At the beginning of the 21st-century, the fishermen of the Atlantic used untreated wool garments that gave them a certain degree of impermeability and Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, insisted on finding a material that could keep with those characteristics but that was lighter in weight and that could be dried faster. It was Malinda Chouinard, his wife, who found a new material that improved in the developmental process with Malden Malls, a company that we now know as Polartec. The result was fleece, a soft and light material that kept many of its insulation properties even when wet and that dried quickly. With characteristics that were close to wool, it was hypoallergenic and a heat retainer, especially if it was combined with a garment that protected against the rain. Also, it could be manufactured from recycled plastics and the final product could be easily recycled. Malden Malls continued to develop different versions but preferred not to register their patent so that everyone could make use of it. For Nacho Guillén, a scholar of the history of fabrics both in its development and its historical value, its ease of fabrication along with its performance made the fleece into a very popular product from the very beginning. It was lighter than would, moderately damp-proof and had less drying time.
FLEECE, HOW AN OUTDOOR TEXTILE BECAME FASHIONABLE
The story of many garments and classic fabrics are linked to the search for functionality, developing products or simply adapting other well-known ones. The origin of Patagonia is linked to a casual discovery, to begin with, it was Chouinard Equipment, a company dedicated to hard mountain gear that got into fabrics when they discovered that rugby polos were perfect for climbing because the collar prevented rope friction. This was Chouinard’s first step towards fabrics and the origin of Patagonia but it wouldn’t be the only time which they would be inspired by traditional workwear pieces.
It worked as a revolution in different aspects, there’s no need to use a thermal insulation layer if you wear an undergarment that can absorb sweat, which is why brands tried to create a breathable complement that sat closer to the body and an exterior waterproof garment. Without even knowing it they had created the three-layer system that has continued to the basis of outdoor product design.
The new textile also meant the possibility of new colours, the usual natural tones were changed for brighter colours that from that moment on became the norm in outdoor clothing. Patagonia’s first garment with fleece was created from recycled plastics and had a very particular tone due to the green of some of its bottles.
Four decades later, the fleece continues to be relevant. According to Nacho Guillén’s expert view, it is a texture that has been evolving by bettering its technical characteristics and production methods, which nowadays mean more sustainable methods. And which are the brands and garments that have known to take advantage of what fleece has to offer? According to Guillén, the very popular nature of fleece has placed it far from those who search for vintage finds, but we can still identify some iconic pieces. In the words of Guillén: “In the first place it would be Patagonia’s Synchilla Snap-T, it is the garment that invented fleece and fleece was invented for that garment. It’s a simple design with specific functionality that for its historical relevance it is considered to be the number one. After that would be The North Face’s Denali, not for its historical relevance but because it has become the classic pattern for fleece with nylon appliqués. I don’t know if it will reach grail status but Kapital’s fleece is definitely trendy. Only time can tell whether something will go from being a trend to becoming a grail but the Damask and Boro patterns have that grail aura and perhaps it is the brand that has made use of fleece in a more creative way, both from the product's point of view and the repercussion of this. . Also, I’d include Patagonia’s Mars R2, as a version of an American military piece that could be closer to a collector’s item”.
The fleece, an element born out of mountain functionality has built outdoor imagery that has known how to get inside the urban world with the indispensable support of Shia Labeouf, the icon of normcore reinterpretation.