We often look back fondly at 1960s-80s as the golden age of American outdoors gear. With an increased amount of leisure time and easier access to the outdoors during the post-war years, mountaineering, hiking and climbing became staples of modern American life.
This was a time when the outdoor giants of today were born (The North Face, Patagonia) and the blueprint was designed for many garments that we now take for granted like the hiking boot, raincoat and rucksack. Technology also had a large part to play in this newfound love for the outdoors, with new materials like Gore-Tex being developed to combat harsh weather conditions and keep the wearer dry.
Known for arduous weather conditions, heavy rain and close proximity to numerous areas of natural beauty, Seattle gave birth to a whole host of outdoors brands which have left a lasting legacy on the industry. One such brand which is still going strong and firmly rooted to its Seattle home is Crescent Down Works.
Started by Anne Michelson in 1974 as a custom-order down vest company in Seattle, the brand was inspired by her love of hiking, camping and the great outdoors. Having previously worked for Eddie Bauer, Anne already knew a thing or two about outdoors equipment.
Still made in Seattle and still offering a core line of tried, tested and true products, Crescent Down Works continues to weather the storm and provide the best in rugged apparel. We spoke to Anne’s daughter, Annie Michelson who acts as Production Manager for the brand, to understand more about the brand what the key to its success has been over the years.
Heddels: Tell us about the origin of the brand—founder Anne Michelson had previously worked for Eddie Bauer and then started Crescent?
Crescent Down Works: My mother founded the brand in 1974 after working for Eddie Bauer. She started really small, sewing one vest at a time by herself, and gradually introduced more styles to the line.
H: What have been some of the highlights or turning points for the brand during its history?
CDW: So the brand history is 45 years long but I have only been heading it up for about 5 years now, so I forwarded this question to the Matriarch; “In late 80s we were discovered by the Japanese market, followed by Italy then by the French. We then started going to trade shows in early 2000’s.”
H: Crescent has always had a strong image as a Pacific Northwest brand. How has the environment shaped the brand?
CDW: The brand was conceived out of my mother’s desire to create her own down insulated outerwear clothing for snow sports and mountaineering. The mountains, our PNW landscape, and our city were formative features in my mother’s life and work at Crescent’s beginning.
Our throwback look is made authentic by the fact that we just have not changed much about our brand aesthetic. She made a product she loved and which was useful to her at that time, and thankfully it continues to be loved by and useful to many.
H: All outerwear is still made in Seattle, right? How important is this for the brand?
CDW: Yes, all our outerwear is made by us, in our Seattle factory. This is very important to our brand because we love to be able to do short small runs of special colorways and collaborations, in a way that is not feasible for many contract sewers.
Plus we like the process of making. My mom and I roll and cut fabric together, which is really special!
H: Is CDW a family run business? How large is the workforce?
CDW: Yes, my mother and I run this business together, my brother is also involved. We have a full time cutter and pattern maker, a web-shop manager, and group of 9 awesome production staff.
H: The climate in PNW can be harsh, especially at the height of winter. What can you tell us about fabrics and construction utilized by the brand, in order to combat some of the severe weather in and around Seattle?
CDW: Depending on the style we construct for optimal warmth with highlighted features like: down filled collars that snap shut, drawstrings at the hem and hood, and wind flaps over any exposed zippers.
Also deep, and warm, down filled pockets. Some styles are made with a 60/40 cotton blend shell, which is water resistant and breathable. We also use a coated soft nylon for lighter and more packable styles (this fabric is based on Ramar—now a “heritage” fabric as it was one of the original down proof woven and breathable fabrics designed for down outwear in the 60s)
H: How does CDW source its down and is it difficult to ensure transparency in the supply chain?
CDW: We buy bulk down from Allied Feather and Down. We buy down which has been RDS (Responsible Down Standard) certified. RDS is an independent certification body which ensures each level of the supply chain for down meets certain ethical standard of raising and processing animals for food.
RDS down comes from birds who are not live-plucked or force-fed. I always encourage our customer to visit the RDS website and Allied—both are great sources of information about commercial down. I do trust RDS to provide “ethically” sourced down and I trust our supplier, Allied. Some retailers offer a “trace-able down” product, which in theory is cool, but I am not convinced it is very reliable information. I have yet to be sold on that product…
H: Obviously the key offering of CDW is down insulated outdoor wear including vests, jackets, parkas and overshirts. Has the product line changed much over the years, or stuck to its core offering?
CDW: We have not changed much over the years. However, we still find so much inspiration in our standard styles. Since we have offered custom wholesale for so long, there are literally thousands of different color combinations and fabrication of these styles, they just don’t quit!
H: Tell us about the customer base and distribution for the brand, is it predominantly outdoor enthusiasts or has the brand seen popularity with other groups?
CDW: For a long time, the bulk of our product goes to fashion enthusiasts in Japan. Through a few distributors we have developed a fanbase there. The shops that sell our stuff are mostly small boutiques which specialize in US-made product.
H: Does CDW work with other brands on collaborative products?
CDW: Yes, we do! We have worked with many, many brands. Our latest include 3sixteen, Eddie Bauer Japan, Freecity, Todd Snyder and also shop—Independence in Chicago, Freeman in Seattle, Brooklyn Clothing in Calgary.
H: What’s your take on the current fashion fixation on sustainability and environmental impact—is this more than a passing ‘trend’ and are customers becoming more savvy and purchasing better made items which are built to last?
CDW: There is a lot to address in that question. Overall, I am happy to see environmental impact as a buying consideration in fashion, but I am skeptical that a change in buying practices will make the kind of environmental impact needed to mitigate the climate emergency we are in.
We keep it simple here at CDW: make a good product, have a good time, and care about our workers and community as much as we care about the brand and business. I hope customers continue to be drawn to us for our product AND our values.
H: What does the future hold for the brand? Any exciting projects or next steps?
CDW: We will be offering more styles direct from our factory through our online shop, and we are hoping to add more inventory including hats, t shirts, and lighter outerwear!
Classico Down Parka
The Classico Down Parka is indeed a classic. When you think of vintage down filled outerwear, a derivative of this is likely going to pop into your head. Featuring a hefty 14 oz. of down, the Classico is the ultimate winter coat for those harsh temps.
A staple of the brand and a product which has remained on the roster for many years, it features a 60/40 cotton/nylon shell, a nylon lining, square patch pockets at the hip and a detachable hood. We talk a lot about ‘buy less, buy better’ here at Heddels and this is a prime example of this philosophy. The Classico will kit you out for many, many, winters to come.
Available for $687 at Crescent Down Works.
The perfect middle ground when you need that extra warmth on an autumn morning but don’t want to wear a fully fledged down jacket, the Down Shirt does what it says on the tin. Taking inspiration from classic hunting and workwear heavy shirting, it’s been quilted and packed with 5 oz. of down insulation.
With a water resistant 60/40 shell and a soft nylon lining, it has front snap closure and a left chest pocket. Made in good old Seattle, Washington, versatility is the name of the game here.
Available for $550 at Crescent Down Works
North by Northwest Down Vest
A simple style which features 5 oz. of down inside a 60/40 wind and water resistant shell, the North by Northwest Vest is another Crescent staple. Often imitated but never bettered, it’s a classic layering piece. Wear it over a sweatshirt on crisp morning coffee runs or under a ski jacket for time spent in the mountains.
Available for $325 at Crescent Down Works.