The Met Office has just announced that 2012 was the UK’s second wettest year on record, and the wettest bar none for England. Whatever you think about global warming – and those with strong views on the matter tend not to be affected by the climate anyway, because they stay indoors all day blogging – we can agree the weather’s getting weird.
At the time of writing it is a crystalline winter’s day as cold as Jack Frost’s kiss. A couple of days ago, it snowed. Yesterday brought freezing rain. And here’s the problem. Anyone doing business anywhere in northern Europe needs to look smart. Yet all the things commonly accepted as smart – from a shapely leather shoe to a fine wool suit – turn to mush when exposed to bad weather. A brolly and a smart mac will only get you so far. But nobody looks commanding in waterproof trousers and a cagoule.
For years, there has been little compromise. High style belonged to indoors, and outdoors was the province of Millets. Luxury goods companies would supply you with an umbrella to get between the hotel and your limousine but after that you were essentially on your own.
Now things are changing. Waterproof clothing that looks like, well, clothing, is upon us – and it’s aimed at the style-conscious homme d’affaires rather than the style-impervious orienteer. A bellwether of the age is that Louis Vuitton now does a fully waterproof version of its Keepall bag, which looks and feels like a giant sports bag such as you might find on offer at any motorway service station but which costs – Jesus! – £1,760. That said, it is entirely watertight, even under submersion – so if you want to go scuba-diving with your laptop in your suitcase, this is your answer.
For a casual look – how I wish I’d been able to get my mitts on a sample, because it sounds bonkers – Barbour has a waterproof jumper in Merino wool (£169). The waterproof woolly jumper – it looks a bit like a fleece with shoulder patches, truth be told – is an idea whose time has come.
It’s not just Louis Vuitton and Barbour. Brooks Brothers is getting in on the act too. Sciency fabric with a silly name being the high-end waterproof must-have, it now offers a stylish and comfy three-quarter length “Traveler” coat in something called Storm System wool (£349). The idea seems to be to make a waterproof that doesn’t look it, and this doesn’t. Even traditionally waterproof items are being beefed up. Macs are usually waterproof, right? Brooks Brothers offers a reversible navy/khaki mac (£349) that’s waterproof both inside and out – proof against perspiration and precipitation alike.
Going even further in the direction of the orienteer, there’s what may be the poshest pac-a-mac in history, a lightweight khaki number in a silky linen-cotton mix (£249) that comes in its own pouch and made me look like Arkwright in Open All Hours.
Aiming foursquare at this new market, too, is Swims – a range of footwear developed by a mysterious Norwegian who goes by “Johan R”, and inspired by the black rubber galoshes he inherited from his late grandfather. The basic Swims galosh (£55) is just as it sounds: a thick rubber overshoe that encases your sexy Italian shoe in the footwear equivalent of a passion-killing first-world-war condom. Not, I’d say, a great look – but it laughs in the face of puddles anything up to 2in deep and, when you reach your meeting you need only pull the wet rubbery overbits off your pristine footwear and slip them unobtrusively ... into your briefcase? Already Swims is producing galoshes specially designed to fit John Lobb and Armani shoes, so someone’s buying them.
Swims does, however, also produce a range of natty waterproof shoes – from penny loafers (£160) that look like little Indian canoes to some quite funky trainers that you could imagine Flavor Flav sporting in his crib. I hit the soggy streets in a Charles High Top in gunsmoke white (£180). This shoe looks like the offspring of a drunken one-night stand between a brogue and a two-man tent: a shoe/boot hybrid with vibrant orange details on the laces, a sheeny blue-grey fabric, and a riot of town-to-country broguing. Personally, I thought it looked ghastly. I might as well have been walking around in clown shoes.
But, to my astonishment, three male friends and two female ones – all of whom have better taste than me – exclaimed: “Nice shoes!”. Not in a sarcastic way, either. I don’t ordinarily get compliments on my footwear – no great surprise, since I’ve worn nothing but Dr Martens for nearly 25 years. I should also note, having experimented in a rutted country lane in Wiltshire, that the waterproofing is immaculate – right up to the point where the tongue and the upper part company. If you go deeper than that your shoe fills with freezing water. Still looks stylish though, apparently.
The winner for me was a high-topped number from another company: a Chelsea boot, with brogue details and zips down the inside ankle, from Geox’s Amphibiox range (£145). They were apparently tested in “the rainiest place on earth”, aka Cherrapunji in northeast India, so there. I first heard the name Geox years ago when it produced the first (allegedly) odour-free trainer. It does like its gimmicks: the box for the Geox Respira (“international patent”) shows a moodily-lit sole apparently breaking wind and boasts “the shoe that breathes” in five languages. The one that I tried neither breathed nor farted in any noticeable way, I’m pleased to report – and tested in “the second rainiest place on earth”, aka Archway, London, N19, proved non-shiny, very satisfactorily waterproof and comfy to boot. I haven’t worn my Dr Martens since.