TAKA KASUGA ANDERROLSON HUGHON VEILANCEPAST, PRESENT,AND FUTURE
Veilance’s creative director and former advisor discuss the emerging years of the performance wear industry.
Photos by Paul Won Jeong in Paris
T: So Fall 2019 is Veilance’s 10 year anniversary as we launched in ’09, which you played a significant role in. The last time I visited you in Berlin I heard some of the origin story, but I wanted to start from the pre-Veilance years. You founded Acronym in 1994?
E: Acronym was originally two companies, the first being a freelance design agency where at the beginning we took any job we could get and eventually became more specialized. We (Note: with partner Michaela Sachenbacher) were working on a snowboarding contract which is where we first learned technical outdoor apparel. Later in ’99 we founded the second part of the company to create our own brand. That year I believe was also when Arc’teryx first released outerwear. I remember the industry was blown away by that opening release, like “What the hell is this?”
T: Is that also around the time when you met Tom Herbst (Note: Former Arc’teryx CEO)?
E: Yes, we had been talking and he brought up the WaterTight zippers that you guys had, and actually offered to send me some. And not only did he send the zippers — which at the time you couldn’t get anywhere else — he also gave me a pattern for the zipper garage with instructions. And we’re still using them in the same way now. Our first project with it emerged in 2002, the Kit-1 jacket.
T: I’m curious to hear more about what interested you in functional design.
E: In general? Fundamentally… it’s about so many things. First of all, my parents were both architects and we never had babysitters so my brother and I grew up in the studio. They worked late hours so we’d be there all of the time messing around with the drafting equipment, always surrounded by architecture books. That definitely influenced our upbringing. The other part was martial arts. I was 10 when I started karate, and it was the first time I experienced apparel in the way that one outfit allowed me to do something that another outfit restricted. I drove my mom crazy for years buying pants — I was always throwing kicks in the changing rooms. Those are the main subconscious reasons I was attracted to function. But also because it’s just annoying to have things that don’t work.
T: From there, when did the Veilance project begin? Because it was quite a while after the first time that you met Tom.
E: Yes, I met Tom before Acronym even existed. We kept in touch and would see each other at ISPO, and he eventually came to visit our studio in Munich. He was always just curious about what we were up to. I later went to Vancouver to see him and brought some Acronym prototypes. I did our first product demo outside of our own studio on that trip to Tom and Tyler Jordan (Note: Former Arc’teryx CEO). I was a little nervous, I still remember. Tyler was the one who had the vision of a menswear line on the side of Arc’teryx. He reached out again in 2007 and we started discussing how I could help him set this brand up. There were only a few people in the company who understood the concept at the time, and part of our job was articulating that Veilance had a functional, legitimate problem to solve. Being in the city and being on a mountain is essentially the same thing but with different parameters.
T: How long did you work on Veilance, and who was in that core early group?
E: We worked on Veilance 2.5 - 3 years in total, from 2007 up until the first release in 2009. With Tom, Tyler, Conroy, Kate Patterson — she was the one managing the project.
T: She was the one who found Stephen Mann as well.
E: When we had the second presentation of Stone Island Shadow Project, we were just a couple of months into consulting with Veilance. Stephen was working there at the time under Aitor Throupe. I had invited Kate, which was his introduction to Arc’teryx. It wasn’t for a little while until he got involved, I think he began consulting just as I was leaving.
T: Stephen ended up being one of the longest serving people at Veilance. He definitely helped bridge the gap after Conroy left.
E: I encouraged Arc’teryx to bring him on because he brought a certain context that they were missing. He understood menswear better than anyone I knew at the time and could advise on the small details that really influence the perception of a brand.
T: Can you speak more to how you differentiated this technical menswear capsule outside of the traditional Arc’teryx mainline?
E: Tyler had seen what we were doing and felt we understood the Arc’teryx world and this new direction that he wanted to interlace together. Then it became about shifting from activity based design to more of a geographical based solution. This type of performance apparel is not defined by one activity, because in the course of a day you’ll be doing several different things. In a way it’s more challenging because there are more obstacles to overcome.
T: And the name?
E: We were connected to the author William Gibson through Kate — I believe they are related somehow. In one of the early meetings we were discussing menswear archetypes and I remember saying that we should look at a Buzz Rickson MA-1 for reference, and Kate casually mentioned that Buzz Rickson was visiting her uncle that week. We were all like, “What? Who is your uncle?” The next thing I knew I was invited to a lunch with William Gibson and he showed up wearing an Acronym jacket, which still seems surreal to me today. William joined our next concept session, and it turned out he knew more about historical military apparel than Conroy or myself. One of the big things left to decide was what we were naming this project. William had just finished a book called Spook Country and one of his characters practices a Russian martial arts called Systema, so he proposed System A.
T: I have some random PDFs on my computer where Veilance is referred to as System A.
E: I think the first time you and I connected was because you posted something about it.
