In the early morning chill, my holiday companions were milling about the kitchen. While eating toast, they gathered up clothing and equipment for the day, to the swooshing of nylon salopettes. Their outfits were simple and tailored, light and slim-fitting. And then there was me: Bambi in a sumo suit.
As someone who is 5ft 2in and a holiday skier, outerwear can be a disaster. The above scenario took place during an Easter trip. I had struggled to find a decent outfit at the last minute: hence my very puffy purple jacket and black trousers cut for a portly giant. I vowed that the next time I went skiing I would have snow gear that was not just protective, but fit for off-piste viewing too. Earlier this month, that “next time” arrived: a coaching clinic at the ski dome in Hemel Hempstead. Enter Moncler.
Now famous as the puffer jacket of choice for ladies everywhere from Chelsea to Courchevel, Moncler in fact has roots deep in the world of mountain climbing and skiing. Originally known for making quilted jackets and sleeping bags for mountain expeditions, it was the official supplier of the French national downhill ski team at the Grenoble Winter Olympics in 1968 and in the past 40 years has broadened its horizons even further. Its current ski label, named Grenoble, represents only about 10 per cent of its total product range, which also includes Gamme Rouge, the haute couture line by designer Giambattista Valli. Grenoble sports the Moncler signature: the use of non-traditional performance fabrics – think wool tweed – to create garments that work on and off piste.
My test case was an Irrenberg jacket. This is standard Moncler: black quilted nylon, cockerel logo on the shoulder, waist nipped in by an elasticated belt. At £780, it is at the low end of the price range for this line, which can go over £2,000 for jackets embellished with fur and wool. From the outside, it looks like a simple everyday winter weather jacket for the city. (At the office there was much envy among even non-skiing colleagues, who simply wanted to wear it to work.) But it comes with frills: a traditional powder skirt inside; a double zip so you can close the jacket just as far as your waist, rather than all the way from hip to neck; fleece-lined pockets; a hood big enough to cover a helmet and a turtleneck for added warmth. Plus waterproof pockets inside and in the sleeve for phones and keys. Missing were a few features of more technical jackets, such as clips that hook on to your trousers to give you extra protection from powder snow (and some Grenoble jackets have an internal gaiter that zips on to trousers).
Still, given that I wasn’t waist-deep in powder, this was not a big issue, and on the slopes the jacket was both warm and movement-friendly. Watching myself on playback (the clinic insists you see your own mistakes) I was delighted to note that no matter how messy my skiing, I still looked sharp. In fact, I was so delighted that back in London I made a beeline for the Moncler shop to try on more jackets, including the Reidberger (£1,180) and the Skilbrum (£1,085). Made with bi-stretch technical nylon over feather down, they were both beautiful, with a body-conscious shape, and unlike the Irrenberg they come in colours other than black: the Reidberger in a chic blue, and the Skilbrum in light or steel grey or dark green. The Skilbrum, which also has a removable fur-lined hood, is belted, with quilting on the back and slim-fit arms.
Still, there’s no getting away from the fact that this is an Italian luxury garment, thanks to the sizing. Which is, to be blunt, on the small side. Be prepared to go up a number, and be comforted by the fact no one looking at you will be able to tell.
Anousha Sakoui is the FT’s M&A correspondent