When does a jacket become more than an article of clothing, a pair of pants more meaningful than warmth against the Boston chill? Can the stuff you buy and wear transcend mere utility, representing instead the fabric of who you are?
This might sound like a stretch, hokey even, but after meeting the team behind Alps & Meters, a new Boston-based alpine sportswear brand that went live this week, I’m struggling to conceptualize their clothing, and their creed as a company, in a way that’s any less allegorical.
Trying the jacket on, you feel like vintage James Bond wearing the armor of Optimus Prime.
In a sea of ski jackets swimming in ubiquity, with your Patagonias and North Faces, Marmots and the like ruling the day, their marquee Shawl Collar Jacket is something decidedly different. It’s both a nod to the iconic ski sweaters of yesteryear, and a brash declaration of technological superiority. Trying one on, you feel like vintage James Bond wearing the armor of Optimus Prime.
The Alps & Meters name for these parallel forces is “Forged Performance,” which, said founder Louis Joseph, “fuses methods of classic garment construction, rich natural materials such as 100 percent lambswool and full grain leathers, and contemporary technologies to deliver maximum on-mountain fit and performance.”
I met Joseph and his director of marketing Zari Sadri – previously a marketing manager for Lululemon – recently for coffee. Not present was Halle Grace, their COO and a former director of merchandising at Coach. Dressed in a grey military-inspired jacket over a dark button-down, with a burgundy Alps & Meters Alpine Winter Collar topping it off, Joseph looked like a guy you want to buy new-age outerwear from. As a former global director of innovation and strategy at PUMA, he talked like one too.
“The Shawl Collar Jacket was designed with first class on-mountain performance and comfort in mind,” he told me. “It’s built with mountain ready attributes, but we also recognize that its classic expression lends itself well to traditional menswear use.”
I wore the jacket for half of our interview, reluctant to take it off. Joseph and Sadri both casually dropped skiing excursions as far-ranging as Vermont and Sweden. They live their brand. It was clear from the moment we met.
“To us, alpine sport is about the spirit of the people, places and rich adventures that many of us have experienced in mountain villages around the world,” explained Sadri. “These places hold the memories of ski trips past, or of great times with friends and family. We aimed to create a brand that reflects the memory of these destinations, and that could transport our members to the mountains of Chamonix, Jackson Hole, or Stowe.”
The brand, as a result, is something of an anomaly. Here, in Boston – they moved in to WeWork South Station Dec. 1 – is a technical outerwear company pushing ski jackets for over $1,000. This isn’t healthcare or big data, a consumer app or the future of EdX; this is an apparel company, and a luxury one at that.
“From investors, to advisors, to other startup confidantes, and investor prospects, it’s been an incredibly supportive environment. We are so lucky to have a community of entrepreneurs ready and willing to meet with our team any day of the week,” said Joseph.
But it’s not elitist or confined to the extreme alpinist among us. It’s a brand that transcends any one type of activity or lifestyle. You can be extremely warm and protected against the elements without looking like everyone else, whether you’re on a Double Black Diamond in New Zealand or skating on the Frog Pond on the Common.
This mantra is evidenced in their jacket, the one I wore for about 20 minutes and probably would have paid for on the spot had I had the cash. It’s both a jacket and a sweater; it’s comfortable and armor-like; it looks wholly unlike any of your friends’ ski jackets, and yet somehow very familiar. It felt like something I could watch a movie in on the couch one minute, and go shovel the front steps in the next.
It’s a jacket Joseph and his team have been working on for years. And it shows. The lambswool is coated in DuPont Teflon water repellant. The leather is supple and distinct; it cuts lower on the left shoulder for added padding when carrying skis. There are thumb holes in the sleeves and pockets galore. The interior membrane is waterproof, too. And a powder skirt confirms this is a sweater built with a purpose.
As for what’s next, Joseph and his team are hard at work designing their second collection for Winter ’15-’16, which will include new colors for the products they offer now. What’s more, said Joseph, “We have a vision for a guide sweater, a beautiful forged performance ski pant, and a pullover anorak. We’re in creative mode, but are excited about offering a robust second collection!”
Alps & Meters is a clothing brand that pulses with personality, with identity. If a brand is truly the sum of the people behind it, this one has some serious swagger – and lasting power – already built in.
Images via Alps & Meters