Aspen has been at the center of the ski fashion world since the late 1940s, when the humble Colorado mining town began its metamorphosis into a playground for the jet-set. It’s where in 1947 Klaus Obermeyer invented the down parka (cut from a down comforter) and where today billionaires and celebrities do their après-ski shopping at Gucci, Prada, and Ermenegildo Zegna. Now, 4-year-old sportswear brand Aztech Mountain—named after a black diamond trail on Aspen Mountain—is seeking to blend the Aspen of old and new, with innovative designs that move ski fashion forward while celebrating the heritage of its hometown.
“We are constantly looking at who’s in town, what they’re wearing, and what’s going on to inform our collections,” says Anthony Rutgers, Aztech’s designer and cofounder. Rutgers was born in Aspen and raised there by a ski instructor and a travel agent before moving to New York for college and spending almost a decade working for Marc Jacobs. Seated at his desk in Aztech’s compact Tribeca showroom, he’s dressed in dark jeans and a half-zip sweater from the winter 2017 collection with 1970s-style striped sleeves that only serve to highlight his all-American ski racer look.
Rutgers runs Aztech alongside his business and life partner, David Roth. The two met 18 years ago as NYU students at a Rangers game. After years spent working in fashion and real estate, they became inspired to launch their own brand because they felt they had identified a “very clear white space” in the designer outerwear market. “In our opinion, there were two pillars of luxury outerwear: Moncler and Canada Goose,” Rutgers says. “The quality of the product from people we used to really love and admire in this world just diminished significantly. We wanted to create something that was distinctly American, something that was very true and authentic to our hometown of Aspen, and something of the utmost quality.”
While Aztech’s simple puffer coats, checkered flannels, and half-zip sweaters exemplify quintessential American ski style, its high-tech fabrics come primarily from Japan and Switzerland. For instance, Aztech’s wool Nuke Suit jacket is cut from a Swiss fabric called c-change, which Rutgers says contracts and expands based on the wearer’s body temperature. “It’s an amazing ski coat, but the customer can wear this in New York, Tokyo, London—all the countries that he’s traveling to or living in.”
Rutgers’s vision of the Aztech man is a sophisticated, adventurous, and active global traveler, someone willing to invest upward of $1,300 in a jacket that he can wear both on the mountain and to a Manhattan cocktail bar—someone like Bode Miller, the Olympic gold medalist and two-time World Champion ski racer who in 2016 joined the Aztech team as its chief of innovation.
Rutgers and Roth met Miller through an Aspen-based stylist who was working with him on a commercial shoot in Chile; she dressed Miller in Aztech Mountain, and he immediately fell for the clothes. “We didn’t expect anything to come of it,” Rutgers recalls. “Three weeks after the shoot, though, I received a call from Bode’s agent at CAA. They said, ‘Bode loves your product, but who are you guys?’” Now beneath each garment’s description on Aztech’s website is a note from Miller describing how he wears it and what he likes about it.
The company has been approached about moving into womenswear, a prospect Rutgers finds intriguing, but, he says, “The truth is, right now we’re six people, and we’re in 45 stores in 10 countries. If we wanted to do women’s, it would require many steps prior in terms of proper staffing and just organization, maneuvering. What is most important for us is to continue to make the best product possible.” His next goal is to open a stand-alone store in New York City, and, as the company’s production capacity grows, he’s excited about incorporating more colors and patterns: snowflakes, stripes, even a study of the world’s famous ski destinations, which now reads like a list of places the brand is carried—St. Moritz, Gstaad, Courchevel, Vail, Beaver Creek, Deer Valley, and of course, Aspen.
But as Aztech looks toward the future, the brand remains firmly rooted in Aspen’s past. Within each collection, Rutgers incorporates a print inspired by the archives at the Aspen Historical Society, which go back more than a century. For the winter collection, this print is a black-and-white image of André Roch, a Swiss mountaineer who marked the first ski trail on Aspen Mountain in 1937. “We look to the past to bring some novelty into our collections,” Rutgers says. “Aspen is our muse.”