Every December, as if it’s marked in our calendars next to Thanksgiving and Black Friday, the first North Face jacket — often a puffer, but sometimes a fleece — is spotted. Usually a celebrity wears one. (Last year, Kendall Jenner was photographed wearing a brown Nuptse puffer on a rainy day in New York City.) Soon after, the jacket is seen everywhere during Fashion Month, on off-duty models, street style photographers, and Instagram influencers alike. This continues until the warm days of spring, when the jacket usually disappears until November, and the cycle repeats itself. This year, however, we didn’t have to wait until the first day of winter for its debut. Instead, North Face’s stripe logo has been a constant throughout the latter half of the year. More than ever before, the North Face puffer jacket is inescapable.
Three months before the unofficial first day of North Face season, the San Francisco-based outdoors brand made headlines when it announced a collaborative collection with Gucci on TikTok. (How very 2020!) A month later, to Hailey Bieber and Bella Hadid’s delight, the long-awaited collab between MM6 Maison Margiela and North Face launched. Picked up by SSENSE, Shopbop, Farfetch, and more luxury retailers, the capsule, which included circular versions of North Face’s puffer and fleece vests, as well as elbow-length gloves and backpacks, was a hit.
“The collaboration was a cool mix of the performance-wear icon, The North Face, with a fresh, conceptual take in MM6’s signature circle shapes,” Stephanie Roberson, Shopbop’s General Merchandise Manager, tells Refinery29. According to Roberson, Shopbop customers want function but expect a “fashion element,” too, making the partnership between North Face and MM6 a “perfect balance.” Two months later, only one item remains in-stock at the retailer.
Maybe it’s due to the buzzy nature of the brand following both collaborations or the unpredictable weather this year, but North Face is seeing higher interest than usual. According to fashion search engine Lyst, in November, search for the brand’s puffer jackets was up 150% month-over-month. Demand for the Nuptse puffer alone grew 71%, making the jacket one of the most-viewed products from the brand on the site.
“Celebrities and designers are all seeing the value in heritage brands and are eager to support the comeback,” says Roberson. North Face has always been a fan of collaborations — in 2006, the brand entered into a long-term partnership with Japanese fashion label Junya Watanabe, only to partner with Supreme the next year. Still, never before had the brand partnered with a luxury name as universally known and revered as Gucci. The rising interest could also have something to do with models Emily Ratajkowski and Bella Hadid recently being photographed wearing Nuptse puffers of their own.
But while North Face jackets are seeing an increased interest from shoppers, 2020 is hardly the golden age for the company that’s been around since 1966. It reached the height of its popularity in the ‘90s. During this time, music videos (still on MTV) saw East Coast rap artists like LL Cool J and Method Man don North Face jackets. According to The Cut, the Nuptse jacket’s popularity among prep school kids throughout the decade also brought about a heyday for the brand in New York.
Still, given the year we’ve had, its takeover isn’t coincidental or seasonal. “Dipping into throwback trends and brands provides a certain nostalgic warmth and feeling of optimism,” Roberson says. “Given all of the challenges we’ve faced in 2020, it's no surprise that shoppers are eager to seek out comfort and familiarity in the form of old trends that are coming back.”
Growing up in the 2000s, I saw tabloid photos of Jennifer Aniston, The L Word’s Erin Daniels, Halle Berry, and more celebrities wearing their North Face jackets at Sundance or with UGGs during breaks in filming. Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie posed together wearing baby blue North Face coats at the film festival in 2004. Having grown up in a small, midwestern suburb of Chicago, the practicality of a North Face coat made them just as popular for dads on the weekend and moms before 8 a.m. (or vice versa).
Today, during a year where comfort trumps style, it’s no wonder that the puffy, cloud-like silhouette of a North Face jacket (and UGG boots, Croc clogs, and Birkenstock sandals, etc.) is skyrocketing again. Add in the ubiquity of North Face jackets come winter in a year where little is familiar, as well as the brand’s long-standing focus on quality, and you have a garment ripe for a boost in popularity.
Personally, the unknown is no longer exciting for me. Having worn my North Face jacket from the ages of 12 to 18, I’m in it for the comfort of knowing what you’re going to get — the sheer lack of surprise that comes with opening a package marked with the brand’s ever-present logo. I’ve experienced enough mystery in 2020 alone to last me a lifetime. I’ll take the familiarity of a North Face jacket any day.