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In Focus: the duffle coat


This season’s duffle is seen in versions that range from decidedly retro to thoroughly modern – all variations work equally well for this versatile classic

Karen Munnis portrait
Karen Munnis ,

The winter duffle coat, a versatile, unisex fashion favourite, is as much a classic as the springtime trench. For autumn/winter 2015/16, many designers have looked to the past for inspiration for this function-meets-fashion outerwear.

Belgium and Britain
The coat’s name is believed to come from the Belgian town of Duffel and the thick woollen material of the same name made there, but the duffle’s design, with its signature large hood and toggle fastenings, is distinctively English. Early versions were made in the late 19th century by the John Partridge workwear company from Rugeley in Staffordshire. The duffel was first widely worn in the early 1900s by the British navy, who favoured a camel version of the coat to protect them from harsh conditions at sea – and its loose-fitting shape and spacious hood fitted over a naval uniform and hat. The duffle was later nicknamed the Monty coat, as it was worn by Field Marshal Montgomery so his men could easily identify him.

Celebrity coat
Sales of military surplus clothing to the public popularised the duffle coat, which became a widespread wardrobe staple in the 1950s and 60s. Fans included Jean Cocteau, who wore a white version. The toggle buttons and large hood were also added to children’s coats, and Paddington Bear wears a blue version. The duffle became a favourite of the music industry, worn by Glaswegian band Belle and Sebastian, and all members of Oasis are sporting a black version on the cover of the band’s 1995 single Roll With It.

Wardrobe icon
British brand Gloverall bought a consignment of the military-issue duffle coats, and in 1954, started producing its own version of the coat, which it continues to design today. What accounts for the duffle’s continued popularity? ‘It comes down to form and function. The duffel coat has earned its place as an iconic British garment and a timeless wardrobe essential because it looks effortlessly stylish from one season to the next, while doing an impeccable job of keeping you warm and dry when the weather turns,’ says Mark Smith, sales and marketing director for the brand.

Winter warmer
Like the trenchcoat, with its similarly solid heritage, the duffle coat’s long-lasting appeal lies in its wearability and warmth during the cold winter months. The Gloverall team continues to reference its classic elements when designing the rest of the brand’s collection. ‘Details like the wooden or horn toggle fastenings and rope or leather loops are synonymous with the duffle coat and are used throughout our Classic Collection. Elsewhere, the duffle remains a key inspiration when it comes to defining the protective elements of each jacket which we produce, so even the more lightweight styles have a technical build quality developed to stand up to the elements while looking super-contemporary,’ says Smith.

For autumn/winter 2015/16, Gloverall took inspiration from historic sporting stories for its collection, such as black-and-white photographs of 1950s British Formula One racing driver Tony Brooks wearing the classic Monty coat. This season, the boiled wool style is slightly more streamlined and includes appliqué racing-inspired motifs and pins.

Retro inspiration
Gloverall isn’t the only brand that has turned to the past for duffle coat design inspiration. British label Ben Sherman redesigned the coat for autumn/winter 2015/16. ‘It came about because we were looking into garments that have had an affiliation with British youth culture,’ says Mark Williams, head of design at Ben Sherman. ‘When worn over a blazer it becomes the new wool parka for the season, and moves on the classic mod silhouette.’

Modern interpretations
The duffle coat goes modern for autumn/winter 2015/16, too. For his Raft collection, menswear designer Christopher Raeburn worked with a high-quality Italian nylon and added a moody rust print to create an updated, quilted duffle coat.

The duffle has been adopted by womenswear designers, too. For her autumn/winter 2015/16 collection, which she has described as ‘heritage opulence versus techy utopia’, Mary Katrantzou sent models down the catwalk wearing duffle coats emblazoned with her bold signature prints, worn with high heels and opaque coloured tights.

The duffle adopts these thoroughly modern facelifts as effortlessly as it does the retro references seen elsewhere; there can surely be few coat styles as adaptable.

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