You got the moves like Jaeger

Amelia Rowland

LABORATORY VOL. 1 is a bold, mysterious name for a fashion collection. It conjures up images of lab coats, bunsen burners and plastic goggles - and let's face it, that was a good look for no-one in high school. This was the name given to Jaeger’s Spring/Summer 2016 offering and is part of their program of re-branding. Jaeger are not re-invention novices; in fact they’ve changed their fashion direction and branding since beginning. We take a look at its moves from long-johns to their current offerings, luring in discerning fashionistas.

The concept and ethos of Jaeger began with a German founder: the professor of zoology and physiology, Gustav Jäger. His teachings encouraged a return to natural animal fibres to create clothing. He reinforced that animal fibres were a natural form of warmth, and should be readily used to create woollen undergarments, gloves, and the like. Englishman Lewis Tomalin realised the potential in this idea in 1883, and started selling his animal fibre fabrics to Londoners as the sole purveyor of “Dr Jaeger’s Sanitary Woollens” right up to the 1920s. The most popular of these ‘sanitary woollens’ were their long-johns, which somehow against the rule of taste and all things considered beautiful were extremely popular.

A photograph of Gustav Jaeger, and an unknown model with sassy pose in long johns.

A photograph of Gustav Jaeger, and an unknown model with sassy pose in long johns.

In the lead up to World War 1 the company began disassociating themselves from their German origins and produced their signature long-johns for the troops. The fashion direction of the company then changed in the 1920’s. Tweed suits, camel hair coats, and matching twin sets became their signature pieces, and are still produced today (because if you’ve championed the original, you can do whatever the hell you like with its predecessors). These pieces marked the change in the company from being a champion of “sanitary” clothing to something more feminine, and 100% more fashionable (no offence, long john fans). They also found a devoted audience, with their fan base described as  ‘the wife of a home-counties stockbroker.’

Across the pond, this advert in the Saturday Evening Post (20 November 1920) also preached an emphasis on high quality fabrics and tailoring - similar to the Jaeger branding of the day.

Across the pond, this advert in the Saturday Evening Post (20 November 1920) also preached an emphasis on high quality fabrics and tailoring - similar to the Jaeger branding of the day.

They then turned to their public image and branding, asking artist Francis Marshall in 1936 to develop a logo that would encourage a softer, natural image. The resulting Jaeger knot was readily adopted by their loyal pack of tweed coat Trudys and camel hair coat Colleens, and is still produced on company designs today. From then on, the company was known for their ability to key into the dominant women's fashion trends of the time. They also drew in younger fans via their Young Jaeger collections, using beautiful adverts and editorials. 

The clothes of 1960’s Young Jaeger were designed by Jean Muir and like a dutiful teenager, emphasised detailed tailoring and quality.  These styles and cuts were the most desirable of the time - a little bit higher, a little bit closer fitting compared to Jaeger's previous offerings. Watch me as I now drool over their shift dresses… Young Jaeger’s appeal slowly began to die off, and Jean Muir headed to new labels and later launched her own Jean Muir Ltd. Jaeger as a whole company reverted to nourishing their 1920’s clientele and their daughters - returning to their 'wives of the stockbroker' roots.

It wasn’t until 2000 that the company started actively re-branding through commissioning contemporary designers to create collections that were more suited to the fashion runways of their day. Their first big appointment was Bella Freud, who looked to Jaeger’s back catalogue and modernised their classic pieces. They also launched three lines: Jaeger Collection, Jaeger London and Jaeger Black.

They’ve also realised that their popularity comes from creating pieces that are high quality, whilst being mildly fashion forward: take a bow Laboratory Vol. 1. This collection capitalises on our favourite looks of 2015/16, from culottes to tailored wrap tops and bottoms - but the emphasis was on innovation, and designs that were experimental and fresh. At the time of writing, Laboratory has been eclipsed by a new collection, featuring denim (incase you lived under a rock and didn’t know denim was back), colour blocked simple blouses and tops, and a colour palette more blue than an Eiffel 65 song.

Jaeger seem to be the pioneers of fashion reinvention - coming from dowdy woollen underwear to focused, sleeker pieces that are more wardrobe staple than avant garde. But that’s where they began; finding a high quality fabric or material and using it to produce something wearable and purposeful.