Prized as a maker of daring, mold-breaking skiwear in the ’70s, Elho is schussing back after 20 years of dormancy — and it’s already on the twisting back of Swiss freestyle champion Andri Ragettli, almost a year before the official launch.
Spearheading the revival is Berlin-based art director Donald Schneider, the creative guru who conceived H&M’s groundbreaking collaboration with Karl Lagerfeld in 2004, and whose eponymous creative agency in Berlin has since revved up many brands via buzzy celebrities and “hype” marketing.
Ragettli has been wearing Elho’s performance jackets and “jet pants” while training for upcoming competitions this winter, giving his 631,000 followers on Instagram a primer on the storied Swiss brand whose rebellious roots go back 75 years.
“Our idea is that all the products are functional, but they look so cool you’ll want to wear them in the city as a style statement,” Schneider explained over Zoom, shrugging on a sleek, hooded black bomber jacket with a searing coral-colored lining, and arching zippers. “We’re connecting performance and style in a very credible way, and in that niche, there’s not so many brands.”
The performance bomber jacket is a linchpin style Elho will unveil — along with a collaboration with the estate of artist — at the ISPO trade show in Munich Nov. 28 to 30, a key gathering for winter sports retailers.
The 25-item launch collection for women and men spans a range of logo knits, base layers, insulated jackets, fleece separates, shell pants and jackets, plus accessories.
Schneider, who is Swiss, grew up skiing and remembered that “all the cool, young, fun people were wearing Elho,” which pioneered neon colors on the slopes, and ski pants that fanned out over the boots, instead of being tucked inside.
But rather than resurrect old styles, Schneider is keen to project the brand’s mindset of rebelliousness and daring into modern times.
As the “re-founder” and executive chairman of Zurich-based Elho, Schneider assembled a team that includes Claudia Hofmann, a veteran stylist and fashion consultant who has done work for Bogner, and Grand Studio, a Zurich-based design consultancy and product developer specialized in performance and technical gear.
Grand Studio has also taken on the challenge of propelling Elho into the eco age by employing a maximum of bio-based, high-performance fabrics, most sourced in Japan and Taiwan.
When he acquired the IP for Elho about a year ago, beside a few minority investors, Schneider parked himself in front of busy ski lifts to see what people wear: pretty much all the same “no-shape look” in “boring” colors, what Schneider reckons is a hybrid style between snowboarding and skiing.
Hence he spied an opening for punchier skiwear. He noted that at its peak in the late ’80s, Elho generated revenues approaching 250 million Deutsche Marks, the equivalent of about 125 million euros.
In Ragettli, whom he’s followed for years on social media, he found a nearly ideal ambassador for the project: a driven, fearless athlete who describes himself on Instagram as a “random dude with big goals.”
His feed is chockablock with gobsmacking ski moves — including quad corks with five or six spins — along with scenes of him dipping himself in a frozen lake for 30 minutes, or casually hopping off a bridge into a river.
A recent feat of indoor parkour, taking him from his bed to a jump in the pool with a bottle of Ovaltine in his hand, has amassed hundreds of millions of views on YouTube, TikTok and other platforms.
In an interview with WWD, Ragettli explained that freestyle skiers are judged according to the tricks they perform, which involved numerous flips and rotations.
“What you do on the slope is the most important, but it’s also the style, how you look. So yeah, for me, it’s very important to look good, to have stylish clothes,” he said in an interview.
The 25-year-old has been putting Elho prototypes to the test and “it’s awesome,” he enthused. “It’s super stylish and super technical.”
Ragettli shared his feedback with Elho on certain performance details, for example recommending that the zippers on ski pants be positioned on outer seams as boots often collide while skiing and can damage hardware on clothing.
He is preparing for Slopestyle in Austria, the City Big Air competition in Beijing and another event in Copper Mountain, Colo. Further ahead, he has his sights on the 2026 Winter Olympics in Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy.
Schneider noted that most fashion brands promote their products when they are available for purchase, whereas the hype marketing approach starts much earlier, with business-to-business communication, viral placements and community building ahead of the actual launch.
Ragettli announced his association with Elho on Instagram earlier this week.
The revamped Elho will launch in October 2024 on a dedicated web store, which Schneider hopes will generate about 70 percent of revenues, with the balance streaming in from wholesale.
He engaged Berlin sales agency Melagence, which represents brands including Veilance by Arc’teryx, and Perfect Moment, to handle Elho and target marquee department stores and cool specialty retailers in fashion and outdoor clothing, Kevin the Woods in Zurich being an example of the latter.
Elho jackets will retail for around 700 euros, he noted, showing off a Velcro patch on the sleeve for attaching the original Elho logo crest, or a discrete tone-on-tone version for those averse to obvious branding.
For its first year of operation, Elho plans to concentrate on wholesale accounts in Germany, Switzerland and Austria, rolling out to Europe in its second year, and the U.S. in its third year, Schneider said.