The evolution of sportswear technology is the untold story behind the
spectacular records set by top-flight athletes in international competition.
For more than half a century, Descente has been at the cutting edge of
this evolutionary process, facing and overcoming countless challenges
along the way.
This company was the forerunner of Descente Ltd.
In a time of extreme economic difficulty in the immediate post-war period, these gloves were made from re-cycled canvas tent material.
This was when Descente began serious development of skiwear products.
At this time, Kazuyoshi Nishimura, Japan's first professional skier and a highly creative person who held strong views about skiwear, was invited to become an advisor to the company. Thus was begun a period of development based on trial and error of his ideas, and Descente became firmly established in the skiwear business.
This also marked the adoption of the “Summit Strategy*1”, a core Descente marketing philosophy, to incorporate the ideas and experiences of leading athletes into product development.
Kazuyoshi Nishimura's uncompromising standards of perfection were largely responsible for Descente's unwavering commitment to making only the best quality products, and led directly to the production of many revolutionary products – including the RWSB Coat .
*1 Summit Strategy: The concept that put world class athletes in Descente skiwear, both to promote brand recognition and to make use of their impressions and advice to bring about further product improvement.
*2 RWSB: An acronym formed from the first letter of the words Rain, Wind, Snow and Block. Pronounced “rausbee”.
This was the name given to an all-new "portable" windbreaker utilizing the RWSB characteristics. Made of nylon, and able to be folded away into a self-contained pouch, this was a truly revolutionary garment for its time. It can properly be called Descente's first totally self-developed product.
The same year saw the announcement of the quilted coat.
The inner cotton padding was resin-impregnated, and a special technique was utilized to make the quilting process easier. The resulting garments, with their feeling of hand-made quality, were not cheap to buy in Japan's still-recovering post-war economy, but they were highly acclaimed for their remarkable quality and functionality. The company's attitude, though, was “if you are going to do something, you have to do it well”. It was this spirit that began Descente's unique planning and technical excellence that has continued through the years.
“Descente” is a French word, meaning “downhill skiing”
The Descente signature arrow logo – known as the “Spirit Mark” – represents the basic skiing techniques of “schuss”, “traverse” and “sideslip”. It symbolizes the bold spirit of Descente – always faithful to its grassroots manufacturing integrity, and constant quest for perfection and contemporary appeal.
As a result of this joint undertaking, Descente developed state of the art technology, incorporating extensive wind tunnel testing, to minimise surface wrinkling and unevenness – the main cause of wind resistance - and succeeded in developing the world's first three-dimensionally cut downhill racing suit. This marked the beginning of the era of competition where victory margins are measured in 1/100ths of a second.
At this time, Descente was not only pursuing functional perfection: it was also taking its first steps into the world of fashion design. It commissioned Kazumasa Nagai, the creator of the official logo of the 1972 Sapporo Olympics, to create a new design for Descente skiwear. What he came up with was called Kiryu (literally “dazzling flow”). This design was the precursor of today's well known “Action Line”.
“Demopants” is a short form of “demonstrator pants”. These were a hugely successful product – they not only covered and kept snow out of skiboot-tops, but also flattered the Japanese physique by appearing to elongate the leg silhouette. Their popularity was enhanced by their overall warmth and freedom of movement, and the Demopants became synonymous with ski pants.
The baseball uniforms were made with material that was created to maximize freedom of movement, and they showed the Pirates' vivid team colors of gold and black off to best advantage by employing the kiryu line design. This was the first time that any Major League team chose to wear non US-made uniforms.
The Magic Suit was dramatic. It brought together with startling effect all of the earlier Descente developments in reducing wind resistance and maximizing freedom of movement and maneuverability through three dimensional design, strategic adjustment of fasteners and the like.
The performance-enhancing qualities of the Magic Suit were recognized by leading ski racers around the world and so powerful was its “magic” that many said they couldn't win without it. In the long history of skiing, this was the first suit that could genuinely claim to contribute to the lowering of race times. The secret of this success lay in Decente's superior development processes - combining painstaking design with clever cutting and sewing, and production of more sophisticated materials which minimized wind resistance while still managing to meet the FIS (International Ski Federation) standards for air permeability.
In the same year an Official Supplier contract was signed with a number of European cycling teams.
Descente's success in developing high performance wear for cycling which, like skiing, demands maximum speed, was a direct by-product of the aerodynamic research undertaken for the development of the magic suit. In addition to Japan, the teams from Switzerland, France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and the (then) Soviet Union, all adopted Descente cycling wear.
The development of Descente's cycling wear also came about as a direct by-product of the aerodynamic “Magic Suit”. The development process which pushed skiwear technology to the limit through new fabrics, sewing techniques and three dimensional cutting based on aerodynamic principles, spun off revolutionary changes in the field of cycling wear.
Many athletes were involved in the downhill skiwear project lead by Hans Hess, and for most of them cycling was an essential part of their summer training. At that time the standard cycling wear was a knit top and pants set but the application of Descente's new knowhow saw the advent of a one piece suit for cyclists.
