Take a Hike: the Rise of Practical Fashion
Over the last year or so, a pretty strange influence has emerged in menswear. Now, I’m not talking strange like Rick Owen’s exposed models or human backpacks (weird bloke).This source is not high fashion, in fact it’s almost anti-fashion.
Picture this: it’s a summer day and your biology class is about to head out on a field trip to do some serious quadrating. The consent form that got sent home for your parents to sign said to wear sensible clothing and shoes. Read: a perfect time to break out those new clothes mum has bought you. When you get to school, you and all your buddies are dripped out, but your teacher is wearing a fleece, maybe a pair of those trousers that can zip off into shorts and an awful pair of hiking boot-trainer things. Well, against all the odds, that ecological steeze would become the exact kind of thing making its way down the runway and garbing cool cats on the streets, with a bit of fashion mixed in of course.
What do The Broken Arm and Salomon have in common, apart from both being French? Well, on the face of it not much. The former is an achingly Parisian retail store with an extremely advanced stocklist, including Our Legacy and Kiko Kostadinov. The latter started out making ski boots and seems to have a predominant market in those late 40-50s dudes who are all sinewy muscle and run ultramarathons (or who feel that they might). However, way back in 2015 the two brands collaborated on Salomon’s Snowcross boot, prompting questions of whether trail shoes were the next big thing. Sure enough, after a few more collaborations, including an excellent take on the XT-4, trail shoes are having a moment as an anti-fashion shoe. Taking the exact opposite approach to the comically oversized (and just dumb) Triple S’s, early adopters made a much more powerful statement by rejecting hype altogether and finding brands that encapsulate function, allowing them to find an honest beauty and pretty great shoes. Major fashion houses, like Balenciaga and Prada, have responded, as ever, by adapting the ’chunky’ trend from 2017 into hiking inspired pairs, which were common in FW19 collections. This hiking influence has continued into SS19 too with Gucci, MSGM and Fendi, among others, all embracing thick soled sandals that wouldn’t look to out of place on some mountain trail worn by a very sunburnt old man. I can’t help but feel, however, that these are a gimmick that won’t last the season out, while the truly innovating brands (Salomon, Hoka, Asics, and the rest) will continue to be worn, crediting their quality.
This appetite for function also extends to clothing too, but in a slightly more hippie-ish, relaxed vibe, as can be seen in the return of Nike ACG. The line originated from Nike Hiking, which as the name suggested, produced proper trail gear. Nike Hiking was started in the 70s in response to the uptake of Nike products by a group of long-haired, LSD-guzzling climbers-cum-hippies called the Stonemasters, who were the physical manifestations of the word ‘steeze’. In order to broaden its market, in typical Nike fashion, ideas that were leading to successful running equipment were incorporated with the Hiking line to create All Conditions Gear, or ACG, in 1989. ACG produced all sorts of clobber for use in all sorts of outdoor activities, most importantly in colour ways that would have made Wainwright blush. Yellows, purples, teals, and pops of neons were mixed in with classic tans and browns. But, this didn’t mean that form trumped function. For legendary designer Tinker Hatfield: “ACG stood for All Conditions Gear and All Conditions means all conditions”. The classic Air Revarderchi (what a name), for example, sported a neoprene inner sock and TPU heel cage for debris defence and support. Then, in 2014, the acronymed line took a sharp left as outerwear-guru Errolson Hugh of (appropriately) ACRONYM was brought in to head up a relaunch. Hugh wasted no time in shedding all colours and primarily focussing on fit. And pockets. Oh, and zips. Although undoubtedly a legend, Hugh’s designs only really appealed to the type of people who wear facemasks and take pictures of themselves on the edge of buildings at night, so didn’t quite have the impact on street fashion that we are interested in. Hugh left ACG in 2018, allowing the line to be taken back to its roots by lead designer James Arizumi, of ‘What the…’ dunks fame, with the first collection released in April this year. The general vibe of the collection harks back to the early nineties, full of fleeces and anoraks in yellows and oranges, but stays true to Tinker’s adage, definitely for ‘all conditions’.
So, what’s going on here? Why are trail shoes big with the cognoscenti? Why is the world’s 3rd largest apparel company shifting positions? And why is everyone wearing a fleece?! Well, firstly because it looks great. But I reckon there is something deeper going on, something that also drove the vintage fashion boom and, arguably, ‘normcore’ in general. My take is that it seems intimately tied to the global consciousness raising surrounding the effects of our consumption patterns. Fashion is the second most polluting industry after fossil fuels, with this effect mainly driven by fast fashion: clothes often available for a fiver with a similarly low level of quality and environmental consideration. While these companies do make large profits, the times seem to be changing. The market research firm Mintel told The Guardian late last year that nearly half of customers polled prefer to buy from brands that are concerned about their environmental impact, with 60% of under-24s reporting this preference. No company represents this better than Patagonia which, unsurprisingly, came in third in Lyst’s ranking of “hottest brands and products”. ‘Gonia sat just behind The North Face, another functional powerhouse, that also put out an environmentalist mind set. While it is probably subconscious, consumers seem to be searching for quality but also an authenticity that doesn’t often come from the larger fashion houses or from fast fashion outlets. Where these two factors meet are in brands that are obsessive over their products, which are made for use and not just looks, such as brands that make hiking equipment. The same phenomenon can be seen in the increased popularity in workwear brands, such as Dickies and Carhartt, that are completely uninterested in fashion but make absolutely amazing quality gear. With these brands comes a certain aesthetic, which is what we see being played out on the streets. So really, the biology teacher you thought was dressed like a cargo dork had it all figured out.