Outdoor

A short historical past of the north wall denali fleece

Jacob Buchanan immediately puts on the fleece when he notices it in Hope Restored, a thrift store in Searcy, Arkansas. It's a light yellow hue that Buchanan has never seen before, and it was made by North Face – a recognizable, valued brand. Result.

Finding and reselling clothes is partly how Buchanan supports itself. He not only teaches English at high school, but also runs an online shop via the Depop app. He tries to reduce his purchases (his inventory starts going to his daughter's kindergarten), but ends up buying the north wall Denali fleece costs $ 1 anyway because he knows he can sell it for a lot more.

Over the years, people have worn the versatile Denali as an outdoor jacket, as streetwear and as a fashion statement. However, one thing cannot be denied: only a few items of clothing have remained in popular culture as long as this 32-year-old fleece.

(Photo: Jake Buchanan)

Decades before the fleece was a golden goose for vintage retailers, it was a technical mid-layer, the early iteration of which was worn by Todd Skinner and Paul Piana on the first free climb of the El Capitan Salathé Wall. On June 15, 1988, after 30 days on the wall, Skinner and Piana made history by bumping into the 3,000-foot face. Shortly thereafter, the Denali also gained traction with occasional climbers. Tim Bantle, managing director According to the rise of Denali in the North Face lifestyle department, the rise of Denali was linked to the rise of recreational mountaineering and another global trend: the deregulation of the aviation industry in the early 1980s. Suddenly, travel and exploration were affordable for Weekend warriors as well as professional athletes. In the fall of 1988, the North Face developed its expedition system: a range of equipment that was tested on the actual Denali summit, but ground for Mount Everest and the Himalayas. The collection included shells, down jackets, tents, ankle boots, backpacks and of course the Denali fleece.

Conrad Anker wore the North Face Denali fleece during a winter ascent by Ama Dablam in 1990.Conrad Anker wore the North Face Denali fleece during a winter ascent by Ama Dablam in 1990. (Photo: Chris Nobel)

Conrad Anker, a mountaineer sponsored by North Face since 1983, was one of the first to actually do so Wear the fleece on Denali in 1989, although he says that the first "big" expedition on which he undertook the jacket was in December 1990 to Ama Dablam, Nepal. He liked the jacket because of its technical skills and because it served as an excellent makeshift pillow when turned inside out. The wear marks on the shoulders made the piece durable, and the Professor Patches on the elbows gave him cover while climbing in chimneys. The pockets also kept his food warm. These combined properties made the fleece anchor its mid-range at the time, although it now appears to be heavy compared to other lighter and comparatively warm insulated jackets.

Over the years, says Anker, his yellow fleece has accumulated a "worthy patina". of dirt from the occupation of the storage ovens on expeditions to Antarctica in 1992, Asian Khan Tengri in 1993 and Aksu in 1995 and South American Torre Egger in 1995, and on several climbs from El Capitan in Yosemite.

In 1989, just one year after the launch of the fleece, Anker noticed a growing number of climbers attracting the Denali. However, something else gave him a hint on the growing popularity of North Face as a brand: "When she appeared in music videos, it suddenly felt like she had become mainstream," says Anker.

Bantle compares the study of why this jacket permeated popular culture in the 1980s to trying to find out what made people wear Air Jordans as Michael Jordan played for the Chicago Bulls. "It's a cultural phenomenon that you recognize as a trend, but you can't make a one-to-one relationship between them. It stimulates people's imaginations and is embedded in the culture in a way that we don't really understand can, ”Bantle wrote in an email.

Since its release in the late 1980s, the jacket has entered and left the public in waves. The North Face Denali fleece hibernates over long distances like a cicada, and then begins a season with such strength that you cannot remember a time when it was not.

In the 1990s, according to Bantle, consumers – not only in mountain towns, but also in hubs like Chicago and New York – adopted the expedition system as protection against brutal winters. In the late morning hours, the fleece was a staple among schoolchildren and students, the focus of an outfit made of leggings and Uggs. In 2010, when I was in seventh grade, I asked my parents to take me to Dick & # 39; s Sporting Goods so I could invest in my own Denali fleece. My longing for the jacket had nothing to do with their technical qualities or their connection to athletes, and it had everything to do with all the cool girls in middle school wearing them.

