Oi Polloi

Interview: Alberto from Holubar

Published: Tue Oct 11 2016

Prolific browsers may have noticed we've just got our mitts on some serious jackets from a company called Holubar. Very nice, I'm sure you'll agree. 

To find out more about these most majestic of garments, I hassled main-man Alberto Raengo...

This might take a while, but for those who don’t know… what’s the history of Holubar?

Holubar began informally in 1946 in the basement of Alice and Roy Holubar’s house in Boulder, Colorado, when they decided to buy World War II mountaineering equipment from an army surplus warehouse to supply the many outdoor enthusiasts in the area. Soon after, they started to sew down-filled sleeping bags and then also parkas and backpacks. When an important order came from the Arctic Institute of North America a year later, they bought a business license and started formal operations.

At the beginning they operated like a mail-order business, with a catalogue published in several thousand copies twice a year, where together with their own production of sleeping bags, clothing, backpacks and tents they offered items imported from Europe (they also became the American distributor for Vibram soles). Ten years after their catalogue was distributed in 12 different States.

The business grew rapidly throughout the USA thanks to the quality of the products and the pioneering approach of Alice and Roy, who introduced various technical innovations that have influenced many of the leading manufacturers. These innovations include the use of nylon—at the time a revolutionary and almost experimental material—which they used in the early ‘50s as a shell material for their clothing and sleeping bags, and the combined use of nylon and down filling.

Another important first was the use of a blend of nylon and cotton, initially in a 50/50 proportion, then in a 60/40. They also invented a special process called ‘incalescence’, allowing a down filled jacket made for high-altitude expeditions to increase its thermal power more and more while using it. No less revolutionary was the creation of reversible jackets at the end of the ‘50s, with the Royalight Action Parka created in 1960.

Holubar also invented the Mountain Parka, an unfilled water-resistant garment made with the cotton/nylon blend, born to be worn over a down vest or jacket and soon imitated by many. This parka has become one of the most popular pieces of clothing in North America.

The business soon developed from mail-order and Holubar created a chain of mono-brand stores in a number of States. That was quite unusual at the time, when distribution through independent retail stores was a rule. They also started a section devoted to selling kits for manufacturing garments, sleeping bags and backpacks called ‘Holubar Kits’.

Who were Alice and Roy Holubar? What led them to start an outdoor company?

Alice and Roy met in High School in Boulder at the end of the ‘20s and they remained friends as students at Colorado University. They married in 1937 and Roy started to teach mathematics at the University. The two spent all available time cultivating their passion for the outdoors and little by little this passion turned into a small business.

One of the reasons there were so many innovations introduced by the Holubars is that they always kept in close contact with the world of climbers and outdoor enthusiasts. Roy became a member of the Colorado Mountain Club in 1931 and Vice President in 1953. Their story was a typical example of an American dream coming true.

What was outdoor clothing like in 1946? What were people wearing in the mountains?

The use of nylon as an outershell for jackets and parkas made by Holubar in the ‘50s was a revolution, as what people used to wear in the mountains was a combination of cotton and wool garments. This was comfortable and warm enough in normal weather conditions, but it was insufficient in stormy weather situations, where that type of equipment could put one’s life at risk.

Pioneers of the industry, among which Eddie Bauer and Holubar must be mentioned, revolutionized the world of cotton and wool clothing, introducing weather-proof garments using nylon, nylon/cotton and down filling and expanding the use of such materials to a wider range of items, like mittens, hats and pants.

How has outdoor clothing changed since then?

Before being put to sleep, Holubar crossed a long era of innovations in the outdoor clothing, up until the use of Goretex, which the Holubars immediately recognized as an important step further.

From then on, in a few words, outdoor clothing has evolved rapidly. Down is still the first choice, but artificial filling is becoming more and more popular (Primaloft, for example, or Polartec Alpha).

Fabrics are also becoming lighter and lighter, but the most notable change is that outdoor clothing has entered into fashion. A Patagonia or North Face vest can easily be seen worn below an office jacket. Outdoor has become one of the main sources of inspiration for fashion designers, together with workwear and military wear.

After World War II it seemed there was a bit of a boom for outdoor activity and outdoor clothing companies. Why do you think this is?

After the war many people discovered the outdoors and the various outdoor activities like hiking, climbing, camping, skiing, hunting and fishing as a hobby. The market was unprepared to respond to a growing demand for outdoor equipment. Most big players of the sports equipment industry probably did not see this growing trend in time and that made space for new outdoor-specialist brands like Holubar to find their way.

Holubar’s logo is pretty iconic. Who came up with that?

From the beginning the Holubars decided to associate their brand name with the shape of a triangular peak. After 20 years they switched to a more modern logo. That second logo was similar to the current one, but showed a climber inside the logo. The current logo has been in use since the early ‘70s.

Holubar is credited with coming up with the classic 60/40 mountain parka design. What’s the story with this? And why do you think they were so successful?

Alice Holubar designed the first mountain Parka in the ‘50s. The first mountain parka was quite simple. It was conceived as a four-season garment, to be used alone in spring and summer or over a down jacket or vest in fall and winter.

The purpose was to make a jacket which could offer wind and water protection and help to keep the down garments dry. Holubar developed several versions of the mountain parka through the years; the two most popular being one with three patch pockets and an oblique chest zipper and another one which we call the Deer Hunter, featuring two lower bellow pockets and two upper patch pockets.

All mountain parkas since the very beginning had the famous back zippered pocket—also a Holubar first—to store a map, some gloves or even a sweater. This style was so successful because it filled a gap, offering a light, weather-proof jacket perfect in most weather conditions.

The mountain parka worn by Robert De Niro in The Deer Hunter was made by Holubar. How did that come about?

Holubar was asked by the production team of The Deer Hunter to supply some jackets for the cast of the movie. As everybody knows, Robert De Niro wore the orange jacket in the famous hunting scene, while Meryl Streep wore a green one. 

Some think the jacket worn by De Niro is a Sierra Designs jacket, but George Marks, co-founder of Sierra Designs, confirmed that they never supplied any jackets to the producers of the movie.

Also, Bob Swanson, partner of George Marks and co-founder of Sierra Designs, worked for Holubar for some years before establishing Sierra Designs and that's where he became familiar with the mountain parkas. When Sierra Design was founded in 1965, Holubar already had a history in the manufacturing of mountain parkas and was commonly credited as the originator of the mountain parka.

Who else wore Holubar jackets? They must have cropped up in a few other films.

To my knowledge Clint Eastwood wore several Holubar jackets in the movie Eiger Sanction, including a couple of mountain parkas.

I think we've covered most things now. One last question, what’s going on with Holubar these days? Where is it based?

We are based in Pordenone, a small town in the italian North-East, 40 minutes by car from Venice. All jackets are made in Europe so far. We have a special relationship with Limonta, one of the most renowned italian fabrics manufacturers, who develops for us fabrics on an exclusive basis.

See our selection of Holubar jackets.

Thanks to Grajzar Tomislav for the help.