are increasingly mobile and need to be protected while still feeling elegant. Our identity is rooted in this conversation between technique and style.”

The same phenomenon has taken hold at Rossignol, another iconic French brand founded at the foot of the Chartreuse Mountains in 1907, which has a network of over 1,500 retailers in the United States. Speaking on the subject, a representative said: “People enjoy our products – our clothing and footwear, along with our hats, gloves, socks, helmets, and eyewear – for their technical performance and style. We are mainly focused on an active clientele who is receptive to our mountain-to-city approach.”

© Fusalp
© Rossignol

Out to Conquer New Horizons

To stand out and expand beyond ski resorts, brands are making increasing forays into haute couture and streetwear, including Fusalp with Pucci, Moncler with Rick Owens, Rossignol with Dickies, Balmain, and Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, and Salomon with Comme des Garçons. Dior joined the trend in 2021 with its own winter ready-to-wear capsule collection. This “ode to getting away and the magic of the mountains” included a cropped puffer jacket for 5,900 dollars! This is the flipside of the #AprèsSki trend; posers have invaded high-altitude bars and restaurants. As one Instagrammer who recently discovered winter sports in the Alps said: “The vibe was so cute, but the actual skiing? Yeah, not so cute.”

Meanwhile, manufacturers insist that their approach to the mountains has not been “simply dreamed up” but is the result of years of experience. In 1960, Rossignol produced the steel and polyethylene skis that propelled French downhill racer Jean Vuarnet to first place at the Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, California. In Innsbruck four years later, Fusalp dressed slalom skiers Christine and Marielle Goitschel, who picked up the Alpine double, and then Jean-Claude Killy, triple gold medalist in Grenoble in 1968. Each new victory increases “our legitimacy,” according to the Fusalp co-president.

For the past three seasons, the Savoie-based brand has been a partner of the British ski team. The performances of these top-level athletes have led to the design of increasingly ingenious products. Whether waterproof, breathable membranes or composite materials made with wool, hemp, polyamide, and polyurethane, every product and innovation undergoes intense laboratory and field testing. Needless to say, the development of a ski jacket or pants is as much a matter of science as of sewing. “Our R&D department works closely with champions, improving ergonomics and helping them gain precious tenths of a second on a downhill race,” says Sophie Lacoste Dournel. “And our customers in cities also appreciate this attention to detail.”


Article published in the January 2024 issue of France-Amérique. Subscribe to the magazine.

The best of French culture

Published in a bilingual format, France-Amérique Magazine is intended for anyone interested in French culture and Franco-American friendship.

Already a subscriber?