Behind the Seams: Outerwear

Behind the Seams: Outerwear

The most essential piece of clothing you need this winter is a warm coat. Year after year, the American Eagle Outfitters design team brings us some of the coziest coats to leave the winter chill behind. We spoke with Associate Outerwear Design Director, Dennis M. to learn more about the design process behind our awesome jackets.


 American Eagle Outfitters Behind the Seams Holiday 2013 Outerwear

Design Director Dennis Messier and Outerwear Designer Alex C. getting an early start on Holiday 2014 Outerwear.


What are the different categories of outerwear and what materials are used?

When we talk about outerwear, we’re usually talking about one of four categories:

Puffer: Our heaviest and most warm weather category.

Wool: Still pretty cold-weather focused but has some fashion and lighter weight variations.

Parkas and anoraks: Weights can vary from lightweight cottons with no lining for summer and fall to heavy, filled cotton/nylon blends that offer a little more water resistance and have cold-weather details like quilted fills and furry linings.

Fashion: Defined less by weight or fabrication and more by what feels right in terms of trend and what works with our collection. Of course, there are some exceptions to this rule—sometimes we’ll have a fashion puffer that’s not as heavy as our classic puffers.

We’ve also been loving Vegan Leather lately! Outerwear is a really fun category to design in the sense that our jackets are the top layer—or as we call them, outfit completers—for all our looks, and can really make or break an outfit. We love mixing and matching styles within a look – like a sporty puffer jacket over a grunge-inspired look or a motorcycle jacket over a feminine dress.

What are the different types of trim used on our outerwear? Do they serve any technical purpose or are most trend-focused?

We use more trims and components on our jackets than any other category at AEO. We make these things called BOMs (Bills of Material) for our manufacturers to follow and they list out everything that goes into a jacket—fabric, trims, fills, labels, etc. On a knit style like a T-shirt, or even a sweater, it’s basically just fabric and thread, but on something like a puffer jacket, we can have up to three different zippers, four different fill weights, multiple sizes of snaps, linings, faux furs… a lot goes into these jackets!

One of the first things we talk about when starting a new season is our trims. We look at our library of past development, we look out in the market to see if there are any new trends we want to make sure we’re on top of, and then we develop new zippers, snaps and buttons in the right colors and finishes we need for the new season. It can take a long time to get these right. I can’t tell you how many times I looked at—and rejected—some of the zipper colors from our puffers this year. We have to get an early start on development so we can make sure everything is perfect by the time the jackets hit stores.


American Eagle Outfitters Behind the Seams Holiday 2013 Outerwear

Dennis and Alex go over this year’s parka and puffer with a fine-toothed comb to decide what they love and what they want to change for next year’s styles.



What was the inspiration behind the color palettes for Holiday 2013?

We work very closely with our concept and color teams to make sure our palette is perfect. They shop the whole world for new ideas in trend and color—Paris, Tokyo, London, you name it, they’ve been there. Then we all meet and synthesize what they’ve learned in their shopping and travel with what we know about trend and outerwear to develop a palette for jackets that both addresses new fashion colors (like this year’s burgundies and emeralds) as well as core, classic colors, like navy for wool and cream for puffer jackets. We’re not quite so colorful as some of our friends who work in other departments—I’m not saying a hot pink jacket will never happen, but we know that our outerwear is some of the most expensive product in our line and that our girl wants to look fashionable and cool. We also know that she’s probably wearing her jacket day in and day out, so we try to offer a range of colors that are versatile as well as trendy.

How does our outerwear fit in with the rest of the Holiday 2013 collection?

Like I mentioned before, we think of outerwear as our outfit completer. What would a holiday store window look like without some great coats? We make sure we’re offering the cold-weather must haves, like our parkas and puffers, but we make sure they’re cute as well as warm. We also make sure we’ve got great fashion covered. Again, we work very closely with all the design and concept teams to make sure that our jackets will look great over our sweaters, dresses and T-shirts and that we’re not just creating great items, but great looks.


American Eagle Outfitters Behind the Seams Holiday 2013 Outerwear

Dennis and Alex considering wool fabric options for Holiday 2014.


What is the design process of outerwear from start to finish? How long does it take from concept to being available in stores?

As you can see in the picture above, we’re just starting to develop Holiday 2014, which will be released in stores in October 2014. So it takes about a year, depending on the category we’re talking about. Puffers and parkas are the most important to our line and have the most components and trims, so we start there. Wool also takes a long time— we’re sticklers about our color palette and it’s hard to get wool right. Fashion we save for last, because usually there are fewer technical trims and we also like to wait as long as we can so we’re offering styles that are as on trend and new as possible. We are going to learn and see a lot of new stuff—fashion shows, shopping trips, a whole year of trend—between now and next October, so we like to get our materials and fabrics ASAP and wait as long as possible to design the actual body.

Which piece of outerwear for Holiday 2013 is your absolute favorite?

I’m actually really excited about the Lightweight Wool Blazer. It has great fabric and a really cool fit. It’s expensive but it’s worth it! We worked really hard to get this fabric right and pushed really hard to nail the cool, slouchy, grungy fit. We’re really excited about this one and we think it represents the new, more fashionable direction that we’re taking this category.

What makes AEO outerwear awesome, on trend, and a great value for Holiday 2013?

I’m pretty proud of our assortment this year. I think we have the absolute best puffer jacket $99.50 can buy. It’s warm and cozy with great faux fur and Sherpa accents, it’s heavy enough to get you through a long winter and it’s versatile enough to go with your sweatpants or your prettiest dresses. Aside from our puffer, I think we’re hitting all the right fashion notes—grunge blazer, wool moto jacket and a great parka that’s both fashionable and warm. Now on to Holiday Outerwear 2014!

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