The key to this transition was the chamois pad. Bringing about the union of a stretch fabric and a shock absorbent chamois pad was extremely difficult but through lengthy trial and error, working with an Italian maker, Descente finally succeeded, perfectly combining function and comfort for cyclists.
The resultant cycling suit may be commonplace today but it owes its existence to the application of Descente's new technologies over a wide range of sport. Eric Heiden, who won 5 gold medals wearing the Descente speedskate suit was also a cyclist of note who campaigned extensively and successfully in the new cycling wear. The period from the mid-1980s through the first half of the 1990s saw the cycling wear gain widespread recognition. The high point came when the US 7-11 team rode to victory in the 1986 Tour de France in Descente cycling wear.
At this time, Descente continued to apply the aerodynamic technology it had developed for downhill suits to other sports. At the Lake Placid Olympics in 1980, Descente produced a brilliant skating suit that incorporated the Magic Suit cutting technique (with all seams restricted to the back of the suit, thereby reducing wind resistance). By studying skaters' posture to produce the suit design, Descente developed a speedskate suit that reduced wind resistance, enhanced power and mobility and ensured the appropriate amount of compression over the skater's entire body. In this suit – which became known as the “Golden Suit” - Eric Heiden of the USA stunned the world by becoming the first Winter Olympic athlete to achieve a perfect score of five Gold Medals.
In the same year, the top American sprinter, Evelyn Ashford, broke the US women's indoor 60-yard record wearing a Descente one-piece suit.
Ashford, the then women's 100-metre track world record holder, had been impressed by Eric Heiden's downhill suit, wondered if it might be possible to adapt it to suit short track race wear, and approached Descente to develop one for her. The resulting tight-fitting body suit lowered wind resistance, and provided a degree of muscle compression which allowed her to focus more intently on the all-important explosive start. A one-piece body suit is commonplace in athletics now, but her appearance in the suit caused a sensation in the world of athletics at the time.
Development work was done on both the functionality and safety aspects of racing suits and other associated products for motor cycle racers.
Descente participated in the planning and execution of a mid-winter attempt by two teams of Japanese climbers to scale Mt Everest from the south (Nepalese) side and the north (Chinese) side, to arrive simultaneously at the summit. The climbing groups, known as the “Mountain Goat Party” were led by Kazuyuki Takahashi and his wife, Michiko (nee Imai).
To protect the climbers from the extreme winter conditions at the top of Mt Everest, more than 8,000 metres high, where temperatures plunged to minus 50 deg. and jet stream wind speeds reached 60 metres per second, Descente had to apply all of its sports science knowledge and experience. The suits were made in bright fluorescent colors, in order to be highly visible to base camp personnel at all levels of the climb – adding an important safety dimension.
To maintain core body temperature in minus 50 deg. and provide maximum freedom of movement in extreme conditions, Descente created a one-piece suit filled with Polish White Goose Down – at the time the world's best lightweight insulation material, which made it ultra-light as well as trapping the maximum amount of dead air * Because of its appearance, the suit became known as the “walking sleeping bag”, and it played an extremely important role in the success of the climbing project.
Knowledge gained in the development of this suit – in combining two or more different materials to achieve a particular purpose - led to multiple benefits for Descente in the subsequent development of other high performance sportswear products.
* Dead Air: The term given to a trapped, immobile layer of air within a garment. Trapping a layer of still air in a garment increases heat retention.
In 1984, at the Los Angeles Olympics, the United States basketball team was outfitted in Descente playing gear.
Descente turned next to the development, in collaboration with Unitika Ltd., of a jacket using a new, highly efficient heat retaining material which became known as solar α, a “dream fabric” which absorbed solar rays and converted them into heat. Solar α turned all existing solutions for heat retention upside down. Keeping conventional garments warm relied on passive heat retention, preventing warmth generated inside the garment from escaping i.e. the more radiant heat that could be prevented from reaching the outside, the warmer the wearer stayed. In contrast, like a solar power system, Solar α generated heat in a positive way, actually converting light energy from the sun into heat, and moreover, storing that heat within its fibers.
This was also the year of a skiwear collection produced in collaboration with Marithé + Francois Girbaud - “A fusion of function and form”.
The design philosophy of these leading French fashion designers – known internationally for their “intelligent garments” - was remarkably similar to that of Descente. It stemmed from the basic principle that clothing not only had to look attractive, but also needed to integrate with the wearer to provide a high degree of comfort and inner well-being. Working together, Descente and Marithé + Francois Girbaud produced the world's first knitted ski wear featuring a new material made of densely knitted, super fine tricot. Because of its unique construction, the new material was extremely lightweight, and had excellent insulation qualities. Using this material, the designers produced a very creative silhouette, which was subsequently shown at the Paris Collections.
In this year, Descente also introduced its Functional Sport System.
This was a determined effort by the company to enhance the functionality of its products through systematic biomechanical, ergonomic and climate temperature management research , together with achieving strategic synergies through combining materials rather than using them singly. This became a guiding principle for Descente thereafter.
Working in close collaboration with leading electronics manufacturer Panasonic, the company created the “mobile thermo” coat, the world's first clothing utilizing a catalytic heating system. It was hailed as mankind's first experience with cold weather wear incorporating its own heating system. In order to gain acceptance, the coat had to be safe, lightweight and easy to wear. All of the company's vast array of technical skills were brought to bear to ensure that all these points were met, and the “Mobile Thermo” coat came into being.
