Polypropylene and polyester may not sound like the stuff to don on a raw winter's day, but fabrics made from these two plastics have become increasingly important in cold-weather sportswear. They are lightweight, tough, easy to launder and nonabsorbent. Best of all, they wick moisture away from the body.
In Norway polypropylene knits have been used for years, first for lining diapers and later for making underwear prized by North Sea fishermen. Its wicking effect apparently keeps them as dry as babies. The main disadvantage of the underwear was that it didn't have the same insulating qualities as the old red woolies.
Enter polyester, the stuff of leisure suits. That familiar material has now been knit and brushed especially to form fluffy pile, bunting and fleece that insulate like wool but, as sailors and outdoorsmen have discovered, when soaked, can be removed, wrung out and put right back on again. The polyester will continue to insulate while drying.
The man most responsible for bringing these Scandinavian miracles to the new world is Yvon Chouinard, a Canadian-born Californian who has turned a lifelong passion for mountain climbing into a successful business in mountaineering equipment and the Patagonia brand of sportswear. "Function, durability and timeless non-fashion styling," Chouinard says, are his creed. It's also a fitting motto for the new-tech garments shown here, all photographed in New Mexico's Taos Ski Valley.
Chouinard climbs into a pile cardigan ($54), Balaclava ($15), gloves and navy polypropylene shirt, all by Patagonia.
Peter Blake (left) runs in Helly-Hansen's polypropylene bodywear ($19) and G.U.T.S. jacket ($75), Pam Garrison in Roffe's fleece outfit ($100) and Chip Highfill in Patagonia's polypropylene-lined nylon outfit ($132).
Kathy Ireland is set for the slopes in Serac's polypropylene pullover with nylon trim ($59) and later shares a snack with two friends in her fleece pullover from Levi's Skiwear ($75) and pants from North Face ($30).
Sur-Sox wears a halter, Connie Blake a fleece jacket from Roffe ($55); Ken Gallard (right) heads for the hills in Helly-Hansen's pile jacket with oxford-cloth reinforcement ($149).