Nothing screams fashion faux pas more than an incongruous outfit. Wear a pair of pistachio colored or Venetian red trousers in—where else?—Venice (or for that matter Portofino) and you're instantly an envied local. Don the identical pair, as I did recently in New York City, and you're some kind of attention-seeking, colorblind weirdo.
The same goes for kit. Jump on a shiny new mountain bike in Amsterdam, where battered antique two-wheelers carry a pair of riders, and you're seen as a superficial nouveau riche m'as-tu-vu (French for "show-off"). Double-up on a utility bicycle in Hamburg and the Hanseatics will think you can't afford a second one. (Plus, there is that little bit about it being semi-illegal.) Likewise, a pair of loose-fitting carpenter jeans is fashionable on the downhill slopes of the Rockies, but you'll feel the collective scorn of the Descente-donning in Courchevel.
While style is indeed a matter of personal expression, there are instances when one should strive to emulate the style elite. After all, why wear something decidedly déclassé that is going to make you stick out like a sore thumb? Surrounded by the sartorial best of European design élan—principally the unflappable panache of the Italians and flair of the French—the best course of action is to hop on the fashion bandwagon. But how?
Fortunately, a handful of top fashion houses are extending helping hands to rescue holiday shoppers from style oblivion. With the know-how of superstar designers, they've unveiled a bevy of products and accessories, often in areas where they've never dabbled before, namely sports and recreation. (Louis Vuitton badminton set or a Chanel quilted leather American football, anyone?) Finally! An easy way to masquerade as a stylish iconoclast and plugged-in fashionista.
In some cases, these items were developed with reputable firms known for having high standards in their fields. Paul Smith's new line of bicycles, for example, was produced with legendary maker Mercian. But they're not being marketed to the niche enthusiasts; these products mean high style at high prices.
On the mountain, at least, this means foregoing the humdrum North Face parka. Instead, 'tis the season for Polo's sleek RLX line, which received the ultimate endorsement a few years back when Ross Powers took the gold in the men's snowboarding half-pipe at the Salt Lake City Olympics. The Rapid One-Piece Softshell for women will keep her warm and Bond-girl stylish—it's the ultimate ski suit to cut a clean line as she cruises and carves.
While completely modern inside, the new line of helmets from German ski specialists Bogner look irresistibly retro. These brain-savers eschew techy bells 'n' whistles in favor of super-strong bamboo that's forged with a perfectly polished slab of stainless steel. The result is the most chic and lightweight two-tone sphere to ever protect a head.
Off the mountain, the choices are equally diverse. Peddle the hedgerow-lined lanes of Devon on a hand-crafted Paul Smith bicycle, created in partnership with one of the last bespoke bike makers in Britain. Then, hit the red clays of France swinging a Chanel carbon fiber racket—one of series of sports gear released by the famed Parisian fashion house in recent years.
If you believe the world's design vanguards, there's no reason to look dowdy this holiday season. They've got the clothing, accessories, equipment and the know-how to ensure triumph among the au fait style mavens. The hardest part will be finding these exclusive items for sale in a store—then flying there to buy them.