The world's foremost expert on the backsides of fashionable sportswomen is a stocky 52-year-old German named Willy Bogner. Combining his rare powers of observation with an acute business sense and the inspired designs of his attractive wife Maria, Willy Bogner has grown rich and famous, revolutionized the ski-wear industry and earned the gratitude of every male skier between the ages of 14 and 102. Willy Bogner is the man who invented stretch pants.
When Bogner first introduced stretch pants in 1952, skiers laughed. For years they had been wearing costumes which appeared to have been stored in old sea bags. The colors were those found on the topsides of a tramp steamer—black, gray and brown—and the cut made everyone look as if he were auditioning to replace Emmett Kelly. Even the best ski pants made the wearer look a little less like a clown and a little more like Gene Sarazen on the eve of the 1922 U.S. Open. American skiers, in particular, seemed to be fond of baggy britches; there was a cult that considered it a mark of honor to dress sleazier than anyone else. So when Bogner put his beautiful new stretch pants on the market, everyone grabbed the nearest rope tow and headed uphill.
"Good Lord," skiers said, "you mean those things cost 40 bucks? They look like underwear." The ladies, blushing prettily, said "too tight," which shows how nearsighted some girls are, and they complained about the bright colors. The men thought the material was too thin and doubted that it would wear. At first hardly anyone bought Bogners.
But a few did—with immediate results. The new pants hugged the waist and hips and tapered in razor-sharp lines to the ankle, making legs look longer, somehow, as legs should look. Whether the wearer was swiveling through a ski lodge or stuck head down in a snowbank on the hill, the new shades of mauve and fuchsia and chartreuse proved superior attention-getters to the old gray and black and brown. Suddenly male skiers everywhere were observed observing babes in Bogners, to the exclusion of all else. So other girls, of course, went out and bought Bogners.
The men liked the pants, too, for wearing as well as viewing. The material, made from Swiss-patented kinknylon Helanca and wool yarn, turned out to be tightly woven and warm and dry. A few ski racers tried Bogners and found them perfectly designed for high-speed runs; there was no wind resistance, no flopping at the knee and the stretch material felt better and was more comfortable than the old gabardines and worsteds.
Soon everyone looked like a ski racer—as long as he was standing still—and Willy Bogner began to get rich. He sold all the stretch pants he could make, and the customers howled for more. And when the Bogners visited America in the spring of 1955, and Maria Bogner went onto the slopes at Sun Valley, women flocked around to ask where she got those adorable pants. "I made them," Maria said. Men flocked around, too, for even in her 40s Maria Bogner is a sight to delight. Particularly in Bogner pants.
Today, in a large, modern factory on the outskirts of Munich, the Bogners and their 500 employees produce 100,000 pairs of stretch pants a year, and could sell twice that many if Willy hadn't decided that working oneself to death was not a proper way to live. Skiers in Germany and Switzerland and Sweden and France, in every European country where people ski and high tariffs do not keep the Bogner line out, buy the pants that Willy and Maria Bogner make. But the Bogners consider America their No. 1 market, and annually they ship 40,000 pairs over here. Their outlets dot the country from Vermont to California and reach as far south as Neiman-Marcus in Dallas, where people live who wouldn't know a snow-flake if it landed on their nose.
"We like America," says Maria Bogner, in her charming, halting English. "Our daughter Rosemarie married an American last year."
"We like American girls," says Willy Bogner. "They are the best advertisement Bogner could have. American girls have longer legs than Europeans and they look better in stretch pants. For export to America, we cut the pants longer, a special size."
"We cut them longer in back, too," says Maria.