We often make jokes about the Heritage wave, a series of trends that gave all us style bloggers jobs. It's not gone—I still see dudes walking around Brooklyn in Filson jackets, cuffed raw denim and Bean Boots, but their kind is fading. As we joke, we haven't given much time to what's bubbled up to fill the heritage hole, though amongst a select group of editors, buyers, writers, west coast fashion bros and Japanese mag junkies, the heir apparent has become increasingly clear: Outdoor is menswear's new Heritage.
Camp, hike, climb, bike—these activities, and the desire to look like you partake in them, is replacing the mustache twirling and vintage motorcycling heritage heads aspired to. When I saw the mountain trend questionably executed in Off-White's F/W 15 collection, of all places, I knew it was time to speak up. Time for Four Pins to drop the definitive manifesto.
For the outdoor-meets-fashion space, the abandoned heritage bro is an easy target. Both markets focus on quality, construction and function. This shit totally isn't about vanity. It has a purpose. Where the ethos associated with heritage was varying and often nebulous—an appreciation for craft, a support of American production, a profound love for your grandfather—outdoor has a clearer vision. This is clothing to wear outside, in the rain and wind, probably while sweating and eating trail mix. Weight and temperature are key, water-resistance a constant challenge. Nylons or naturals? Each has their pros and cons.
To be clear, mainstream outdoor is a massive, mostly hideous industry. It only takes one stroll through REI to know that. But recently a wave of brands have popped up to service dudes who want gear that works good and actually, you know, looks good. These are not clothes for the granola dad who wants khakis that zip off just below the cargo pockets. Though, at the rate we're moving, someone will make a dope slimmed-down pair of zip-offs within the next few seasons.
And recently, the movement has hit the runway. Last year, Patrik Ervell dropped some hot fire fleece that looked like refined Patagonia. This year, we saw Fendi trot out some tepid fleeces that looked like worse-fitting Ervell rips. Virgil Alboh spoke about finding inspiration for his new collection in the aesthetics of vintage mountain climbing. To anyone paying attention to menswear and menswear press for more than a few years, that's nothing new. Nigel Cabourn basically built his entire brand on vintage mountaineering. Dude made real ass, $1,800 replicas of Sir Edmund Hillary's dope Everest parka. I don't think Abloh is rehashing 5-year-old heritage menswear trends. I think the same influences reached him through different avenues. Like a lot of dudes before him, he saw the utility of outdoor gear in urban wear. He created his own interpretation and sent the models out there with the telltale red laces and all.
Sadly though, modern runways are often followers of trends rather than leaders, with smaller independent brands doing the innovating in terms of both styling and construction. It's there that the action is happening in outdoors, too. Like with Americana before it, the Japanese have taken vintage outdoor and reinterpreted everything with better fit and better style like only they seemingly can. Guys such as myself have adopted yama-girl styling because long johns under shorts is wild comfortable and pockets are great for storing things. Manastash is making Pertex baseball shirts, Tyvek puffer vests and fleece tees with waterproof pockets. Large Japanese brands like Snow Peak and MontBell have opened flagship stores in famously outdoorsy American cities like Portland and Boulder.
Flip through any issue of GO OUT and you'll see a dozen dope outdoor brands you've probably never heard of and weird collaborations from brands you do (like these nonnative x montrail trail runners). Many of these brands are vintage US identities licensed by Japanese companies, like Rocky Mountain Featherbed, a practice familiar to the Americana trend.
Granted, not everybody is hiking and camping, of course, but they're still dressing like they do and that makes sense.
Stateside, Kyle Ng's AXS Folk Technology has mixed vintage climbing style with a baked, tie-dyed Californian vibes. Poler applied a skate brand approach and vintage aesthetic to mainstream camping and became one of the hottest independent brands in America, collaborating with the likes of Nike SB and Girl. Topo Designs has killed the bag game, making trendy, but stylish, American-made packs and have now moved into apparel.
