Don’t Snooze on the Puffer Jacket!


Nathaniel Olsen, Contributing Director

Paris Fashion Week, Fall 1999, the last show before the 21st Century. The Maison Margiela team decided to show in the 18th Arrondissement (Paris is organized in concentric circles with the Champ Elysees centered as the first arrondissement). 

Patrons sent invitations by fax and arrived in groups to an all-white room with minimal seating. Guests were seated and served popcorn with red wine in plastic cups. The Maison’s guests might as well have been at a French Les Schwab. Upending convention with every step, the Maison surely confused some of their guests who were expecting party food more fitting of their wealthy socialite status. However, the tone of this gesture was meant with a familial sincerity, as this is how the Maison Margiela team celebrated the conclusion of its collections amongst themselves. The team simply wanted to give its loyal supporters an invitation to their party. 

“Come party with us as we celebrate the new year!” 

Once the guests were settled in, a film began to play. Thigh high ribbed knit gray wool socks that extended over the wearer’s boot were shown on a large screen in the audience’s view. The show had begun. To the Maison, this show was intended to ring in the New Year, providing its clients with a wardrobe befitting of the 21st Century.

While we have taken a measly 23 trips around the sun since the Maison Margiela released its Fall 1999 collection, there is one piece in particular that has stood out to make a meaningful impact on the wardrobe of people today introducing new silhouettes, textiles, and garment types into the mass media fashion landscape. 

Within the film shown to Maison Margiela’s guests were models wearing white duvets as coats. Sleeves had been attached by zippers and a handful of duvet covers in various materials were shown as covers for the coat. Women around the world were taken aback by the playful and well thought-out design, and the coat became so popular on the streets that it became a focus of famous New York City Street Photographer Bill Cunningham. Cunningham’s photo’s exist as a dreamcatcher, saving the first smiles of the new millennium and paving a way for the fun new garment to find a solid footing in the dream wardrobe of people around the world. 

Illustration by Han Beck

To understand the lasting impact of the Fall 1999 Maison Margiela Duvet Coat, it is vital to recognize how the ideas, hypotheses and values that come from fashion are communicated.

Fashion communicates meaning in a similar way to jazz. Listen to a piece of jazz music, and it sounds like everyone is off beat while also playing a different song entirely. It is hard to mince through all of the noise and context to find exactly what the musician is wanting the audience to take away from their performance. In the end, literal meaning cannot be derived to a fulfilling degree. In fashion, meaning is all subjective, and relies on history and context to influence how the garment will be perceived by the wearer and the passive observer. 

Fabric, silhouette, and styling all use nostalgia and context to create meaningful value. This means that time is a necessary element in fashion, where you can find meaning in a short trend that burns white hot but is gone in a second. Just as you can find meaning with an idea that is expanded upon again and again like an ember that starts a hearth. 

Maison Margiela’s Duvet coat would undergo the process of meticulous recalibration, recontextualization, and lastly reharmonization in order to create the 2023 wardrobe staple the puffer jacket. 

The history of the puffer jacket begins in the 1930s with its invention by Eddie Bauer for mountaineering and other rugged outdoor purposes. It has continued to be a popular fashion item, especially in the last couple decades of the 1900’=s. Sadly, the popularity of puffer jackets waned for the decades following the turning of the 21st century, laying dormant and preparing for its grand return. 

With the focus of fashion today quickly turning its eyes towards comfort, leisure, and a work from home lifestyle Marigiela’s Duvet coat is recalibrating to the dreams of people in the 2020’s. The motif of quilted compartments can be found on plenty of Bode jackets or the trompe l’oeil (imitation) quilted pattern of the Corduroy Jacket I wore in the Fall 2022 DAMChic story Honest Work. The humble and homey feel of quilted patterns found in Marigiela’s Duvet coat, are reflected in the quilted garments that can be found in every mass market retailer.  

While the puffer jacket of the 1900s had first utilitarian then some sparse fashion uses, it has been recontextualized to serve looks and break necks at any silhouette. Now puffer jackets can be found at hip length with drop shoulders and an oversized hood or extend down into floor length gowns like the dress Rihanna wore to the 2021 MET Gala. Puffer jackets have been released from any strict contractual obligations of function, and once again have become a playground for designers to express ideas about silhouette and form. 

Recalibrated and recontextualized, the puffer coat stands firmly in the current cultural zeitgeist. Unlike jorts or cowboy hats that are well renowned but do not necessarily hold a positive connotation in the minds of most people, the puffer jacket harmoniously fits into the narratives of 2023. The puffer jackets relation to both leisure and to adventure pits the garment at a middle ground that makes it prime for commercial success. The wearer can go outside and stay warm, while being provided the comfort of wearing their duvet comforter everywhere they go. This middle ground allows for creative and playful iterations to come about freely, where the designer is tasked with the job of deciding silhouette, material, and color to fit the brand identity and their collections. 

As the new year begins, and you put on your puffer because it’s 50 degrees and rainy and frankly you just want to be in bed, maybe it will make you smile to hear that plenty of women in the winter of 2000 were thinking the same thing. Our clothing tells our story, even the bedtime stories. 


Rihanana & ASAP ROCKY at the 2021 MET GALA: 

Margiela Duvet Coat photographed by Bill Cunninghamx:

For more information about Martin Margiela and his Maison


Fashion is a conversation that is on-going, please feel free to reach out to @nate_olsen12 on Instagram to share your insights and opinions. Stay happy, Stay healthy! 

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