The parka has a firm anchorage in the heritage of British fashion. From Mods to military, to more recent revivals of the outerwear staple, the parka has a story to be told – and is a narrative that continues to evolve. Parka London is reinserting the coat into a contemporary setting. Fiona Mills, co-founder and brand director at Parka London, founded the brand with her business partner Stephen Lever in 2012. With years of experience in the fashion industry between them, they established the name and direction of the brand. From studies at Wanganui Polytechnic in New Zealand, to her move to the UK in 2005, Fiona Mills developed an acute insider knowledge of the industry’s workings. “My experience in fashion and outerwear has been varied where I have had the opportunities to work across the board and therefore given me some good foundational knowledge in understanding what is needed to start a outerwear brand,” she tells Schön! “At the very beginning of Parka London, I spent the first two years designing the collection, managing the production, selling, packing orders for trade and ecommerce by myself. My past experience within the industry allowed me to have the confidence to take this all head on.” The pair, who had worked together for seven years prior to setting up the business, had a clear direction from the get-go: “The vision I had for the brand was to reinvent and elevate the parka into a stylish and essential garment fit for every wardrobe. It was important to create a well-designed, premium looking product that was at an accessible price.”
Fast-forward to 2017 and Parka London is cemented as a firm favourite. For autumn/winter, looking back at Humble Beginnings, a refined selection of outerwear pieces builds the core of the collection, inspired by styles gone by but updated with signature sleek details, fabrics and silhouettes. As well as continuing to exude a timeless appeal, Parka London’s first priority – being a classic in British outerwear – is to protect from the elements. “For us function must always meet a lifestyle purpose. People buy a coat because they want to keep warm or dry when they need,” Fiona Mills tells us. “We have design principles that we stick close to.” From the fabric to the lining, all is conceived to ensure a transitional usage of the coat, from one setting to the next. “For example, we use a technology called Primaloft to insulate some of our parkas for warmth and breathability. Function is important because we want people to wear our coats and just enjoy their day to day comfortably.”
With Parka London, it’s the story of the history of British fashion that continues to evolve. For Autumn/Winter 2017, the Icon Reimagined campaign celebrated the heritage of the coat: “The Parka has a great story to tell and is a key part of our heritage, from Stephen’s family making parkas for the Royal Air Force and the military in the 50s, for the mods in the 60s and creating every new iteration of this iconic style through the decades to modern day,” Mills explains emphatically. “We are reimagining the parka to become an essential staple for every modern wardrobe and to continue on as the iconic stalwart of the outerwear world.” Tracing the various pasts of the item of clothing – from its Inuit origins, to the Brit Pop revival of the 90s thanks to Blur and the Gallagher brothers – Parka London brings us the full account of an outerwear great.
Similarly, for the Protagonist series, Parka London turned to contemporaries who are reimagining their craft. Collaborating with like-minded people, Parka London tells the story behind a specific creative enterprise: “We worked with two pairs of protagonists who created and built up their own their modern businesses, and creates modern adaptions of some very classic products. In the campaign you’ll meet James, a maker of bicycles of Kennedy City Bicycles, his wife Florence, a florist of Petalon, and Alastair and Kezia of Conpot, the makers of concrete pots. All of our protagonists are driven by their passion to turn a simple idea into something very contemporary, a principle that we live by at Parka.” Documenting the ways in which individuality and creativity combine to lead the path to a modern reinvention, the Protagonist series celebrates crafts in a modern age. “We were inspired by their lives and businesses as like us they redefined an item, product or idea for a new age with timeless appeal, whether it is creating elegant floral wedding displays, to redefining the classic beauty of bike design and making it accessible, to turning a humble and simple material into beautiful items to decorate a modern home.”
This appreciation of long-lasting design reinvented with modern touches epitomises the core of the brand. Fiona Mills is quick to define her view of heritage that is brought into being with Parka London. “A classic is something that lasts, however like a classic car, as beautiful as it is, there are some parts that are not quite fit for purpose for modern life. For example the old stereo can’t play music from your phone, and so it just needs a few contemporary tweaks so that it is fit for purpose. We believe there is room to build a new classic for now.” Some details need to be adjusted – such as working with the most modern textiles available, with materials that are functional – from the waterproof capabilities of the textile to using specific types of waxed cottons that echo the original designs. Above all it’s a question of designing with materials that help with a transitional lifestyle, and that includes using lightweight, water-resistant, yet breathable, fabrics. “Being modern is an attitude, we take notice of the things happening around us but we aren’t necessarily led by it. We are not about fast fashion as we want to make sure that when we design or make something that people can and would want to wear it over and over.”
In view of this, Parka London has a view on continuing on its journey of a steady and well-paced expansion: “We are looking forward to growing our core collections and to launching our new Made in England parka collection next year,” Fiona Mills tells us. There’s more than one project in the pipeline, with a new design focus for the men’s collection. Before closing, she incites us to “Watch this space!” And we certainly will.