Eddie Bauer- a Short History.
We take a look at the beginnings of the most iconic American outerwear brand.
Eddie Bauer was first and foremost an Outdoorsman & Adventurer; growing up in the Pacific Northwest, a love of the outdoors was nurtured from an early age. By the age of 20 he was able to rent a small section in a sporting goods store called ‘Bob Newton’s Gun Shop’ in Seattle, primarily selling sporting equipment like tennis rackets, while trading as ‘The Eddie Bauer Company’. The company was established in 1920 and grew to become one of the biggest brands outfitting mountaineering & scientific expeditions with down insulated garments.
Eddie outside his store in the 20's
Now synonymous with down garments, this wasn’t what ‘The Eddie Bauer Company’ started out life as. During the 1920’s, Bauer had golf clubs manufactured and developed and patented a badminton shuttlecock. The Bauer patented shuttlecock helped grow the sport of Badminton in the USA and to this day is the current standard. Quite the pub quiz Q & A!
‘The Eddie Bauer Company’s’ development of down garments came after an ill-fated fishing trip. For maximum heat retention (pre-down), heavy wool garments were commonly used on excursions like these and other menial outdoor activities. These tended to weigh the wearer down if they were to get wet and become heavy, causing fatigue, and often leading to Hypothermia. This was the case for Eddie Bauer in 1923, developing Hypothermia on a fishing trip in Washington State. Thankfully, Bauer made it back to Seattle where he started work on creating alternative survival clothing to replace the heavy woollen garments solely used by adventurers and outdoorsmen.
Through sharing stories with older generations about their experiences at war, he learned about Goose Down, and with $25 bought a bunch of down and began to experiment with designs and ideas to make survival clothing. This was a revelation and the start of down garment production as we know today, making it readily available for expeditions and civilians. Down was lightweight & insulating, revolutionary at the time, but it did pose one issue; insulating down was bulky and made the various garments Bauer was playing around with not quite right. He combated this by adding the quilted design to compound the down and minimise the bulkiness. A game changer in design and still used to this day.
Bauer made a breakthrough in 1936 with the introduction and patent of the iconic ‘Skyliner’ Jacket. The ‘Skyliner’ Jacket was a simple, nylon, down filled, quilted design with two patch pockets and a zip front. This became standard equipment for outdoorsmen and has gained iconic status as a masterpiece of outdoor clothing design.
The Original "Skyliner" Jacket The 'Kara Koram' Parka
‘The Eddie Bauer Company’ grew during the 1930’s and with the patent of the ‘Skyliner’ was able to add another 20 patents for outdoor clothing and accessories, as well as the ‘Down Parka’. Production and brand development was halted during the first half of the 1940’s with the outbreak of WWII, where all production in the Bauer factory turned to the war effort. The U.S. Army Air Corps commissioned Bauer to manufacture over 50,000 B-9 Eddie Bauer Flight Parkas, introduced to help keep pilots warm during high altitude flights. Out of all government factories and production, Eddie Bauer was the first of a few granted permissions to use branded labels on garments which helped to raise awareness of his brand post-war. Servicemen using Eddie Bauer branded down garments during the war knew where to turn for their down goods in the late 40’s & 50’s.
The Eddie Bauer B-9 Flight Parka
This is where we get serious.
Considered a grail piece for many avid vintage collectors and aficionados out there, the Eddie Bauer ‘Kara Koram’ Down Jacket is truly an icon of design and a garment steeped in serious prestige and history & paved the way for countless other iconic designs.
As the world opened after the restrictions of the 1940’s, a team of seven Americans and one British climber were attempting the first ascent of infamous K2 Mountain, the tallest peak in the Kara Koram Mountain range and the 2nd largest in the world. K2 is often considered a more difficult climb than Everest, due in part the inclement weather in this range. To combat this, three of the Americans attempting the first ascent of the peak asked if Bauer could create a down insulated parka for them.
During this period the best down outerwear for expeditions was produced in Europe but the US team wanted a USA made garment for their attempt. The jacket Eddie Bauer came up with became known as ‘The Kara Koram’, named after the mountain range.
The 1953 American Expedition Team in their Kara Koram's
Built for purpose, the Kara Koram Parka was an outstanding piece of design and way ahead of anything on the market at that time. The team spent over a month at 20,000 feet with temperatures as low as -70. They all wore the signature red windproof and water repellent Eddie Bauer Kara Koram Parka’s. This jacket became a best seller for the company and as Pete Schoeing said (a member of the US team attempting to scale K2) “the finest article of cold weather, high altitude equipment I have ever seen"
Captain H.R.A. Streather at Camp III
Although unsuccessful at scaling K2, the creation of the Kara Koram by Eddie Bauer sealed the reputation of his brand as a go-to option for outdoor and expedition wears. Due to this iconic and innovative design, the Kara Koram Parka led Bauer to outfitting countless other expeditions, most notably the first American ascent of Mt. Everest, with the aptly named ‘Everest Parka’. Eddie Bauer was a true innovative and a pioneer in garment design; his designs can still be seen to this day from high-end fashion brands to classic Japanese Americana repro brands, all ensuring his legacy lives on.
The Eddie Bauer Kara Koram featured thick goose-down insulation, wool flannel lined pockets, drawstring waistband and adjustable hood as well as Talon zippers and a quilted interior. Reproduced many times by many brands one of the best versions we have seen is The Real McCoy’s Cotton/Nylon Hooded Down Jacket. Made in Japan by one the biggest repro brands going, every inch of design in this jacket is re-created to provide the wearer with an updated and modern interpretation of a true expedition parka. Created to provide warmth and maximum heat retention, while providing a full range of movement and protection. The outer fabric is specially woven for McCoy's and comes in the classic 60/40 cotton/nylon for maximum durability. Windproof and water repellent, the jacket features a nylon liner and uses 100% new premium quality French Duck down in the body, sleeves, and hood.
Vintage Eddie Bauer 'Kara Koram' Parka
We managed to get our hands on one of these iconic jackets in the sought after 'Safety Red' colour-way. Have a look at the product below for more information!
If the real deal doesn't work for you, we've also got a couple of the best repros you'll find from The Real McCoy's and Rocky Mountain Featherbed.