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Conroy Nachtigall - The mission to create an ultimate alpine jacket

13.08.2017

Canadian apparel designer Conroy Nachtigall has spent 15 years creating technical urban clothing – geared to outdoor performance, yet aesthetically suited to the city. In 2016, The Dyneema® Project commissioned Conroy to create an ultimate alpine jacket with Dyneema® fabric that could withstand the extreme alpine conditions of Squamish, BC. Our ‘Sending It’ documentary covers this story. Here, we go behind the scenes...

When did you first encounter Dyneema®, and what were your first impressions?
I came across some Dyneema® fabric samples at Arc’teryx while I was there quite a while ago. These were super intriguing because of their strength-to-weight ratio. They were quite antithetical to the innovative techniques that Arc’teryx had developed, which were focused around building higher performing outdoor gear by eliminating bulkier sewn constructions and replacing them with bonding and laminations. The bonding is all done with heat, which doesn’t work with Dyneema® fibers. There were also no viable breathable options at the time, so it wasn’t really possible to explore further.

You visited the Dyneema® facility in Mesa, Phoenix. How did this inform you?
It’s always great to see the human element that goes into the making of things. It’s also great to see how the element of perfection is expressed differently. The fabric doesn’t have the flawlessly slick surface that is so much part of technical fabrics...

Watch the documentary

Sending it

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Please give us an insight into the process of working with Dyneema® Composite Fabrics. In other words, how do you deal with a fabric that is not easy to cut, does not absorb adhesives, and cannot be bonded through heat?
Although it's a very different textile to typical woven or knit structures and it has very different characteristics in handling, the process of iteration is the same: try something, try it again, and go on from there. Issues are more related to the fact that there is a lot less working history to rely on and build upon. So it’s about starting simple, doing lots of little mockups and trials, and going from there. In the working process I found some processes are actually a lot easier, while others are definitely not.

Which processes are easier and which are not?
Without the use of heat for lamination, which requires a delicate balance of heat, time and pressure, the processes are more immediate and therefore often mean no second chances. It’s important to pay close attention to ensuring all the operations are sequentially lined up, but if you get that right, everything comes together faster. The fabric is often too thin to use stitching for extra reinforcement, so some of that has to be built into the process as it comes together.

Why work with a fabric which is so complex?
The complexity is just that it doesn’t behave like a textile in the traditional sense. It's a different set of parameters. It’s interesting to try and eke out performance gains – and here, performance can mean many different things. For instance, we know lighter weight materials are generally more comfortable over time, and that makes activity easier.

"We know lighter weight materials are generally more comfortable over time, and that makes activity easier"

You wanted to shift perceptions of what a jacket can do. How did you set about to achieve this with the jacket you designed for the ‘Sending It’ project?
By using Dyneema® fabrics there was the opportunity to build an essentially weightless jacket. That was done by adapting some of my existing construction techniques, which are always focused on reducing and refining, to earlier experiments with Dyneema®. For example, I utilize folding and origami-like techniques to get the fabric to become its own reinforcement, reducing the amount of seams and stitching. This works very well with Dyneema® Composites.

What future possibilities do you see for Dyneema® fabrics in the realm of technical outdoor apparel?
There is more to be discovered. The future possibilities will be about working with, and not against, some of the perceived drawbacks to build a jacket that incorporates the uniqueness of Dyneema®, and not just using it as a lighter weight substitute for existing fabrics. For instance, lightweight apparel often needs to be reinforced with heavier fabrics, but with Dyneema® Composites the reinforcement can easily be the lightest component in the garment.

How did the ‘Sending It’ project inspire you for future designs and projects?
Every step is one step further along the path. The jacket was built on an expedited timeline, so there is still a lot of room for new things to be discovered. The challenge in figuring out what works, and what doesn’t, definitely opens up new possibilities and potential directions.

And finally, would you share with us which innovations outside of your immediate profession you're most excited about at the moment?
It’s not necessarily that it's a source of excitement exactly, but CRISPR/cas9 targeted genome editing has a very likely potential to cause some major shifts on what the future will look like.