By Fok-Yan Leung
If you live somewhere where seasons exist, March weather can pose a dilemma. Most stores don’t have all their spring clothing in stock yet, and in any case, a spring jacket may seem a bit premature. Enter the lightly quilted jacket or vest. Usually used as a middle layer in the dead of winter, come early spring, these make a great piece to throw over a shirt or cardigan on a cool, fresh day. The light batting in between the inner and outer layers traps warmth, and the tightly woven outer layer keeps out wind. They are lightweight and compact, not ponderous like a winter jacket or coat. And they are easy to stuff into your bag, so that you can fish it out when the sun starts to set.
Unsurprisingly, the quilted jacket was first made popular in England, where the weather is often inclement, even in summer, but where truly bone-chilling cold is relatively uncommon. More surprising is that fact that the original quilted jacket was created by an American, Steven Guylas, an anglophile who made the jacket in America and brought it over to England, where it flourished, and became associated with the English Gentry. Steve Guylas did not establish his company (now owned by an Italian parent) until 1965, at which time he started Husky, a company that most North Americans under fifty know only as one of those mysterious brands that you find on Yoox. We associate the quilted jacket with the Royal family - and particular Queen Elizabeth - and traditional hunting gear, and all things English and horsey, but it’s actually a fairly recent development, and only really became popular in the 70s and the 80s.
While the Husky brand seems to have fallen into relative obscurity, quilted jackets and vests became a mainstay in our casual wardrobes. “Very British” companies like Barbour, Mackintosh and Lavenham make the best-known versions, often with a cotton outer surface, but also using hearty tweeds and other sturdy, outerwear-appropriate wools. Most of the Italian versions that I have seen have a more luxurious feel. Always willing to turn the dial to eleven, Brunello Cucinelli will sell you a goose down-filled, cashmere quilted vest for about $2000-$2500, on any given FW season.
For my own personal use, I prefer the vest form of this garment, and I like something without much batting. It’s much more stylish than most fleece vests, but serves the same purpose. As with many things English and American, like jeans and hunting jackets, Japanese designer Tajuki Suzuki of ts(S) takes the quilted vest to the nth level, and uses a familiar shape as a canvas on which to showcase novel and interesting fabrics. For the FW14-15 season, the vest was available in both a vertically quilted herringbone cotton fabric and a high density nylon vest. As winter gives way to spring, the quilted vest will continue to serve. If you are concerned with getting the most bang for your buck, there are not too many outerwear pieces that you can wear for three seasons.