With a bold line of custom ski uniforms, Swedish design house J. Lindeberg brings a touch of European tradition — and retro nostalgia — to the ‘Americana’ world championships
For Fredrik Dahl, the master designer behind the 2015 World Alpine Ski Championships ski uniform, chic lines and an arresting silhouette mean little when a slopeside fashionista is fending off frostbite.
Sure, that’s common sense for die-hard mountaineers, but in a wide, weird ski world where form often trumps function — don’t forget the boxer mania sparked by Swedish freeskier Henrik Harlaut in Sochi — common sense can get lost in billowing parkas and half-frozen trousers. The wild, even weirder world of Colorado in wintertime takes care of the rest.
It’s Dahl’s job to make sure that doesn’t happen. As the lead sport designer for J. Lindeberg, a high-end design house based in Stockholm, Sweden, he knows how fickle winter can be. Mother Nature in the Rocky Mountains is unpredictable at best and schizophrenic at worst, particularly in February.
It’s also Dahl’s job to make sure more than 3,000 volunteers at Vail and Beaver Creek don’t look like bleak, formless blobs when upwards of 700 million ski fanatics catch them during the international broadcast. For two solid weeks, the volunteers will spend upwards of 12 hours per day on sheets of mid-winter snow, all with little more than Dahl’s uniform to ward off the elements.
And that’s where Dahl’s European roots come into play. Downhill skiing was born and bred on wind-swept peaks high in the Alps, no more than a few hours from European fashion hubs like Milan and Munich. Not only does he boast 15 years in the world of alpine athletic design — he began his career with Swedish powerhouse Peak Performance — he’s channeled that passion into uniforms for two World Championships: the first in 2003 at St. Moritz, Switzerland, the second in 2005 at Bormio, Italy.
Now it’s onto the third. Fashion runs in Dahl’s blood, but it rarely overpowers function and, in a nod to the brave volunteers, common sense. The custom uniform line for 2015 — a complete set with five separate pieces — is a kind of thesis statement for his design philosophy: sleek lines and bold colors, with a touch of retro styling and the technical specs to weather any storm.
“This is something I really, really enjoy,” Dahl says. “If you do a good job, you have 3,000 ambassadors. If you don’t, well, you have ambassadors that go the other way.”
AN AMERICAN DESIGN
In terms of worldwide exposure, 2015 puts Dahl and J. Lindeberg in the same coveted position as Vail and Beaver Creek. It’s the first time the World Championships have been held in the U.S. since 1999, and with millions of eyes once again on the harrowing, claustrophobic Birds of Prey course, local organizers at the Vail Valley Foundation are touting 2015 as distinctly American. (Think slopeside cheerleaders, tailgating and a marching band.)
For the Vail Valley Foundation, the J. Lindeberg partnership is an elegant and highly visible way to pay homage to the sport’s European roots. Along with the 2003 and 2005 uniforms, J. Lindeberg outfits several ski clubs in Sweden and across Europe with layered, multi-purpose garments, while the men’s fashion department has worked with downhill superstars like Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal and Switzerland’s Sandro Villeta.
And Dahl is the perfect candidate to meld American and European sensibilities. After leaving his native Sweden, he traveled the world to soak up style and sport, cutting his chops with Peak Performance (an official sponsor for the 1999 World Championships) before heading to The North Face in California, where he was head of design for the high-end Summit Series.
Dahl’s design for 2015 is both familiar and unexpected, even for old-school skiers. The crown jewel is the jacket, a thoroughly high-tech garment with fully taped seams, Primaloft fill and a breathable, waterproof Dermizax outer. It also boasts plenty of winter sports standards — armpit zippers, a detachable hood — but technical specs are just an appetizer. Dahl highlights the design house’s trademark flourish for clean, timeless lines with bold reds, whites and blues. It’s not just a tribute to the host country: They’re his favorite colors for ski clothing, and the jacket’s striking use of three signature tones — say, white zippers against rich blue and red fabric blocks — is an effortless mix of modern style and retro charm.
“I have always found the best inspiration is to look back at the retro ski outfits people used,” says Dahl, who poured over old ski catalogues and ‘70s-era woolen sweaters while designing the uniform. “If you can find the look and feel of an old ski outfit, then bring modern elements, that’s a really cool thing.”
Oddly enough, Dahl hardly drew inspiration directly from athletes. A stylish, stark-white leg zipper on the snow pants is similar to a racer’s warm-ups, but for volunteers, it’s a godsend. When VVF organizers first approached J. Lindeberg about the uniform, Dahl’s design team knew layers were paramount. The outer jacket and pants are paired with three matching pieces: an insulated vest, a lightweight mid-layer jacket and a thinly padded hybrid jacket. Like Vail Resorts’ Helly Hansen uniforms, each piece can be worn separately or, when Colorado throws an inevitable tantrum, bundled for much-needed warmth.
“When you go to the ski area and look on the slope, you see so many brands and ski jackets everywhere. They all start to look the same,” says Dahl, who hopes the uniforms will grace stateside slopes for years after 2015. “My goal as a designer is to make products you can spot from a distance and say, ‘Wow, that’s a J. Lindeberg jacket.’ We wanted to have elements people will know are us and people will know are Vail.”
J. Lindeberg skiwear can be found at Pepi’s, Vail Sports, Vail Style, Beaver Creek Sports and Zone 2015.