We were going through the London Fog archives and found a picture from the seventies of people waiting for a train to the city," says James Thomas, the new British-born designer of the iconic American outerwear brand. "It was a sea of khaki London Fog trenchcoats."
If Thomas, who started his career at Guy Laroche and Calvin Klein, has his way, train stations everywhere will once again overflow with people dressed in the classic label. But this time the scene will be an ocean of cropped white macs, royal-blue peacoats, and trenches crafted from bright yellow rubber-bonded cotton or silver leather.
Clearly the company's goal isn't so much a rebranding as it is a complete rebirth. Achieving that objective demanded obsessive attention to detail, both practical and sartorial. Thomas found mills—most in Italy but also some in Japan—that weave fabrics so high-tech you forget about all the technology that goes into them. Light wool gauzes, for instance, can be tied into knots—or shoved into luggage racks on transatlantic flights—and spring back without a wrinkle. Then there's the raincoat fabric made of cotton gauze sandwiched between two layers of translucent rubber; it slides through your fingers as though it were silk. And that silver leather? Kangaroo skin cut so paper-thin it is almost transparent—but still, somehow, tough enough to withstand the elements. Even the logo has been redesigned: a London underground-inspired sans serif typeface discreetly engraved on the inside label.
The trenchcoat has been on the minds of many designers in the last few years. Everyone from Marc Jacobs to Michael Kors has played with the traditional trench, whether by tweaking the cut or through a complete reinvention. At Burberry, Christopher Bailey, most famously perhaps, has brought the coat Thomas Burberry created in the 1890s out from the trenches and into the modern age by radically slimming the fit. Mackintosh, the Scottish company that dukes it out with Burberry over who actually invented the trench, added bright colors and more clean-cut lines five years ago—and now sells at New York's Takashimaya. London Fog got its start providing coats for the U. S. Army during World War II. In the seventies the tagline "London Fog lets you laugh at the weather" helped sell three out of every four raincoats in America. Thomas says this legacy has been both a blessing and a curse. "Knowing there's this heritage so firmly rooted in the trenchcoat is quite freeing." That said, his line of coats features the kind of high armholes and lean body that you see on a bespoke suit—just the kind of details to make you forget all those baggy, frumpy macs on the train from Westchester.
London Fog, 212-894-7300; www.londonfog.com.