T: Gary, my former boss found all of the old documents one day when he was cleaning up his desk.
E: We landed on Veilance based on veiling, covering, surveillance. We were looking for something that wasn’t a word, something that could exist as part of vocabulary but wouldn’t show up in a search engine. At the end of the day after months of going back and forth it was Tyler who had to make the call in order to meet our print deadlines, and he chose Veilance.
T: Was Veilance one of the ideas that you submitted?
E: Yeah, I’m sure I still have the notes document with all of the various options. We spent a lot of time looking at etymologies of words and figuring out past and present meanings of the different components.
T: From what I understand about that time, it was not only the brand that you had to name but the actual category that you were designing into. The market space was a new concept in itself.
E: When we launched Acronym, most people didn’t know what to make of it. If you knew about Acronym, you were either a friend or another designer — those were the only people paying attention. For whatever reason, Arc’teryx and Stone Island both reached out in the same year to ask for help with these capsules. I figured it would be a great opportunity to all come out with the same message and educate the market about a new class of apparel. We were trying to do this by ourselves for years, but the feedback was always “this seems so complicated” or “it’s so expensive.” Once we had three companies on board behind this message we had an actual movement and legitimized voice. We had settled on performance menswear, which to some degree I think has evolved into what kids now call techwear. I think techwear can be misconstrued; you’ll see a piece with a lot of buckles and straps and it’s very complicated but not at all technical.
T: I see that now after 10 years, there are more people trying to get into this space either through new brands or collaborations. What do you think about what is happening in performance wear today versus in 2009?
E: In 10 years I think the entire market has shifted in our direction, and suddenly everything that we’ve been doing has been legitimized. I don’t believe many people know that our brands are behind all of this. We’ve just launched the 16th version of the first jacket that we made with the Arc’teryx WaterTight zipper, and it’s still the best seller. So it feels like we’ve been at this a long time already. Veilance and Shadow Project really crystallized the idea that this concept is not just a single brand, it’s a category with distinct voices and individual expressions.
In 10 years I think the entire market has shifted in our direction, and suddenly everything that we’ve been doing has been legitimized. I don’t believe many people know that our brands are behind all of this.
T: Why do you think performance wear has gained such increasing popularity?
E: I think that sportswear and performance wear and even athleisure are dominating the world because they’re comfortable and functional, that’s it. People are able to take products out of their original context and insert them into their own. It’s why we have that iconic image of Harold Hunter in the Alpha SV. I think it’s the same reason that military in menswear is still relevant, with staple pieces like 501s, Dickies, and the bomber jacket. Even the t-shirt was invented by the US army during World War II to control moisture. Prior to that, no one was wearing short sleeves. Now you can’t imagine the world without a t-shirt, but someone was the first to design it with intent.
T: Lately I’ve been talking about how the modern day uniform has an ultimate functional history behind it. The t-shirt is part of it, along with jeans and sneakers. It’s what everyone wears, but if you trace back you can see they were created for extreme purposes. It’s interesting to me figuring out how we can apply pinnacle outdoor technology in a different more accessible context.
E: I think that even when people aren’t educated about garments they can tell the difference between what functions and what doesn’t. Even if you can’t articulate what a 3-layer fabrication or a WaterTight zipper is, you can still subconsciously tell that these elements aren’t just for decoration.
T: What do you see in the future for performance wear? Where are we going?
E: The realization that we’re all going through now is that our world is a ticking clock with limited resources, and that will naturally shake down the whole industry. Things that are superfluous are becoming less and less viable and acceptable already. Things that are designed to last and be continuously repairable on the other hand I think are becoming more valued. In our world now, the fast fashion idea of wearing something only once is not going to fly. In pre World War II tailoring, your grandfather had a suit jacket specifically made for his body from the best available materials. When he stopped wearing it, it didn’t just go in the garbage, it was passed on to the next generation and re-adjusted. Humans need to consume to survive, but it has to be within the means of the environment to regenerate so that survival is continuous.
T: We’re going back to the mindset of buying less but better. There are two sides to sustainability. One is to create a premium product with a long lifespan, the other is to examine and revolutionize the way we develop at a fundamental level.
E: What else can you say about Veilance now and where you’re taking it?
T: We’re very focused on material development right now, considering the most progressive materials available and figuring out how can we use them to progress the wearer further in all daily pursuits. We take a very technical approach but with real world applications. We’re also exploring women’s for upcoming seasons. Women have the same geographical and physiological obstacles as men, or maybe more, and I haven’t seen them addressed in the performance wear category. I think our job as these original brands is to convert more people into the technical space and show them there are more functional options.
E: It feels like Veilance is coming into its own now and it’s cool to see a distinct and cohesive organization and not just a project that’s happening off to the side. It’s always had the potential. The difference now is it seems the people inside have made the decision and said, “OK, let’s really explore these possibilities.” I’m excited to see it. 10 years, 20 collections. It’s really wild.