It wasn’t the only designer item I tested on my trip, either. Turns out, on the Seventh Continent, fashion and function can go hand in hand.
"Hectic" is a word heard often in conversation in South Africa, a sort of reflexive slang response to describe something as amazing, extreme, or crazy. I heard it a lot during a short trip to Cape Town this past December, not only in preparation for a trip to Antarctica (more on this very shortly), but also in the daily sounds of the city.
“This route up Table Mountain can be a little bit hectic,” said a guide from the One&Only Hotel, where I stayed, while taking me up the area’s most famous geographical feature (Table Mountain is kind of like Cape Town’s version of Los Angeles’ Runyon Canyon). “That table is getting a little hectic,” said a friendly maître d’ at the hotel’s offshoot of Nobu, referring to a group of men drinking what looked to be three cocktails per person in tandem. “It was hectic,” said a publicist, describing an effort made by another local hotel to develop its own rose variant to be planted on its grounds.
This being said, hectic is also a good word to describe the decision to bring cold weather essentials from some of our favorite fashion labels all the way to Antarctica in an effort to test them against the hyper-harsh conditions of the Seventh Continent. How would a Loro Piana cashmere bomber hold up in the barreling wind? What about Moose Knuckles’ famed “Canada cold” outerwear? What about Alessandro Michele’s iconic fur-lined slipper loafers for Gucci, arguably his greatest hit—and certainly a core legacy piece—at the house he’ll soon be exiting? It turns out: Far better than expected.
I flew from Cape Town to Antarctica with
White Desert, the British and South African tour operators who, just last month, opened a brand new camp on the ice. It’s called Echo. This place, in and of itself, is pretty stylish—a Star Wars-themed set of pods on a snowy meadow, backdropped by faraway crags. It has something of an ominous fairytale aesthetic: impossible, thrilling, borderline dorky, all of it in a good way. It’s also an impressive conceit. Echo–along with White Desert’s other camps called Wolf’s Fang and Whichaway–can be removed from the scene without leaving a trace. The company stays as green as possible to help preserve the white.
While in Antarctica, White Desert offers excursions in and around the continent, including a hike, when conditions permit, to an extraordinary ice tunnel that glows as blue as an Yves Klein painting. Truly. I didn’t know that ice and snow absorb red and yellow light; the more dense the material, the more cyan it will look, as only blue light passes. It’s beautiful. But beautiful things can be dangerous.
On this activity, I was trying out Dior’s collaborative POC Ski Racing helmet. It felt pretty sexy. I am not a big skier anymore, but it was more stylish and snugger than any helmet I’d worn on the slopes beforehand. While we were deep in the canyon—probably a couple hundred feet or more—surrounded by the blue, a guide was climbing about 20 feet above me. He accidentally dislodged a piece of ice, about the size of an English Bulldog, and it fell, hitting me squarely on the shoulders and the head, right at the helmet’s logo-mark. Our group went quiet. Then, nervous laughter, as we realized: Dior may have just saved my life, or at least my scalp from a bloody head wound (medical evacuations from Antarctica, while doable, are not easy).
There was one beautiful thing that did not prove to be dangerous, however: Visiting an Emperor Penguin colony. Seeing these remarkable birds in the frigid wild was a little bit hard to believe. All of them, here? Walking up to us, unafraid? No way. It had to be staged (which, of course, it wasn’t). We had flown on one of White Desert’s DC-3’s to an area called Atka Bay, where we landed on an ice ski-way courtesy of a German science station in the region. From there, it was a 20 minute snowmobile ride to the site, where hundreds of penguins—adults and chicks alike—were gathered, feeding on regurgitated fish and sunning in the relative heat. And, by relative heat, I mean 22 degrees Fahrenheit.
Out here, I wore Loro Piana’s cashmere Fillmore Bomber jacket, which is built with the company’s proprietary Storm System fabrication. In addition to the fashion samples in tow, I’d also bought the recommended coats, shells, and layers from more performance-ready labels. The Loro Piana coat was, honestly, better. Lightweight yet windproof, insulating and cocoon-like, I didn’t feel a millisecond of chill—only the satisfaction of a very capable piece, with ultra-luxe fabrication and style, to boot.
The functionality of these fashion items did not cease to impress. Moose Knuckles’ Stirling Parka kept me cozy while taking in a view of the impressive Ulvetanna Peak, a mountain that looks a little bit like the Matterhorn. Gucci’s re-edition Princetown slip-ons turned heads, but my toes were snug, function and fashion melding nicely in the extremity of the setting. Thom Browne’s Clubmaster sunglasses added glare-reducing flair while also being remarkably lightweight. Tom Ford’s Cotton Long Johns outperformed my thermal long underwear. I ended up wearing Tom’s instead, even on more challenging weather days.
All in all: The fashion labels delivered in line with the performance brands, which was a pleasant, welcome discovery. Hectic indeed—but a happy surprise, too.
Nick Remsen is a Miami, FL-based writer covering fashion, culture, lifestyle and entertainment news for media outlets worldwide.
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