Again utilising its technological skills gained from other sports, Descente produced an extremely lightweight, flexible, and comfortable vest with maximum air permeability to protect jockeys in the event of racetrack accidents involving falls from horses.
Titanium Thermo was a specially processed titanium material incorporated into the jacket construction. It absorbed the infra-red rays emitted by the wearer, and trapped that heat inside the garment. It was both very warm and extremely lightweight.
In the same year, Descente developed revolutionary new baseball conditioning gear known as Power Compo, based on the application of its own unique technology and biomechanical research. This body balancing device was originally designed help a baseball pitcher maintain natural body posture during the pitching motion, assist body balance and reduce power loss.
This Descente original jacket incorporated EKS Plus Thermo, an ultra-light, high tech “intelligent” fiber which was able to control temperature changes within the garment.
This year saw the much acclaimed Power of Design – an adventurous collaboration between Descente and the Academy Award winning costume designer Eiko Ishioka, which saw Descente move to add a new dimension of artistic excitement to its cutting-edge sports science-based products. In what became known as the “athlete's genome”, Ms Ishioka sought to impose a psychological dimension on to athletic performance – to heighten the sense of individual power for the wearer, and perhaps even to create some doubt in the minds of opponents.
Descent worked with well-known sports trainer Hisao Kounoe to develop the Kounoe Belt, a support device which works to reduce pelvic irregularity and restore body balance and harmony in athletes. The underlying premise of the Kounoe Belt is that the body's natural athletic potential can best be realized when the pelvis and associated joints are well-aligned and functioning correctly.
The same year saw the development of the Forest Ranger protective wear.
Consisting of a special multi-layered fabric combined with a thick layer of tough felt material, the Forest Ranger wear was designed to protect against chainsaw cut injuries.
An extremely warm jacket which utilizes high tech insulation material originally developed for use in the United States space shuttle program.
The 3D socks were specially designed to fit the Japanese foot perfectly. Providing high stability and grip, they wrapped the entire foot – from big toe, through arch and heel – in a unique three-dimensional knit construction to maintain comfort and minimize slippage.
In the same year Descente signed a contract with the International Volleyball Federation (FIBV) Swatch-FIBV Beach Volleyball World Tour to be an official clothing sponsor.
In this year Descente also developed a new fireproof suit for professional firemen and firefighters. While first priority was given to fireproofing and waterproofing, it was also designed to permit maximum freedom of movement to cope with extreme fire rescue situations.
In place of the traditional stitched, quilted down construction, the technicians at Descente's Mizusawa factory came up with an entirely new thermal bonding process to produce this revolutionary line of jackets. This new process prevented down from escaping through sewn seams, and for the first time made possible a genuinely waterproof down jacket.
Art-Flex is a seamless high function under garment which applies moderate controlled pressure to the wearer's body. This pressure provides efficient support to an athlete's body by delivering the pressure to the various parts of the body as necessary during sporting movement.
The E-liner is a one piece suit worn under competition clothing. It is designed to provide compression support for specific muscle groups in order to maximize the benefit of energy expenditure, reduce fatigue and maintain correct body posture. It was worn by several members of the Swiss alpine ski team and the Canadian speedskating and Ski Cross team at the Vancouver Winter Olympics.
This concept saw Descente, always best known for its dedicated pursuit of specific, high tech, cutting-edge sporting wear, move into a new and different field – designing a range of “function before form” clothing that allow the wearer to decide how and when they should be worn.
Another milestone in 2011 was the “Tough Polo” shirt range.
Made of polyester, but with the natural feel of cotton, the tough polos retain their shape in the wash, resist fading, are stretchy, highly absorbent yet quick drying, and incorporate a high UP50+ ultra-ray blocking rating.
Genome athletic tights are the result of a long and detailed study by Descente into long distance running. The functional elements are the strategically placed spiral power bands, reminiscent of the DNA helix, which act to help maintain body form and reduce the loss of leg “kick” power caused by fatigue.
At ISPO, the world's largest sporting goods trade show, held every year in Munich, Descente's Transform Jacket was awarded the gold medal in the Performance segment of the Lifestyle and Fashion category. This extremely prestigious award is based on rigorous examination by a judging panel of 60 specialists from 13 countries on three continents, and goes to the garment deemed best in concept, design and technicality.
The concept of “Minimalism” for Descente involves utliising only those elements of form that do not stand in the way of achieving the ultimate goal of maximum function. Taking this approach results in a clean look with a sleek finish, greatly improved water resistance, with fewer seams and enhanced lightness and comfort.
The Descente brand traces its roots back to the company's establishment in 1935. From early in its history, Descente's goal has been to enrich peoples' bodies and minds through sport, and to encourage them always to aspire to a healthy lifestyle. Our strength has been our ability to blend good concepts with the best technology and functionality in design, and we hope that through this, we have succeeded in helping everyone from serious athletes seeking to reach their upper limits, to all sports lovers who feel passionate about their pursuits.