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Military supplier Massif heads to the front line of fashion

October 9, 2011 |  6:03 am

Massif, an Ashland, Ore., company that makes flame-resistant extreme weather garments for soldiers, spies and the kind of people who jump out of airplanes and into forest fires, is about to make its first foray into fashion.

For this Sunday's Image section I took a look at some of the prototype pieces in the company's first "civilian" collection, which includes stylish but stretchy pieces that boast anti-microbial and moisture-wicking properties and a plethora of hidden pocketry. Along the way I explored some of the other contributions the military has made to modern men's (and women's) wardrobes. 

One of the most fascinating things about the company -- besides the fact that their label makes the only Army Combat Shirt (ACS) authorized for use "outside the wire" (i.e. off military base in the combat theater) is its relationship with a cadre of volunteers -- soldiers who have, in essence, field-tested the clothes on the battlefield.

"The company has about a thousand active military volunteers who test the garments and give us constant, consistent feedback about every little detail,” explained Massif Vice President Scott Branscum. “Things like where seams chafe under body armor, if sleeves have enough stretch to allow adequate range of motion in an arm or when pocket placement makes something difficult to reach.”

And, while the specific pieces in the new collection won't be wear-tested by actual soldiers (although the company expects to recruit civilian volunteers at some point in the future), their years of input have very much affected the garments' design.

"We've learned so much from the field testers," Branscum said. "We had this huge body of knowledge to work with -- things like pattern-shaping to fit the body -- that haven't ever been done in luxury fabrics before. One of the big things we learned from our work with the military is that if we shape the garments right, we've got half the battle won."

It's an investment that seems to be paying dividends even before it has launched.

I know this because several  people -- including the trend analyst I spoke to for the story, my own photo editor and the model in the photo shoot -- have tried on the sample five-button worsted wool blazer from the collection and promptly declared it so comfortable that they stand ready to buy one as soon as they hit the market.

They'll have to wait just a little bit longer though -- the collection's retail rollout won't be until late July.

"The only thing that would change that is if we encounter [a retailer] who feels strongly enough about the brand that they want to bring it in earlier than that," says Branscum. "Like for Father's Day, for example."

To me, that sounds an awful lot like marching orders.


Military influences in fashion

 Shelf LIfe: 'The Reason Why' by Cecil Woodham-Smith

-- Adam Tschorn

Photo: Massif Collection's stretch wool dress puffy jacket has anti-microbial and moisture-wicking properties as well as a zippered forearm pocket. Credit: Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times