How is it for cosmic irony: Down jackets—a city’s favorite winter fashion statement always dressed like it’s ready for a hike—exists thanks to a man from Seattle who, almost fatally, wasn’t.
In January 1935, Eddie Bauer traveled to the remote Olympic Peninsula to fish with a friend, leaving his downtown Seattle sporting goods store closed. The pair had a hugely successful trip, and a sweaty Bauer ditched his wool mackinaw jacket to more comfortably haul his considerable rainbow trout haul back to the car.
Wearing nothing but long underwear and a woolen shirt, Bauer stopped to rest as his companion trudged through the snow. He felt himself falling asleep. Then he felt the dampness on his back start to freeze. Bauer fired his revolver twice into the sky, alerting his friend to his predicament. “If he was alone, he definitely wouldn’t have survived,” says Kristen Elliott, vice president of marketing at Eddie Bauer.
It was a heartbreaking experience, but not heartbreaking enough for Bauer to hang up the pole during Washington’s freezing winter months. He had applied for a patent for his shuttlecock the previous year and had a hunch that goose feathers would work just as well to insulate outerwear as to improve the flight path of a birdie.
Bauer’s vision: a jacket, filled with down to make it both warm and breathable enough to wear during intense activities, made from high thread count cotton to prevent the padding from escaping, and quilted in a diamond pattern to maintain even insulation throughout. . He started selling the Skyliner just a year after his brush with death and patented the design in 1940.
Just about every cold-weather outfitter, from Outdoor Voices to Patagonia, makes some version of the quilted down jacket today (admittedly, with significant technical advancements). But Eddie Bauer – and, by extension, Seattle – can comfortably lay claim to the original. “It’s a big deal,” Elliott says. “We were here before anyone else.”