Wearing Rohan, I knew you needn’t look daggy, or be uncomfortable outdoors.
A friend had to cajole me into my first Rohan garment. I wasn’t at all convinced. Their advertising showed attractive models clad in sleek, body hugging apparel. This didn’t square well with the ill fitting ex-army woollen pants and linseed oil soaked cotton parkas that had so dominated outdoor clothing in my formative years. But my friend persisted. I relented. Ordering via him, a pair of pants, oddly called Rohan Bags. In the Seadog (Navy) colour. With a thigh pocket. This was late 1981, I think. Little did I realise that these pants would soon alter the direction of my professional life.
I wore those first Rohan Bags for many years, until they were completely threadbare, far more a faded grey than Seadog Navy.
At that point I was an Australian outdoor pursuits instructor, spending most of my year outside, getting cold and wet, or hot and sticky. I certainly knew what gear didn’t perform. My friend later visited camp, and I enquired if these new fangled trousers had yet arrived. Smiling wryly he left the room, returning seemingly empty handed. “Did you forget the pants?” I prompted. He simply unfurled his fingers and there sitting neatly in his palm were the rolled up Rohan Bags. I was stunned. How could something so tiny be functional?
But they were. Not only unbelievably compact. But also smart looking, incredibly lightweight, very quick drying, and highly wind resistant. I would subsequently wear them travelling for 6 months in early ’83. Donning a pair of gaiters I wore them on week long backcountry ski trips in Yosemite, Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons, whilst also wearing them hiking down the Grand Canyon. I wore them on 26 hour plane trips, out to dinner, to the movies, shopping. Indeed, when they weren’t being laundered, I wore them everywhere. They were why the word ‘versatile’ was invented. I was smitten. Finally, clothes that worked.
When our travels landed us in the UK, a special journey was had to the newly minted Rohan shop in Long Preston. I remember Paul and Sarah commenting on our Aussie tanned legs as we tried on Rohan Shorts, which was odd given we’d just spent three months skiing. Anyhow we purchased a swag of new Rohan gear, like Double Bags (in the short-lived Ripstop Airlight, no less) and 100% Dunova shirts. They helped us endure very wet and windy hill walks in the Cairngorms, the Lake District, Snowdonia, Cornwall and Ben Nevis. The garments were a revelation.
I returned to Australia, intending to continue on as a climbing instructor and camps director. But a seed had been sown. Wearing Rohan, I knew that you needn’t look daggy, or be uncomfortable when outdoors. There was another way. I was inspired. So, in 1984, I tossed in paid employment and convinced a tertiary education institute to allow a grizzled beaded outdoor guide to join 14 fresh faced, just out-of-school girls in a course about Clothing Technology.
To cut the story short, I became the designer for Australia’s oldest outdoor company, Paddy Pallin. Where, inspired by my experience of wearing Rohan apparel, we would develop our own innovations and drag the Australian outdoor gear market kicking and screaming into the late 20th century.
I wore those first Rohan Bags for many years, until they were completely threadbare, far more a faded grey than Seadog Navy. All that was left to salvage were the still functioning RiRi zips. I was so sad to see the pants expire. For they were the fulcum, the pivot point that saw a lowly outdoor guide from the back blocks of Down Under end up discussing the design of insulated pullovers with Sir Chris Bonington, and having his creative work exhibited at the International Sports Expo, ISPO. Those much abused pair of Bags, originally conceived to help alpinists get to, and from, their expeditionary mountain, also took me on a long, yet very rewarding journey of a different kind. Huge thanks to Paul and Sarah for the trip.
Warren McLaren curates a web museum of vintage outdoor gear. He previously designed the revamp of the Berghaus Extrem mountaineering collection. Also designing their Outer Limits accessories line and several other collections, and co-managed a community re-use centre.