This waterproof ensemble was donated to V&A this earlier year by welly company Hunter, it takes pride of place in our rainwear display in the fashion gallery. It formed part of Hunter’s spectacular first appearance at London Fashion Week in February 2014, a show which presented a bold new direction for a brand often associated with royals, upper-class rural Britain and middle-class urban festival-goers.
Hunter originated as a brand of the North British Rubber Company, formed in 1856 by the American entrepreneur Henry Lee Norris. They made boots for soldiers in the First World War, and in 1958 launched their iconic rubber boot, made from 21 separate pieces of vulcanised rubber. In the 1980s, Hunter wellies became a fashion accessory for the urban upper- and middle-classes who idealised the lives or rural gentry. The Official Sloane Ranger Handbook states in reference for their ubiquity in early-1980s west London that ‘London Sloanes sprout green [Hunter] wellies in wet weather like a plague of frogs’. Their first step away from their ‘Sloaney’ reputation came when Kate Moss was photographed at Glastonbury, 2005, wearing a pair of black Hunter wellies.
Hunter’s long heritage was something which Alisdhair Willis emphasised after his appointment as creative director in 2013. He wished for the company to focus on finding a ‘harmonious balance between Hunter’s rich heritage as a Scottish waterproof footwear outfitter and a modern brand with the flexibility to push forwards.’ What this means is that Hunter was looking for a wider (probably also younger) audience, while also staying true to what people would traditionally associate with the brand.
What Hunter tried to achieve with their Autumn/Winter 2014 collection was a fusion between Hunter’s tradition for excellence and association with ‘Britishness’ with the spirit of adventure. The collection was inspired by expeditions into extreme environments. On a flooded catwalk lined with silver birch trees they showed coats which resembled spacesuits, thick ribbed fisherman’s jumpers and things like this ensemble, inspired by deep sea diving. This particular look uses the classically British duffle coat as a starting point; the twist being that it is bright yellow and made from a PVC-polyurethane blend, rather than the traditional blue, grey, green or brown woollen material. Hunter’s own heritage is referenced by the ‘moustaches’ on the pockets – inspired by the moulded details found on the toes of Hunter wellington boots. This is an acquisition we are very pleased to have made: it represents the rebirth of a traditional British company as a 21st century high street brand, and also greatly improves the V&A’s holdings of men’s rainwear.