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Westward, bro! Fall’s handsomest designs are inspired by the burly, moody Pacific Northwest
Oscar Wilde once quipped that Rocky Mountain miners were the best-dressed men in America. Many years later, the fashion world would seem to agree with him. Menswear manufacturers—from break-out designers to household-name brands that predate your father—have been striking gold with outdoorsy looks that suggest the wearer knows how to use a pickaxe, and maybe even oil a chainsaw and skin a rabbit.
Celebrating a bygone era of American masculinity, the blue-collar side of the heritage trend has brought extra attention to a part of the country that doesn't get that many moments in the sun: the Pacific Northwest. This wet, remote, forested region's sartorial traditions are just one aspect of the cultural influence it has enjoyed in recent years, embodied in everything from the "Twilight" series to the artisanal coffee craze.
The Northwest vibe that designers and other trend-setters in hospitality and beyond have seized upon recently is perhaps an appropriate one for troubled times: humble, robust and not without a dark side.
In making pronounced nods to trend-following this fall, Seattle-based heritage labels Eddie Bauer and Filson are perhaps a step behind eastern counterparts like L.L. Bean and Woolrich in their embrace of the fashion world. But the Northwest's isolation, like its topography, has always been one of its defining factors. "We have bigger mountains, rougher terrain," said Nathan Laffin, creative director at Eddie Bauer. "The East Coast is a mental way of being. We're more about doing, building, climbing, achieving, conquering."
With Seattle as the historic gateway to the Yukon wilderness, the Northwest has long been the ultimate testing ground for American outerwear. When Filson launched in 1897, its rugged boots and Mackinaw wool coats were de rigueur for Klondike prospectors. Eddie Bauer (who died in 1986) patented the first down parka in 1940 after developing hypothermia on a fishing trip in Washington. Since his label has outfitted Alaskan bush pilots and American expeditions in the Himalayas.
Now, both companies are revisiting their archives with an extra sense of purpose. Filson, which has been collecting old pieces from lifelong customers, has tweaked its classic field jacket for wearers who might sooner pick at duck confit than hunt waterfowl, adding a moleskin collar and decorative shoulder stitching that is meant to evoke a recoil pad. Even as Filson continues to make tin-cloth pants for real-life loggers, its new Black Label collection reinterprets traditional outerwear with trimmer fits and a more urban palette. Moreover, the company's leather-strapped canvas bags have become a staple for hip worker bees.
Eddie Bauer, meanwhile, has revamped its original parka, the Skyliner, for fall, and in a bid to go upmarket has paired up with British designer Nigel Cabourn for a seven-piece collection of quilted down vests and jackets. Also part of this fall's offerings are updated versions of the brightly patterned knit sweaters that Mr. Bauer commissioned from Salish Coast tribes when he started his company in 1920. (Matching wool hats, gloves, mittens and socks are part of the new collection, too.) Additionally, the brand is rolling out totes and backpacks in collaboration with Pendleton, the Portland, Ore.-based company that started out as a manufacturer of Indian blankets in 1909 and whose 100th anniversary partnership with ultra-hip retailer Opening Ceremony was a sell-out hit.
Inherent in the Northwest sensibility, say those who have helped usher it into the zeitgeist, is a respect for nature and the simple things. "It's an appreciation of vintage, the everyday, organic processes and organic materiality," said Alex Calderwood, founder of the Seattle-based Ace Hotel.
This way of thinking embraces improvisation and "natural patina," Mr. Calderwood added, citing the last-minute addition of plaid wingback chairs to the lobby in Ace's New York property (which opened in 2009) and the decision to leave the old plumbing pipes in the restaurant exposed. "It is a more masculine approach, but I think the women who come to our hotels like that," he said.
Some see in the Northwest-inspired trend a polished revamp of '90s grunge, when Kurt Cobain created a market for thrift-store cardigans and Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder commanded crowds with a flannel shirt tied around his waist. Some 20 years later, folk-inflected Seattle bands such as Band of Horses and Fleet Foxes have brought log-cabinwear back to the stage, but without the crowd surfing.
"Back then you could just wear anything. It was more punk rock, more DIY. Now, we're seeing things lean and trim. There's definitely a more formal thing," said Nicole M. Miller, owner of Blackbird, a Seattle clothing boutique.
Perhaps emblematic of that refined take is designer Adam Kimmel's fall collection—inspired, he said, by "the backwoods motorcycle punk" he discovered in an Oregon artist named Dan Attoe. The clothes look rugged, but are made in Italy, mostly by hand, and soft fabrics dominate. There is army canvas lined with moleskin, a cashmere cardigan, and a herringbone sport coat made from brushed cotton. As an alternative to layering, Mr. Kimmel created convertible elements, including zip-on leather sleeves and a long coat with a snap-off hem. Several pieces, such as a T-shirt depicting a Sasquatch, incorporate original artwork by Mr. Attoe.
The dressed-up ensembles don't bring old-school foresters to mind so much as the cast of "Twin Peaks." Set in a fictional small town in Washington, David Lynch's memorable television series from the early '90s seemed to unfold somewhere between past and present, dream and reality. Mr. Kimmel's collection does the same, obliquely referencing the Northwest's checkered history of Bigfoot sightings and serial killers.
"There's definitely an atmosphere that has some mystery to it," Mr. Attoe said. "It's darker in the woods here."