From cliff-side to street corner, The North Face protects pioneers of any landscape. No longer solely for frigid mountaineers; TNF’s evolution spotlights the ingenuity of inner-city youth. Like Dapper Dan reinventing Polo in his Harlem workshop; North Face's audience has finessed the brand to the cultural cutting-edge.
TNF’s impenetrable feather-filled jacket is their hallmark. Its robust fabric shell emits hardiness and quality, making the puffer surprisingly symbiotic with rappers of the same ilk. Since being donned by MCs in the ‘90s, North Face is undergoing a resurgence thanks to Supreme collabs, Drake co-signs and Grime trailblazers. But how did an outdoor sporting brand begin shielding hikers and hip-hop heads alike?
Founders Douglas and Susie Tompkins were lifelong nature junkies. Throughout the '60s, they’d conquered peaks across Colorado, South America and Europe. With help from a $5000 loan, they launched a climbing store in 1966. The North Face was named after the most frosty and precarious side of the mountain. Built on a reputation for quality, their logo of Yosemite Park's Half Dome peak became a bulls-eye for fellow explorers. TNF made climbing poles, jackets, sleeping bags, backpacks; anything a glacial expedition might require. After being bought by fellow trailblazer and businessman Kenneth Klopp, North Face moved to California and was expanded throughout the 1970s. Revolutionary oval-shaped tents broke through that decade, followed by extreme ski-wear during the next.
As TNF flourished into the nineties, it was embraced by inner-city youth. New Yorkers donned the goose down jackets outside apartment stoops, in project hallways and on subway adventures. Locals flipped a brand originally linked to affluent outdoor hobbies for their own means. Wearing The North Face was the closest some teenagers could get to social mobility. This was spearheaded by the Nuptse jacket. Its boxy silhouette, perfectly puffed exterior and protective warmth impacted in ‘92. Whether boosters knabbing it from shelves or graffiti writers who worked two summer jobs to get the funds, a TNF jacket implied style and status. The North Face, savvy to their impact, highlighted famed street-artist Earsnot in 2018.
Following the underground hype, TNF's bubbled silhouette rose to prominence on the shoulders of rap’s golden era. Biggie raps about jacking one during “Dead Wrong.” In a faded snapshot, Mase dons a zip-up next to B.I.G’s trademark sweater. Big L rocks a black blizzard breaker during a ‘97 Croatian interview and Method Man wore a Steep Tech coat on his first single.
TNF’s American popularity simmered during the early Millennium. Meanwhile, things picked up across the pond. U.K farmers admire the jackets for versatility and practicality. English politicians wear The North Face in press shots because it makes them look “respectable.” Grizzled juveniles posted in front of Penbrury Housing Estates are no different.
LDN’s frigid climate requires Fort Knox insulation to buffer a bone-chilling December. Roadmen, named cause they’re always in the streets, need to dress accordingly. Estate soldiers don’t mix labels: The aim is to be consistent. Tech-wear and utility fits are the uniform. Watch any Grime video, Risky Roadz freestyle or Lord of The Mics clash; you’ll spot twenty hangers-on wearing full Nike tracksuits and sturdy TNF storm-beaters.
With a too-brief summer, this is the vibe year-round. If your mum can only afford a single outfit; you’re getting the strongest one out. Photographers like Vicky Grout, Olivia Rose and British shows like Top Boy document the movement perfectly. In uniquely British tongue and cheek, Manchester's Bugzy Malone airs his feelings on a North Face diss song. R&B newcomer Odie named a romantic ballad after the brand. Comedian Michael Dapaah aka Big Shaq made a 2017 smash out of the topic on “Man’s Not Hot.”
As Grime orbits further afield, TNF has come along with it. Honorary roadman Drake (don’t forget the BBK tattoo) sports a leopard print puffer in The Motto. Fellow U.K affiliates A$AP Rocky and Playboi Carti have also donned the feral pattern.