Outside the box wetsuit style meets coldwater function
Surfersvillage Global Surf News, 23 October, 2017 - So many wetsuits today look like art department rejects from the Tron movies (remember Kelly’s white-with-black tape World Title number 11 wetsuit?). Despite current wetsuit tech all being very close to equal at the mid-to-high end price range of suits, several makers want to extoll their tech accomplishments with over-the-top spacesuit designs. That’s why it was refreshing unboxing the Victor 4/3 cold water wetsuit from French wetsuit maker Saint Jacques.
The suit is the antithesis in design of compression-taped future wear that we see on the World Tour. In fact, Saint Jacques bill themselves as a new brand who push style and fashion to the underwater world not as “prete a porter” but instead “wet a porter.” And while it’d be easy to dismiss the line as hipster chic with no function, the suits they make are constructed with the latest, high-end performance materials.
The Victor wetsuit visually conveys style rather than technological athleticism. Which actually works because at this stage in the wetsuit game all companies have access to the same high-quality neoprenes, linings, tapes, zippers and builds. It’s no longer necessary for a wetsuit to visually say “I’m high-tech and space age and here are my compression bands and patterned torque panels to prove it.”
The Victor wetsuit we tested is a 4/3 fullsuit with thick plush interior, outer seam taping, durable kneepads and a design that looks more lobster fisherman than spandex triathelete. And while the suit was overall warm and flextible, let’s first talk about the most obvious difference with this suit, the look.
The “comfy winter sweater” style of the Victor is the result of Saint Jacques silk screening different colours onto the textured gray nylon outer cover of the suit. If the painted pattern wasn’t there on the outer shell of the suit, it could easily look like any ordinary bi-colour wetsuit. But thankfully the artisan approach from the company to all things wet-a-porter makes the Victor a rather cool design.
The material and construction of the Victor follows the standard of most cold-water performance suits. What sets the wetsuit’s construction apart is the choice of inner lining, chest and arm design, outer seam tape and strategically placed drain holes.
We really loved the inner lining on the Victor. It’s a fluffy blend that is comfortable against the skin and very warm. Since the wetsuit industry discovered that textured interior linings keep you warmer by trapping small amounts of air against your body (bodies heat air more efficiently than water) each company has branded their own type of high-pile interior lining. Rip Curl has the flash-dry lining, Billabong has the Furnace Carbon Lining and XCEL has their TDC lining - all different riffs on the same basic air-insulation theme. With the Victor, Saint Jacques chose not to brand the fluffy interior, instead simply calling it a “thermal and quick-dry lining.” The material runs through the torso and thighs of the suit.
The Victor doesn’t use interior tape along the seams as many companies do. There’s a few differing opinions on the use of interior tape along the fluffy linings of wetsuits. One camp says it’s useless since often the fluff of the interior lining prevents the tape from forming a tight seal against the seam and allows water to enter. The other camp says interior tape along plush lined seams creates an effective seal. We know interior tape forms a watertight bond against the smooth nylon that covers most neoprenes because the nylon is relatively flat when compared to textured high-pile materials. Think of it as putting duct tape on a carpet verses duct tape on a wood floor. The tape works differently when applied to different materials.
To offset any water leakage that might get through these seams, Saint Jacques chose to use an outer seam liquid rubber sealant. In my book this is a sure-fire way to maximise the waterproof capabilities of a seam and also add to the seams longevity. The only drawback is that a rubber outer seam seal does not flex as much as an uncovered glued and blind stitched seam.
So it’s more of a choice, yes you can have heaps of seam coverage to keep the water out, but some flexibility will be compromised. In the case of the Victor, they struck a good balance by using the outer seam tape through the torso and legs where you want the most warmth but left the arms and shoulder seams untaped for flexibility. The place where you want most of the flex to be in your wetsuit is the shoulders, upper back and arms so you can paddle freely.
Other bells and whistles on the Victor include a water-lock easy entry YKK chest zip, glideskin neck seal, textured knee pad construction, key pocket, double-embroidered soft logo and textured ankle material.
The last thing we want to mention is the drain holes along the back of the ankle and lower calf muscles. The other Saint Jacques suit, the Stan, uses this design and we really like it. It keeps the suit from ballooning out when you exit the water and allows a place for pee to escape. The three holes on each panel are so small that insulation and warmth aren’t compromised.
In a Nutshell: While on the outside the Victor might look like it follows form over function, the suit is well designed with intelligent choices in materials (state-of-the-art thermoplush lining) and seam construction (outer seam seal along core and legs).
This suit’s a good choice if you want a solid winter suit that’s stylistically different and doesn’t follow the sport-tech-extra-in-a-Tron-movie design of many other brands on the market.