Previously I have written about other rainwear brands like Grundens, Ocean, Guy Cotton, and 66North, and the history of these brands shows many similarities. The same goes for Helly Hansen, a clothing brand from Norway that has its history in producing heavy-duty fisherman’s clothing for over a hundred years.
The company name of Helly Hansen was founded in 1877 when Helly Juell Hansen started producing oilskin clothing for the fishing industry in Norway. Over time new materials were created resulting in more modern items. One of the most prominent materials for rainwear became PVC which was more flexible, durable, and lighter than the old-fashioned heavy-duty materials. The range of Helly Hansen rainwear was comparable to most other brands producing workwear, with bright colors like yellow and orange.
Picture above is an original Helly Hansen rain smock from the 50’s or 60’s which was sold by Sanders Militaria which specializes in vintage military and workwear clothing. The drawstrings near the chest, to close the smock, is what makes this type of rainwear very dated. Another example below of a similar yellow rain smock, now with the old Helly Hansen logo on the left pocket.
Compare the raingear with drawstrings to similarly aged raincoats with a zipper and buttons and you will immediately notice how much easier a vintage rainwear item like this would be perfectly competible with more modern rainwear.
Even today this yellow vintage raincoat would perfect for a rainy day.
This type of rainwear was mostly popular in the 1950’s till 1970’s after which a new generation of rainwear took over offering better breathable and thinner materials which was more pleasant to wear. The older rainwear slowly disappeared from the streets and while some vintage items might be for sale every now and then on second-hand or vintage locations, you should not expect this to be an easy search. Picture above of the yellow rainsuit and picture below of the blue coat are examples of vintage Helly Hansen rainwear from the 60’s and 70’s which was offered for sale online. Both pictures seem to be sourced from the Swedish vintage blog anyas.
While the Helly Hansen brand did not differentiate much from competitors in the heavy-duty rainwear segment, it did make greats strives in the professional sports clothing, winter clothing, and everyday stylish clothing segments. When you mention the Helly Hansen brand today it is almost unlikely someone associates it with heavy-duty rainwear.
Take a look at the social media pages of Helly Hansen and the most predominant things you will see are sailing and winter sports. The marketing strategy is focused on top athletes and professional users in these sectors where technology and functionality are key. While professional quality items are available for the general public, they are priced out of range for most and the brand hopes to make sales based on more affordable lines which depend less on expensive materials and state-of-the-art inventions. Although some have no trouble buying a sailing jacket for 1000 euro’s or more.
The rainwear category has much less focus even though the roots of the brand are in the fishing sector. Most of the rainwear available from Helly Hansen is maybe better described as normal wear that also happens to be water proof. While that is not a bad thing, it is just less attractive to me personally as I prefer rainwear that stands out a bit more and has a strong industrial and real “raingear” look. Not to say that their line of regular rainwear is completely uninteresting: a previously produced cut of the Copenhagen raincoat, as shown below, isbe a nice and stylish clothing item. The current cut of this coat seems much less tapered though.
Looking further into their workwear line shows that even there the classic rainwear line is much less prevalent than I would have expected and the line of construction clothing is much broader. In a way this is understandable as the brand has become very large over time and rainwear is quite a one-dimensional clothing item of which it is hard to make 10 different items for different target audiences.
The rainwear item that drew my attention to the Helly Hansen brand is the Nusfjord coat and bibs from the workwear line which is a heavy-duty PVC coated fisherman’s rainsuit. Made out of thick PVC it should last for years and the color and shine of the material seems magical in a way. For me this is the ultimate HH raingear, but unfortunately the Nusfjord is not visible anymore in their newest catalogue meaning it will not be produced. As far as I can see they are still available online but only on limited sites in limited sizes and colors. A quick second choice would be the Highliner range, which is also available in iconic yellow, as it is very similar in looks with only a slightly thinner material used.
The general cut of the Helly Hansen workwear line is what you would expect: straight and wide. This gear is meant to be worn over a normal layer of clothing, possibly plus an additional layer to stay warm, so the coat will not limit your movement in any way. For anyone wishing to wear this coat as a normal raincoat it is therefore recommend to buy it a size smaller than you would usually do, and combine it with an outfit that contrasts the style and cut. My recommendation would be very similar as mentioned previously with other brands of pure workwear raingear: combine it with a pair of tighter or skinny jeans and maybe a sporty sneaker in white. If necessary, due of the weather conditions, you can combine the coat with a pair of rubber rainboots, but avoid picking a pair in the same color as the coat. The idea is to have the contrast in your outfit: a bulky industrial raincoat combined with more detailed and tighter fitting items that are not linked to heavy industry at all. Picture below is from naturalrubber on Flickr which shows a nice combination of the dark green HH Nusfjord rainsuit and a pair of dark green Hunter rainboots. Normally I would not recommend such an overflow of one color in a rain outfit, but for some reason it really works well in this picture.
While in general I am impressed with this brand, and I really like the Nusfjord raingear and its general appearance, this brand will not be one of the top rainwear producers I am following. The main reason is that the rainwear just not seems to be their focus and the range currently on offer is a bit too limited with what I am looking for. Unfortunately they are not following some of the other brands that have been discussed previously in making a line of rainwear clothing that falls more between the regular rainwear they have and their workwear line. I would be interested to see them make use of the bright colors and PVC materials with a modern cut and every-day functionality taken into account to make the brand really interesting.
If you have any experience with the Helly Hansen brand or want to recommend another brand for me to look at, please let me know in the comments or send me a message.