And not to get circle-jerky, but one reason outdoor is taking root is that a lot of the people behind these brands actually live the shit they sell. Yung Thrope helped style Academy Award nominated gawdess Reese Witherspoon in Wild, a movie which itself might fuel a mini bump in mainstream outdoorsiness. Mikael Kennedy shoots some of the best fashion photography in the game while living outdoors almost more than indoors. Andrea Westerlind, responsible for bringing the once ubiquitous Fjallraven Kanken backpack to America, has built a burgeoning empire bringing dope outdoor brands to the world's best boutiques. Whereas the founder of your favorite heritage start-up may have been great at getting street styled and gathering investors, a lot of the men and women in outdoor do great business all the while managing to still climb mountains and shit. After long days at the Vegas trade shows, when corny brand bros are trying to find which industry party has the open bar and the hottest babes, the outdoor dudes are camping in the desert, shotgunning beers and shooting BB guns around a massive fire.
Don't be naive however, big retailers and big brands are catching the wave. Giants like Nordstrom and J.Crew have dabbled with tiny outdoor brands and seen impressive sell-through rates. Urban Outfitters dropped mad ducats into Without Walls, a retail concept wholly hinged on the idea that it's, like, good to get outside. Even Nike revived their legendary ACG line, though they went a little more tech and little less hike as far as 2015's hottest trends are concerned.
And, of course, we've all witnessed the recent rise of Patagonia, the pinnacle of moderately-priced, well-designed, adequately-made outdoor wear. And what about The North Face, who ran their first TV ad in years, mixing their traditional Everest-scaling visuals with flashes of some misguided, "Go Forth" style youth bait? They're scared of the Patagucci and they should be.
Patagonia was in early on the influencer-as-marketing wave, and though that market has tailed off a bit (it’s still more prevalent in outdoor than in mainline menswear), they opened a lot of industry eyes to a certian little secret: Outdoor is wild easy to market. Pictures of mountains kill it on Instagram almost as thoroughly as pictures of big ol' asses. While you could nitpick the shit out of Americana—jeans shouldn't cost that much, haircuts shouldn't be that cute—it's really hard to argue that nature isn't tight. Try it. Sure, you can sit behind your splooge-spackled keyboard and make jokes. I've got love for my tried and true city boys. But when you actually climb a mountain and look down on all the plebs who are too fat to climb a mountain, it feels fucking great. And you'll probably take a picture of the dope kit that got you there.
Granted, not everybody is hiking and camping, of course, but they're still dressing like they do and that makes sense. I'm writing this from NYC, the epicenter of American fashion. Looking outside, the sidewalks are slick with dirty sheets of ice. For two months all I've worn are rare collab Danners, even though I was sad when I saw another dude with the same rare boots, but wasn't really that sad because it was an icy Asian dude and it's inherently way harder to be more rare than an Asian when you're white. My point is, even in New York, where I've been straight up laughed at for inviting people on a hike, rugged apparel MAKES SENSE. If dudes can buy boots that look like this rather than boots that look like this, they'll be much more inclined to hike.
But there's work to do yet. Lawrence told me, "The only outdoor brand I know is Patagucci." My homie that works at Patagonia on Bowery says half the people coming into the store have never evern heard of the brand. Dawgie, if someone on the West Coast said they'd never heard of Patagucci, they'd immediately be jettisoned to a nature camp/gulag and forced to hike 100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. But the seeds are planted. A handful of savvy retailers and editors are taking notice of these innovative brands and designers. The mix of tech-y gear I've acquired for occasionally sleeping in the woods has meshed nicely with my more traditional garb and settled into what may be my style sweet spot aka everyone's personal style holy grail. The future of the market is only just now beginning to become clear and, hopefully, if I can be sincere for one fucking second with you goddamn savages, I fully support the dopeness of clothes helping people actually get out of their homes, off their phones and into some fresh ass trees.
Angelo Spagnolo is a writer living in New York. You can follow him on Twitter here.