LONDON, United Kingdom — The North Face has teamed up with Sacai in a bid to target high fashion consumers as successfully as a tie-up with Supreme boosted its appeal in the streetwear community.
Initially previewed at Sacai’s Autumn/Winter 2017 menswear show in Paris, the 17-piece capsule will be sold through Dover Street Market. It includes black-and-white padded puffa coats which take inspiration from The North Face’s classic Mountain and Nuptse jackets and fur-trimmed caps.
“I’ve always been inspired by the idea of performance brands,” Sacai founder and designer Chitose Abe tells BoF. “The North Face is a perfect example… I’ve worn their coats myself. It’s a very pure brand — the function is never compromised by the design but is always an integral part of it.”
The North Face — founded in 1966 and named after the coldest, most unforgiving side of a mountain — has long attracted a cult following on city streets, becoming the popular with rappers: Wu-Tang Clan wore one in the 1993 video for "Method Man", while more recently, Drake wore a vintage 1986 North Face x Apple jacket, reportedly bought on eBay for $825. Its links to streetwear have also been bouyed by product collaborations with Supreme, which have included classic puffa jackets emblazoned with words by civil rights activist Malcolm X.
But this season, The North Face has adopted a new high-fashion focus. Sacai and Junya Watanabe (which The North Face has also partnered with for Autumn/Winter 2017) are more intellectual fashion brands, revered for their innovative and often complex approach.
As the world’s population grows increasingly urban, the opportunities are much larger than alpine exploration
Collaborations between high-end outdoors brands and designer labels are not new, but becoming more frequent: Canada Goose recently teamed up with Vetements, while Moncler, which has previously worked with Off-White and Greg Lauren, is set to collaborate with Craig Green. They can help to attract new customers and position outdoor brands as fashionable as well as practical, unlocking new growth opportunities. They are also a way to earn media impressions and stay present in the minds of consumers in a world where attention moves at the speed of Instagram.
“Partnerships certainly help attract new audiences to our brand, and we are developing this line because we believe that “outdoor” as a category is bigger than “the mountains”, vice president and managing director of The North Face Asia Pacific Eric Tosello tells BoF. “We have a unique opportunity to equip people with performance-driven yet stylish products suited for urban, outdoor life. As the world’s population grows increasingly urban, the opportunities are much larger than alpine exploration.”
The fact that both Sacai and Junya Watanabe are Japanese reflects The North Face's focus on the Asia region. The North Face generated global sales revenues of $2.3 billion in 2016, down 2 percent year on year, but saw a double-digit decline in Asia revenues.
“[There is a] particular emphasis on the Asia Pacific region,” says Tosello. Indeed, in April, The North Face partnered with Japanese label Mastermind World for its Urban Exploration line on a collection of Gore-Tex puffer jackets and backpacks in camouflage, that launched in Beijing. The North Face’s Urban Exploration line — which has its own separate website and with its own design team based in Japan — is marketed as a “downtown expression” of the brand, focusing a more stylish aesthetic while still crafted from technology-enhanced fabrics. The lookbook uses only Asian models.
For Sacai, beyond a cash injection, one of the benefits of working with The North Face is the label's expertise. In a similar way that Mackintosh manufactures raincoats for Céline and Balenciaga, in collaborating with The North Face, Sacai has turned to the best possible manufacturer to ensure the outerwear delivers in terms of both style and performance. The North Face makes “products that are designed with function and utility in mind,” says Abe.
Editor's Note: This article was revised on 30 August, 2017. Due to an editing error, a previous version of this article suggested that The North Face manufactured Sacai's outerwear. This is incorrect.