Sportswear Pioneer Hans Hess Passes Away

Medal tailor, suit professor – the distinctions that Hans Hess has received in the course of his successful career are numerous. What they had in common, however, was always what they stood for: a successful entrepreneur and inventor who made a significant contribution to the great success of the Swiss Ski Team and raised the sport as a whole to new dimensions. Hans passed away about two weeks ago. He was 90 years old.

Inventor of the modern ski suit

Hans Hess is regarded as the inventor of modern racing gear; he was the first to envision and develop a one-piece racewear suit. Together with his neighbor and diving pioneer Hannes Keller, he came up with the idea of ​​using his technical know-how to develop an aerodynamic alpine racing suit while visiting the Lauberhorn races. The flapping trousers when jumping over the dog's head made "a noise as if an express train were passing by," Hess once explained to the "Wiler Nachrichten". Although he had previously developed a suit for deep sea diving together with Hannes Keller, he had no experience in developing clothing for skiing. But he didn't let that dissuade him; Hess had tasted blood and henceforth did everything to

In 1969 he founded Skin AG with Hannes Keller, which set itself the goal of producing ski suits that fit like a second skin. In order to gain experience, Hess did not shy away from unconventional methods: His wife Edith's ski pants, for example, had to believe in them so that Hess could study their structure and inner workings, and the first suits developed were worn by the Hess couple themselves on the slopes tested - which made them both victims of scorn and ridicule.

But with his own experience and tests in the wind tunnel, Hess was able to refine his developments more and more, and from 1971 Skin AG dressed the Swiss national alpine team. In the same year, the Japanese textile manufacturer Descente became aware of Hess' high-tech suits. Interest in working together grew when the Swiss ski delegation enjoyed great success at the 1972 Winter Olympics, winning three golds, two silvers and one bronze. Hess had always vehemently denied that his suits alone were responsible for this. "The athletes are the basis for success," he explained to the newspaper. But his work attracted attention - and because Skin AG could hardly be managed cost-effectively at that time, Hess signed the offered contract with Descente. This in turn led to great fear of loss in Switzerland. After the successes, the suits developed by Hess were by no means to be dispensed with, but Descente was not yet part of the Swiss Ski Pool at that time. The brand was soon included in these, and in 1978 the Japanese manufacturer finally became the official outfitter of the Alpines. And he remained so to this day.

Hans Hess also benefited economically from the collaboration with Descente. He received a steady wage from Japan while still being able to carry out his work in the studio in Switzerland. Finally, in 1979, he founded Hans Hess Sport Engineering AG. Although Hans Hess, in his modest manner, always held the athletes responsible for the success of the Swiss Alpine Team, his major contribution to the numerous achievements in the World Cup and at major events is undisputed. "Hans Hess was one of the master builders of the Swiss over-successes in alpine skiing - for decades," says Urs Lehmann, President of Swiss-Ski. "With and thanks to Hans, we were able to celebrate and enjoy many successes."

30 sports benefited

In the further course of his career, the pioneer of aerodynamic sportswear outfitted numerous other athletes. The effect on the development of the individual sports was and is immense. Cyclists, figure skaters, motorcyclists, swimmers, ski jumpers and many other athletes from a total of 30 sports have benefited from the meticulous technological tinkering of the textile engineer over the years. In 1994, at the age of 62, Hess retired without forgetting to appoint a successor at Swiss-Ski and in the Swiss Ski Pool. After years together, the former men's head coach Karl Frehsner shaped the development of racing suits,

Meanwhile, Hess retired with his wife Edith Hess at their home in Elgg ZH, always remaining a valued and present member of the Swiss-Ski family. In addition to his wife, he leaves behind a son Arno.

Hans Hess' extraordinary career and the meticulousness and passion with which he devoted himself to the development of sportswear throughout his life were examined in more detail in the 2018 book "Der Medalen-Schneider" by Ines Rütten. Given the successes of the athletes equipped by Hess, it is not surprising that the book about the scientist is subtitled “How Hans Hess helped athletes from all over the world to win gold”.

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