Although he doesn't know the exact number of North Face nonwovens in circulation, Bantle says that he's a top performer for the brand. In addition to the Denali, Bantle monitors other products from the north wall that have been in circulation for decades, including the Himalayan parka and the Nuptse and Mountain Lite jackets. He says that if the brand were tested over a period of 20 years, the Denali would be the best-selling nonwoven. Combined with the fact that North Face is one of the largest outdoor brands in the world, Bantle is "ready to bet that Denali is the best-selling fleece ever".

The continuing prevalence of the midlayer is due to a confluence of factors, some of which are obvious and some of which are blurred.

One reason is the brand's reputation for producing durable, high-quality equipment. This is based on the fandom of countless consumers, such as Lei Takanashi, a New York-based writer and collector of vintage North Face gear. Takanashi's hobby is driven by his penchant for fashion and streetwear, not the desire to equip himself for outdoor activities. "I mean, I like to go hiking," he says with a giggle. His introduction to the brand was facilitated by North Face's collaboration with streetwear brand Supreme in 2007 and via Instagram, where he admired New York graffiti artists and rappers wearing the vintage gear. As his interest deepened, Takanashi was impressed not only by the aesthetics of the garments, but also by the quality: Even with 30 year old jackets, the zips work perfectly. The Gore-Tex continues to repel rain, although a small DWR treatment may be required.

supreme-tnf-collab_h.jpg(Photo: Courtesy Supreme)

Relaunches, like the recent revival of the Denali in 1995, also maintain the high quality level of the brand and create new enthusiasm for a product. At several points during the existence of the fleece, the North Face worked with Supreme to produce the jacket in bright colors for limited editions. The 1995 version was last restarted in September 2019.

"There may be little details here and there that you won't get with a retro release, but mostly they do damn good," says Takanashi.

However, the north wall doesn't always make it. Last year the brand launched the 1994 Mountain Light Jacket again. Despite his interest in the brand's vintage clothing, Takanashi was not forced to buy it because the fabric of the revised version did not reproduce the unique sheen of the original.

Denali fleece in particular is not a hot commodity in the hardcore collector community, says Takanashi, mainly because it was always available. However, this does not mean that its aesthetics do not appeal to a wider audience. The color-blocked design of the jacket has a functional origin – high contrast and good visibility are essential in the mountains – but also offers reduced coolness when worn on the road.

The reappearance of the Denali fleece coincided with another trend: the rise of the Gorpcore. Gorpcore was coined by Jason Chen in The Cut in 2017 and refers to the cross-pollination of functional outerwear and high fashion. Marc Richardson, a fashion writer and photographer, sees the trend as a modern anti-establishment response to the fashion industry, much like Normcore's mildness was a response to the trend of reworked, label-owned clothing in the early 2010s. Similarly, according to Richardson, Gorpcore means avoiding the latest fashion collection for a combination of functional pieces. "I'm going to put together this North Face fleece and these Patagonia shorts and these chunky New Balance sneakers in a stylish way," said Richardson.

The vintage aesthetics of Denali fleece also add to its lasting appeal. It appeals to modern consumers who are wary of fast fashion. While the recent Denali revision is technically not qualified as vintage (it's still a brand new fleece), the style is still retro. In addition, some versions of the Denali are made from recycled polyester, bonus points for an environmentally conscious audience.

But there is also something indescribable about its continued popularity. Bantle calls articles such as Denali "perfect articles" – clothing that crosses a relevant threshold and is constantly being rediscovered and contextualized by new generations. Over time, when this process is repeated, the products become icons. Bantle compares the Denali fleece with Levi's 501 jeans, the Dr. Martens boots, the Vans Old Skool shoe and the Birkenstock sandal.

tnf-urban-ausstatter-tweet_h(Photo: @Rachel_Sennott)

With each rediscovery in a new context, the Denali moves further away from its origin on the Salathé wall. While it's still hanging on the shelves in equipment stores, it can also be found in Urban Outfitters' vintage department or sold for $ 1 at a Arkansas convenience store. I asked Bantle if satiety was a problem. He told me that the north wall takes into account the production frequency. Ultimately, Bantle sees an Urban Outfitters customer's interest in Denali as a path to the next generation.

Anker, who defines himself as an optimist, also hopes for the prospect that the fleece will be taken over by new groups, even if this is not the case originally intended purpose. This is because for mountaineers, people's affinity for fleece is more than the trendiness or the technical data of Denali. It's about identifying with what the garment symbolizes: adventure and exploration. "It is very special for someone who is 22 years old and tries it out for the first time," says Anker.

He's not the only one who thinks that. I saw Jacob Buchanan's depop yesterday. He sold the light yellow $ 1 Denali fleece for $ 70.

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Main photo: Bill Hatcher

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