These are confusing times in the world of fashion. For centuries, the most luxuriously and expensively dressed have prided themselves on a certain impracticality of attire. When designing outerwear, Elsa Schiaparelli and Alexander McQueen paid scant regard to wicking, windproofing, or stain resistance. Salvatore Ferragamo and Christian Louboutin crafted heels with little thought for scaling hills.
By the same token, if you’d been tasked with finding the least stylish people in the world, you could reliably have headed to, say, rural Wales to seek out determined hikers in garish anoraks and waterproof trousers. Though a wonderful place for orienteering, Wales has not historically been a bastion of hipness.
Models in looks on Wales’ Cambrian Way
Left: On Matilda: Goldsmith Vintage leather coat, $130; goldsmith vintage.com. Erdem Miguella white patchwork-lace dress, $6,750; erdem.com. Grenson Nanette G-Two boots, $440; grenson.com. Simone Rocha pearl flower hair clips, $100 each; simone rocha.com. 4element vintage Christian Dior pearl earrings and Givenchy heart pendant, available to rent; 4element.co.uk. Model’s own ring. On Pranav: Erdem Lawrence jumpsuit, $1,640; erdem.com. Finisterre Kelson socks, $25; finisterre.com. Jimmy Choo Oskar/M tan vachetta and waxed-canvas duck boots, $960; jimmy choo.com. Right: Matilda: dress by Christopher Kane, a crochet cardigan by Magpie Vintage, boots by Grenson, and a vintage necklace and earrings from 4element outside the Claerddu Bothy, on Wales’s Cambrian Way. | Credit: Julian Broad. Styled by Ellie Witt
Now, however, this fashion paradigm has been turned on its head. To be unprepared for the elements in 2022 is to be out of touch, decadent in a bad way, or—worse!—some sort of influencer. Gore-Tex and lambswool have never been hipper. Arc’teryx jackets and Moncler hiking boots are flying off the shelves. And you can forget Paris or Milan. Wales is now the vacation destination to name-drop, and if you can do so in Welsh, gwell fyth—so much the better.
Quite the chicest place is the Cambrian Way, the wild and at times forbidding path that stretches 300 miles from Conwy in northern Wales all the way to Cardiff on the southern coast, described by its creator, Tony Drake, as the “mountain connoisseur’s walk.” You will need a topographic Ordnance Survey map, for there are no signs, let alone cell service.
A male model walking on a path in Wales
On Pranav: Ferrari unisex leather coat, $3,605, and terry cotton trousers (similar styles available); ferrari. com. Jimmy Choo Oskar/M tan vachetta and waxed-canvas duck boots, $960; jimmy choo.com. Stylist’s own bandanna. | Credit: Julian Broad. Styled by Ellie Witt
There are a few different paths that have led us to this point. One has become known as the “gorpcore” trend (“gorp” deriving from “good ole raisins and peanuts,” the high-protein snack preferred by serious hikers). It is best understood as practical outdoor wear meets high fashion: see Gucci’s recent collaborations with the North Face.
Aesthetically different, but springing from the same well, is the “cottagecore” look, in which, the New York Times says, “tropes of rural self-sufficiency converge with dainty décor to create a twee distillation of pastoral existence.” Think Beatrix Potter meets Withnail and I.
