Women might like being described as ski bunnies. But chubby bunnies? Certainly not.
Ski and snowboard clothing manufacturers have determined that down jackets are a cool -- and warm -- vintage-inspired trend, but not if they're too puffy. So designers are creating the coats with tucked waists, vertical or diagonal stitching to make them look trimmer to the eye, and with higher-grade feathers that give greater insulation without the bulk.
''The whole puffy down look is definitely in," said Grace Patrick, creative director for women's products and marketing at Burton, the Burlington, Vt.-based snowboard company. ''What we've done at Burton for the '05 line is to create more streamlined looks with it. The panels of down point diagonally toward the center to give it a more sexy, fitted look. Not only does it look more fitted, it feels more fitted."
Patrick, who operates out of an office in Orange County, Calif., says a younger street vibe -- a la L.A. -- is permeating Burton's women's line, bringing fashionable girlie touches (fur trim, mirrors attached on strings, mix-and-match plaids and polka dots) where once there was only a baggy boys' look. That has also changed the way down coats are being fitted, making them more comfortable and versatile.
''They'll wear this stuff off the float," said Patrick, using board-speak for ''off the mountain."
Nina Johnson of The North Face, a company whose down coats have been part of the urban winter wardrobe for years, said that company, too, is trimming the bulk from the jackets.
The trend, she says, is stemming from the ski and board industries' realization that many women would prefer something tailored more to their bodies, rather than have a jacket from the men's line in a feminine color.
''They're catering more to the stylistic needs of us, answering our call, which is awesome," said Johnson. ''You don't look like a guy. You look cute." She said the big change in appearance on down jackets is that the baffle -- or top-stitching -- is more contoured.
''It's not as big, puffy, masculine, Michelin Man-type styling," she said. ''It's definitely very hot right now, for men and women, whether you're in the pipe or down-country."
The North Face added some special touches -- such as waterproof breathable fabric on the outside -- to its down line to make it more weather-resistant than a street coat. The coats are so toasty that the company incorporated core vents -- some brands refer to these as ''pit zips" -- to allow heat to escape from the jacket.
With all the technology out there, though, why is the industry falling back on such a low-tech insulation? ''It's very fundamental isn't it?" Johnson said. ''Down is the best insulator there is."
Primaloft is a synthetic down that is not quite as warm, but it does have benefits over down. If you get wet wearing Primaloft it will dry more quickly than down. It's also cheaper: A Primaloft jacket might cost $150 while a comparable down jacket might cost $250. Downsides to Primaloft: It's less durable and also harder to pack into a suitcase.
There are different grades -- or fill powers -- of down. The North Face line, for example, uses 600 to 900 fill down, the higher number being the most thermally efficient.