Cracking The North Face Code

How to reach the summit of cool

Words: Daniël Geldenhuys | Photographs: supplied

On the surface The North Face is a utilitarian brand, designed for anyone about to brave extreme weather conditions. It's also the type of thing an off-duty fifty-something engineer would wear to dinner with his family. And yet, any fashion editor or street style star would gladly be seen wearing it to fashion week. The North Face's rise to fashion fame involved more than just their Supreme collaboration, and it serves as in interesting case study on what we deem fashionable, and how items of clothing can cross the line from something you need to something you also truly want.

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The original designers (who probably didn't think of themselves as such) were San Francisco natives Douglas Tompkins and Susie Tompkins Buell. They created The North Face in 1966 as an outdoor performance brand, with no intention of breaking into the fashion world. The foundations for the brand's current fashion fame were laid by rappers and graffiti artists in the late 1980s UK and USA: The North Face was their brand of choice for navigating the subzero winter temperatures, slowly permeating into their videos and lyrics. 

Over time and through the work of artists like Wu-Tang and LL Cool J, The North Face evolved from being a high-quality weather-proofing purchase to one that showed your allegiance to a cultural movement. Since it was already a part of the streetwear language, it made sense for Supreme to approach The North Face for a collaboration in 2007. Subsequent collabs with Sacai and Junya Watanabe, as well as the launch of The North Face Black Label, have positioned the brand firmly in the fashion sphere. 

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You might argue The North Face's fashion hype phase is over. True, but there's still something to be said for wearing good old fashioned original North Face. Today, luxury brands are fighting for ways to show a sense of authenticity through resonance – Vetements' famous DHL t-shirt and Versace's Fall 2018 Menswear Ford-branded separates are proof. Add to that the current infatuation with extreme sports, and you can feel more than confident stepping out the door in The North Face.

The main factor separating the engineer dads (they're still out there) from the street style kids is intention. When incorporated into a stylish wardrobe, The North Face is elevated from its utilitarian roots into something far more sartorial. As beautiful as all the designer collaborations and high-end versions of the label are, it's arguably cooler to wear its most basic iteration, styled with a knowing fashion eye. The sense of authenticity you're conveying with an outfit like that can be conveyed with other unexpected brands too. Once it catches on with a few friends, you might find you're starting a new movement. The time is now.

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