Two photos showing models styled in hiking chic clothes on Wales’ Cambrian Way
Left: On Pranav: Dsquared2 patchwork cotton blazer and combat trousers, price upon request; dsquared2.com. Peregrine Arkwright sweater, $150; peregrine clothing.co.uk. Grenson Sawyer G-Two boots, $440; grenson.com. Right: On Pranav: Goldsmith Vintage suede jacket; similar styles available at goldsmith vintage.com. Emporio Armani silkblend shirt, $525, and linen trousers, $725; armani.com. Jimmy Choo Oskar/M tan vachetta and waxed-canvas duck boots, $960; jimmy choo.com. On Matilda: Ferrari Caban unisex water-repellent jacket, $2,135; ferrari.com. Emporio Armani long-sleeved shantung shirt, $675, and Bermuda shantung shorts, $575; armani.com. Grenson Nanette G-Two boots, $440; grenson.com. 4element vintage Givenchy earrings, available to rent; 4element.co.uk. | Credit: Julian Broad. Styled by Ellie Witt
Either way, if you have the wherewithal to gather kindling, forage a few mushrooms, and prepare an impromptu fricassee in a bothy kitchen, well, congratulations—you are basically Kim Kardashian. A bothy, as any British hiker knows, is a rudimentary hut, left unlocked and free to use, in which all of your cottagecore fantasies may come true. (Disclaimer: you might equally run into some ex-soldiers getting drunk on hard cider.)
Our longing to be as far away from our fellow humans as possible, and to fill our lungs with non-recycled air, has undoubtedly been exacerbated by COVID. However, the trend actually pre-dates the pandemic. As early as the summer of 2017, the runways of Paris and Milan resounded to the clomp of hiking boots. Lucas Ossendrijver, former chief designer at Lanvin and a pioneer of the look, said in an interview that he liked the idea of the outdoors as an “abstract fantasy.”
Models in hiking chic looks on Wales’ Cambrian Way
Left: On Pranav: Paul Smith Mac coat, $1,315, shorts, $395, and fisherman’s hat, $95; paulsmith.com. Napapijri Trentino half-zip fleece, $190; napapijri.co.uk. Finisterre Kelson socks, $25; finisterre.com. Grenson Sawyer G-Two boots, $440; grenson.com. Right: On Matilda: Dior D-Jungle Pop Scuba jacket and shorts, price upon request; 800-929-3467. Finisterre Farne roll-neck sweater, $169; finisterre.com. Grenson Nanette G-Two boots, $440; grenson.com. 4element vintage Christian Dior pearl earrings, available to rent; 4element.co.uk. | Credit: Julian Broad. Styled by Ellie Witt
While fashion frequently peddles flights of fancy, it also works with what’s at hand. A stroll in the near-wilderness was about as exciting as it got for many of us during lockdown. For some, it was habit-forming. After all, there are few deeper pleasures than setting off over a craggy mountainside, defying the elements, and being rewarded with a warm cup of tea. As the old proverb goes: There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.
For more information on the Bothy Association, which maintains wilderness huts across the U.K., go to mountainbothies.org.uk. Photographs by Julian Broad. Styled by Ellie Witt. Hair and makeup by Amanda Grossman at the Only Agency. Models: Matilda Lowther at Heroes; Pranav Bhargav at Supa. Production by James Ward at Sauce Studios. Thank you to the Elan Valey Trust for their assistance with this shoot.
Opening photograph credits: On Matilda: Max Mara knit dress, $1,190; maxmara.com. Grenson Nanette G-Two boots, $440; grenson.com. Model’s own Barbour jacket.
Scenes from Wales/ Cambrian Way
Left: The Claerddu Bothy, a welcome stop for hikers on the 300-mile Cambrian Way, which runs the length of Wales from north to south. Right: On Pranav: Dior wool-and-mohair coat with embroidered belt, $4,900, cotton boatneck T-shirt, $850, and wool cavalry-twill flared paints, $1,300; dior.com. Grenson Sawyer G-Two boots, $440; grenson.com. Finisterre Drift waterproof roll-top backpack, $183; finisterre.com. On Matilda: Coach Bonnie Cashin shawl coat, bra, and skirt; similar styles available at coach.com. Grenson Nanette G-Two boots, $440; grenson.com. 4element vintage Givenchy wing earrings, available to rent; 4element.co.uk. | Credit: Julian Broad. Styled by Ellie Witt
A version of this story first appeared in the March 2022 issue of Travel + Leisure under the headline The Call of the Trail.