Retro K-Way Windbreaker, Reborn


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I just got back from a soggy week on the East Coast with my kids. New York hasn’t had much of a winter, and we arrived to overcast skies, milder-than-normal temps, and lots of rain. Not that we minded. Where we live, moisture falling from the sky is a welcome novelty (plus, my crocodile skin slurped up the humidity) and we’d remembered to bring our foul-weather gear. My three-and-half-year old’s rainy day kit included knee-high insulated Bogs boots and the MVP of the trip: her waterproof, royal blue K-Way rain jacket. 

Some of you of a certain age may remember the K-Way “Claude Klassic,” a retro nylon windbreaker with a full zipper, hood, and a self-stuffing pouch. The coup de grace, of course, is the nylon webbing that functions as a hip belt when the jacket is stuffed into its own pocket. Sling that sucker around your waist and you’re ready for action, whatever the weather. It’s a fanny pack and rain jacket all in one!

The K-Way was born in Paris on a rainy day in 1965, when French retailer Leon Claude Duhamel noticed people getting soaked and decided to invent a waterproof object that could be carried at all times but was not an umbrella or a raincoat. A quarter million sold the first year, and the humble, ingenious K-Way became the uniform for countless ski teams on both sides of the Atlantic and a welcome alternative to the slickered, sweaty hell of those rubber rain coats our mothers dressed us in.

Somewhere in the early 80s, probably at our local Ski & Sport Shop (back when most towns, even suburban N.J. towns hours from the nearest respectable hill, had mom-and pop-ski shops on the main drag), my parents picked up four of them, all royal blue, for my siblings and me. We wore them all summer at our island cottage in Canada, where when you want to go anywhere, you have to go by boat, even if it's raining sideways. We wore them to sailing lessons, under our life jackets and over our bathing suits, and when we dumped our Flippers on purpose or by accident, the blue nylon plastered to our arms like a second skin. When the sun came out, we strapped them to our waist and paraded around, unafraid, with the signature puffy blue pouch wagging on our butts. 

But by the 90s, the cult favorite had run its course. Gore-Tex was the new darling of the the foul-weather market, and fashion, ever fickle, was beginning to favor those thigh-length, cinch-waist parkas that Patagonia was famous for. Powder skirts were in. Boxy windbreakers were out.

But now they’re back. Why ask why? All you need to know is that preppy, active fashion house J. Crew is selling the kids’ version for $45 a pop, in peppy shades of mango, lime, pink, and cobalt. With all the old features, including its flashy, orange-striped zipper, jazzy logoed zipper pull, metal belt fastener, and heat-sealed seams. Tested by yours truly on squally days in southern Ontario, circa 1981, and last week on rain-splattered playgrounds and gusty beaches in Darien, Connecticut. Old-school cool, yes. Required wear for your ripper’s wet-weather adventures or his next fourteener assault? Definitely. 

Kids’ K-Way Claude Klassic, $45,

—Katie Arnold


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