June 5, 2009

AETHER: Fall '09

I had the pleasure of sitting down and talking with two great guys the other day. These great guys just happen to run AETHER, a clothing line out of Los Angeles offering “sportswear for the outdoor enthusiast who wants the function of outdoor garments without sacrificing modern design and aesthetics.” And that is, indeed, what the final line of their upcoming Fall collection looks like.

It seems there has always been a void in the market for “grown up” looking active wear. Sure, there are brands trying it out, but when it comes to gear that can withstand the elements and the abuse of an active sport and still be desirable for the everyday, there just wasn’t much there. That is the exact reason, friends, Jonah Smith and Palmer West joined forces, rolled up their sleeves and did the damn thing themselves.

The two have been business partners for nearly 10 years, not making their mark in fashion, but as successful film producers. Their lifestyle of in-the-office-every-day-of-the-week only drove them to go that much bigger and harder on the weekends. Often running out of the conference room straight to the mountain, the pair was inevitably forced to compromise their style to some capacity. They couldn’t wear a “shiny” technical jacket to a meeting, and they didn’t want to bring a good looking, stylish (but not functional) jacket to the mountain. The answer for them was simple: make outerwear that makes sense for both the “boardroom” and the slopes. Jackets that won’t leave you feeling like a 16-year-old X-gamer in a room full of suits, and pieces that will keep you warm, dry, comfortable, and looking damn good while doing the outdoor activities you love.

A slight move-on from Spring, the Fall ’09 collection is sophisticated, well-designed, concise and to the point. You won’t find any stitching for show, no pockets for pockets’ sake, and certainly no loud plaids or polka dots to match your board. Throw form follows function out the window, as Aether sticks to a design ethos of form and function married as one. A sacrifice doesn’t always have to be made between the two, and the line proves that with this collection.

It was easy to talk with Jonah and Palmer about their line, the movies they’ve made and their passion for both. At first I found it odd that film producers were designing a line of outerwear, even young active ones such as themselves. But after only a few minutes of conversation, the parallels between the two worlds were undeniable. The two have, in fact, been designing since they teamed up and put on their producing hats. Instead of the final product being something you could throw over a sweater, theirs was something to watch on a screen. The journey of taking bits here and pieces there, and combining them in a perfect, successful end product is the same no matter what that final product may be.

Although they admit to having to take real life crash courses in the apparel business, they teamed up with talent to match their passions, and it shows in the Aether line. The two understand the importance of creative control, but also know when to step aside and let others take the reigns, a virtue in the world of producing films as well.

Whether it be a slim-cut, lightweight wind breaker, or a jacket built for rigorous outdoor sports, all Aether products are made here in North America. Palmer and Jonah looked high, low, near, and yes, even far for the best quality materials and the highest level of craftsmanship needed to execute their vision. Comforting and inspiring to know they found everything they needed right here at home. You can’t help but feel like going and doing something great when you look at their line and beautifully shot look books. It reflects that good ol’ American lifestyle of going out, exploring, pushing the limits or both yourself and nature, and most importantly, having fun.

After running through the line with them, the idea that this was “active sportswear” was out the window for me. I had forgotten all they had told me about how this stands up to whatever-below-freezing temperature and why that stitch taping is waterproof. I didn’t see a collection made for snowboarding, skiing, hiking or sailing. All I saw was outerwear I wanted to wear driving, walking, meeting, working and any other day-to-day activity where I just wanted to look good and stay warm and dry doing it.

I left Aether with a newfound sense of inspiration and drive. It was hard not to, after speaking with the them. These guys got into filmmaking because more of the movies they wanted to see didn’t exist. So they made them. And they started making apparel because they knew what they wanted and it wasn’t there. So they did it themselves, plain and simple. It takes a certain type of person to do something, instead of sitting idly by and waiting for something to come along and fill a void. And we’re all lucky Jonah and Palmer are just those types. Because of them, we now have better films to watch and when the elements demand it, or when they don’t, better clothes to wear.