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Eddie Bauer vintage Kara Koram
6 November 2020
Author: Spiff
Eddie Bauer

I admit, I’m obsessed with Eddie Bauer; not the Eddie Bauer of today, the original. Wait, I should probably introduce him first.

Eddie Bauer is not an artist in vogue at the Gagosian, he is not a Pulitzer Prize laureate, nor is he a possible replacement for former President Trump in the Oval Office.

If you’re American, you have probably already ruled out any of the aformentioned options; you’ve probably even seen his name printed on some of the vests worn by your grandparents, spending their retirement years fishing on Connecticut’s lakes and rivers. If you own a Ford, chances are you’ve seen Eddie Bauer’s name somewhere as well.

Eddie Bauer was a gentleman; yes, a gentleman from rural America, not from the Upper East Side. Bauer was born in a cabin located on the road to Mount Constitution, the highest point of Orcas Island in Washington state.

The man was more rural than hay, and although he soon moved to Seattle with his parents, the country never left him. In short, he moved to Seattle, not Venice Beach.

Bauer was passionate about fishing and hunting. Learning from the best in this niche, he decided to open a store at the age of 20: Bauer Sports Shop. This was in February 1920.

Despite the opening, he did not miss a chance to go out and participate in his two passions. It was this hobby that attracted many customers, who saw in him not a salesman, but a madman in love with the objects he sold.  The guy was popular. He had an innate talent for marketing and advertising and was an excellent marksman on top of that, but it wasn’t until 1935 that Bauer launched himself into success. 

That same year, Mr. Bauer was surprised by the weather upon returning from a day of fishing. When he was on the verge of hypothermia, his adventure partner rescued him from something that could have been more traumatic.  However, it still must have been, as from then on the man had put it into his mind to make a jacket that could withstand the Pacific winds. To make matters worse, his uncle had previously told him that it was a jacket that saved his life from the cold of the Japanese-Russian War.

In 1940, Bauer patented his design for the first Skyliner jacket, which was a type of coat with diamond-shaped padding on the outside. Bauer then became the only firm with rights to produce such a pattern. This catapulted him to the top of the market for almost twenty years. The jacket was popular despite being lightweight: thanks to the down, it was extremely warm.

Eddie bauer skyliner

Eddie Bauer Skyliner Design Sketch

Eddie Bauer Skyliner vintage

Eddie Bauer Skyliner

But Bauer didn't just make Skyliners. In 1942, as part of the war effort, he began to provide flight suits and sleeping bags for servicement stationed in Alaska and Europe. The business seemed to take off; Bauer’s fame was undeniable, yet Washington’s commitment to doing things right was such that the use of specialized and expensive wartime machinery, as well as renegotiated contracts for his work, succumbed to crisis for the firm and for Bauer personally. He worked like crazy, tripling shifts and the wear and tear on the garments was infamous. At the end of the war the conclusion was that what they had been doing was not profitable.

But of course, the military had already "tasted" their product and that was when the pleas to continue began. I would have pleaded too ...

Soldiers were returning from war and the first thing they did was write to Bauer, helping to stimulate the huge mail order catalog business for which the company became known. This is because in the original catalogs, there was even a letter written and signed by the Washingtonian as well as directors regarding the benefits of the brand’s goose down.

Eddie Bauer catalog vintage

Vintage Eddie Bauer catalog

In 1952, Bauer set aside the world of rockrose and fishing line to venture out on expeditions of his own. Eddie was approached by a team of eight American mountaineers, three of whom from Seattle, for a mountaineering parka. An American-made mountaineering parka for the first ascent of K2, the second-highest mountain in the world. Bauer did it. Its name, in honor of the mountain range the mountain is located in, the Kara Koram.

The parka was of fabulous quality and although the boys could not reach the top due to the weather conditions, the garment turned out to be a success, establishing itself among the guild as the life-saving parka. All those parkas were unharmed, save one, morbidly referred to as "The Belay."

In 1963 Eddie Bauer summitted Everest. Not Eddie himself, no, but one of his parkas did.

Jim Whittaker Eddie Bauer Everest 1963

Jim Whittaker summitting Everest in 1963

But every incline has a decline, and it seemed that Eddie Bauer’s began to take shape first with Eddie’s retirement in 1968, and later with the sale of the company to General Mills. The company began to lose that personal seal that had launched it to success, and in 2009 it finally filed for bankruptcy.

After a reorganization of the company, outfitting two mountaineers: Ed Viesturs and Peter Whittaker on their ascent of Everest, and above all collaborating with Nigel Cabourn on a reissue of the Kara Koram, Eddie Bauer seems to be back on track. At the very least recovering the media spots so deserved in the XNUMXs. Many of them are still focused on the original, or vintage pieces. Some of them, especially the Kara Koram, are considered Holy Grails among collectors.

Vintage Eddie Bauer Kara Koram 50s

Kara Koram sample from the 50s

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