Exactly 100 years ago, in 1920, the Klepper mantel was introduced to the German public. This rubberized raincoat was a true innovation for its time as it was the first “absolutely waterproof” coat. It turned out to be so successful that the name “Klepper mantel” became a generic word for a raincoat in Germany. The production of these iconic German raincoats lasted several decades with a total of over 7 million coats produced and sold, making it one of the most successful raincoats in history.
The Klepper company finds its origins in 1889 with master tailor Johann Klepper who took over his father’s tailoring business in Rosenheim, Germany, at the age of 21. Being a sports fanatic Johann Klepper added a line of sports products to the range of products he sold including specialized winter and summer clothing for sports, and the soon to be famous foldable kayaks he produced in the attic of his home. His entrepreneurship led him to experimentations with different materials including leather and rubber, which gave him the insights and experience to later produce the Klepper raincoat.
In the early 1900’s raincoats and cloaks were available in Germany but they were mostly made out of tightly woven cotton fabric treated with oil, wax, or other fats. The already heavy coats became even heavier when they became soaked with water and the long drying time after use was a serious disadvantage. Johann Klepper solved this problem by using a much thinner cotton base and applying a layer of rubber to it making it completely waterproof. The water would simple roll off the rubber outer layer and with the thin base layer of cotton the complete coat only weighted 780 grams. The materials used made the Klepper raincoats durable and tear-resistant, but unfortunately also relatively expensive. Nevertheless they quickly became a staple item for Germany’s population and the military, the German Railways, as well as the German Post ordered Klepper coats for their employees. Below a mailman in his Klepper rainwear.
When Johann’s son Hans Klepper took over the business in 1929 the company was doing excellent business and produced up to 90 folding kayaks and 1,000 raincoats a day. Many of the raincoats were sold by catalog and made to order keeping the company afloat in difficult times after Germany had lost the First World War. This lasted till 1939, when war broke out again and the firm wass commissioned to start producing for the German military and the German secret police (Gestapo). Below a 1941 German Airforce (Luftwaffe) coat for sale.
One of the biggest contributors to the success of the Klepper raincoat was the coating made of rubber which kept rain out, but the use of rubber also gave problems as it kept heat and moist trapped under the coat. The Rillo ventilation, patented in 1949, added a system of ventilation ducts on the back of the coat to combat this problem. The first picture below shows the inside of the Klepper coat where a membrane creates a space between the coat and the clothing of the wearer while the second picture shows the back of the raincoat with the ventilation ducts visible. The third picture shows how the warm air is supposed to get away from under the coat to keep the wearer cool.
The iconic Klepper coat was sold in the relatively drab color dark grey, for both men and women, bringing little flair to a rainy day except for the nice shine of the wet rubber outer coating. The raincoats for both men and women were quite similar, although the women’s coat came with a detachable hood, a slightly different collar, and the coat closes with the right side over the left while this is the opposite way for the men’s coat.
Besides raincoats the Klepper company also sold accessories like gaitors, leg tubes, and rain hats. As mentioned the women’s coat had a detachable hood, and for men and women there was also a rain hat available to keep their heads dry.
Over time small changes to the Klepper raincoats were made from the materials used to the colors available for sale. The most popular color was still the dark grey, but the raincoats later also became available in blue, beige, green, and even red. In the late 1960’s and early 1970 the rubber outer material was changed to a glossier and smoother finish, but unfortunately these updated coats were more susceptible to hardening and blistering as the materials deteriorated in direct sunlight and with temperature changes. To figure out the production date of a certain Klepper coat you have 2 options: the earlier year coats have fever Rillo ventilations folds as these were increased over time, and you can check the physical coat for a small white label under the Klepper brand label which shows the production date.
Over time the Klepper mantels started to lose popularity as fashion changes and newer materials and models of rainwear become available in Germany. A lot of younger Germans prefered the iconic yellow Friesennerz raincoats over the old-fashioned Klepper coats and production starts dwindling for the Klepper brand. At its hayday at the end of the 1960’s the company had over 3000 employees, but now they had to refocus their production to more speciality consumers like hunters and sport fishermen. In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s the Klepper branded raincoats started disappearing from the street scene in Germany and were mostly limited to being produced for the Kettner stores which sale hunting products. After a few surges in popularity the production of the Klepper raincoat, as a version of the raincoat introduced in 1920, was halted completely at the end of the 80’s.
The Klepper mantels have stayed popular with smaller subgroups in Germany making it possible to actually spot people wearing an original Klepper mantel on a rainy day in Germany if you are lucky. In 1997 a limited edition of the Klepper mantel was brought to the market bringing back memories to many, but when the company proudly mentioned the new coat would be “without the typical rubber smell” of the old Klepper raincoat due to the use of polyurethane (PU) , many fans were disappointed.
While the Klepper brand is still alive and well today, they produce nothing like their iconic Klepper raincoat anymore. The brand is currently part of the Walbusch company and you can find their current range of products on their website. The Klepper folding kayak’s and other small boats has been split off from the clothing manufacturer decades ago and is currently still showing decent sales as the advantages of foldable and light weight kayak’s are as strong today as they were 100 years ago.
Most of the information above comes from German websites and since I lack the historical link with Klepper raincoats I would like to invite anyone with more knowledge to point out mistakes or direct me to sources that offer more information about these historically interesting raincoats. For me it was fascinating to dive deeper into these Klepper raincoats, not only because they still have a loyal following online, but also because the history shows clear resemblances with the Mackintosh raincoats from the UK, the rubberized Agu rainwear from The Netherlands, and it links up perfectly with the Friesennerz raincoat from Germany (Denmark). Some could even say that the Klepper rubber raincoat is the equivalent of the British rubber Mackintosh, with as main difference that the Mackintosh materials are cotton-rubber-cotten while the Klepper has rubber-cotton-rubber (both outside and inside are rubber).
There are tons of great historical and modern pictures of the Klepper mantel available online, for those interested I can recommend the following two profiles on flickr: Hans Peter Dykthom and dykthom1000. Video sources are harder to find, and often much older meaning of less quality, with as exception to the rule a more recent production by fetisheyes.
If you are interested in actually purchasing an original Klepper mantel better be prepared to lay down some serious money. As can be seen in pictures of the old catalog the price of a Klepper raincoat was 469 Deutsche Mark in the seventies, which after correction for inflation is over 500 euro’s in today’s money. Based on preferences in the community current prices might reach that high depending on the production date of the Klepper coat, the color, the quality, etc.