I’m Too Sexy for My Shell: Q&A with Outerwear Designer Per Erik Borja
Everest doesn’t care how “on-trend” you are; dawn-patrol temps are indifferent to your “color palette,” and your “refined silhouette” will not keep you dry. Function comes first in the outdoors, but looking good is a huge bonus (when you think about it, the desire to look good is pretty much hardwired into us—it helps us perpetuate the species). Lucky for us (and the future of humanity), looks and performance aren’t mutually exclusive—in fact, they play together nicely. Fancy fashion designers borrow from the outdoor industry, and outerwear developers take cues from the fashion world. It’s a daisy chain of fashion incest that keeps us warm, dry, and looking fly.
We talked with outerwear designer and fashion guru Per Erik Borja for an eagle-eye perspective on that strange place where the runway meets the trail. Borja studied fashion at FIDM and has worked with brands like NICE Collective and Betabrand. He currently designs men’s lifestyle outerwear for a major outdoor brand.
Backcountry: It’s hard to imagine two worlds more different than the fashion industry and outdoor industry; they seem united only by the fact that they both make clothing. Do they bleed into each other at all?
Borja: I think the designers look across to each other. I know that a lot of high-end designers like Gucci and Jill Sander are using technical designs like seam taping and down fill. I think that fashion looks at outdoor for technicality. Outdoor looks at fashion for trends in color, silhouette, and general inspiration.
When we begin concepting, we look at everything from architecture and industrial design to images from the runway. There are more exciting things happening on the runway since they are more fearless and are not as held back by profitability.
On the other side, ski culture is a lifestyle, so it shows up in fashion a lot. It’s aspirational, so it has a place in that world.
Backcountry: What are things to look for right now when it comes to outdoor apparel styles?
Borja: I think brands are catering more to an urban consumer. A lot of brands are making jackets that are sleek, less puffy. Designers are having a lot fun with prints and color. I think that’s because freeride skiing and snowboarders are looking for more excitement, and that’s changing things.
Fashion is really inspired by outdoor right now. All these luxury brands are including performance pieces in their main line or creating new lines altogether that mix style and performance. I saw a jacket from Dries Van Noten; it was yellow polyurethane/plastic trench coat and every seam was taped in black seam tape so it was visible, like an accent.
Gearhead Matt Park in the Arc’teryx Atom LT Jacket.
Backcountry: How important is the “look” in a technical piece?
Borja: The outdoor customer responds to simplicity. I feel like whenever we add something that is “extra,” it becomes a reason not to buy. They look for good fabric and fit and performance more than the look. They are usually conservative with style—they want a clean, simple look but they want the product to be superior.
Photo Credit: Tim Kemple
Backcountry: What’s been the biggest change in the last 4-5 years in outdoor style?
Borja: The change has been subtle, but more style is coming to outdoor. Everyone is trying to connect to urban explorers. Everything is sleeker. Very technical, slim-fitting outerwear pieces that can be worn every day are a new thing.
Gearhead Diana Jenson in the Prana Kara Denim Pants.
Backcountry: When it comes to points of style, where are things headed next?
Borja: I feel like apparel in general is headed towards the technical. It’s what’s relevant. People are asking for it. They want performance materials every day. Girls are practically living in their yoga pants and guys are wearing softshell jackets with their office attire. People want technical apparel. The kind of apparel that looks good and feels good, even when the weather is bad.
Who knew your need for solid outerwear and performance apparel might be influencing what’s happening at Fashion Week? On the flip side, some avant-garde piece of fabric/art strutting down a Paris runway might just determine the color of your next balaclava. Even two things as seemingly separate as the fashion and outdoor industries can come together to make well-rounded, extremely attractive clothing babies. This is good news. It means you get to look good without trying, and it means that the clothes you wear off the mountain will become more comfortable and more like the performance clothing you depend on when you’re sending it. Bring on the Sherpa-lined suit pants and the breathable blazers. We’re ready.