YT said it best: “Arc’teryx on me no we don’t rock no Patagonia”. Sitting at the intersection of outdoor wear and streetwear, Arc’teryx has managed to transcend both industries to become the go-to uniform for both hypebeasts and mountain climbers – all by not catering to the hype. But how exactly did the Vancouver-based brand rise to the top?
Founded in 1989 and originally dubbed ‘Rock Solid’, co-founder Jeremy Guard renamed the brand ‘Arc’teryx’ in the same year in homage to the Archaeopteryx, a flying dinosaur that is the ancient common ancestor of the birds around today. The name’s reference was meant to signify the brand’s disruptive evolution within the outdoor industry. By 2009, after producing products which proved to be wildly popular within the climbing and hiking communities, Arc’teryx had expanded to become the go-to adventurer brand – supplying goods for everything from running to skiing.
After existing within the outdoor wear space for decades, then came ‘gorpcore’ – a term coined by The Cut to describe the outdoor-specific offshoot of normcore, which recontextualised purely functional gear into sought-after fashion. Catalysing the movement was Frank Ocean arriving at PFW in 2019, dressed in a mountaineering jacket and dedicated Arc’teryx beanie.
This movement marked the beginning of Arc’teryx rise in the streetwear game. Since then, the brand has capitalised on its newfound mainstream popularity, spotted on everyone from Drake to releasing collabs with streetwear brands such as Palace in recent years. It’s ascension to the upper ranks of streetwear is comparable to Supreme: everyone wants it, everyone’s wearing it. Virgil Abloh even reworked some Arc’teryx gear for Off-White’s AW20 show, further propelling the brand in the streetwear sphere.
However, the brands’ dedication to functionality has never wavered, and aside from the aforementioned occasional collab, it has largely ignored the hype. Instead of capitalising on Virgil’s use of the brands’ jackets in the Off-White show, Arc’teryx simply dismissed it as “unofficial” – implying to Hypebeast that its designs were used without explicit permission.
Similarly, the brand has remained relatively silent in response to its skyrocketing popularity in recent years. Instead, they focus on the bigger picture: sustainable and upcycling initiatives, alongside the maintenance and development of their established reputation in the practical gear world.
But perhaps this is what constitutes its allure: there’s nothing more transparent than a brand bending to the hype, and nothing more intriguing than a brand who forgoes it. It seems that they remain on the path they set out over 30 years ago – to be a disruptive, evolutionary force transgressing fashion’s boundaries, all without trying to.