Pursuing Perfect City Clothes with Arc’teryx Veilance
Veilance production images courtesy of Arc’teryx
Veilance is the luxury fashion wing of Arc’teryx, which blends outdoor technology and ergonomics into versatile clothes for the city-dwelling person. Everything is tied back to a stark and vaguely mysterious aesthetic. Basically what we have here is apparel equally suited for biking to work, conducting meetings and looking cool on the street.
To learn more about Veilance, we caught up with designer Lars McKinnon and Arc’teryx lifestyle design director Takanori Kasuga. Topics discussed: professional histories, the nature of Gore-Tex and the unrelenting design mission of Veilance.
Let’s start by talking about your day-to-day roles and how they’re different from each other.
Takanori Kasuga: My title is design director, lifestyle, which includes overseeing Veilance.
When you say you oversee Veilance, what does that mean?
TK: I sit on the product side. With Veilance, Lars has been a great partner in developing the concepts and products. He’s in charge of executing the ideas. From my end, I’m creating the framework and strategy. And also connecting the dots between the different departments, the marketing side and commercial side, building the environment around Veilance.
What was your job before this one?
TK: I’m originally from Japan. I graduated from school there and my first job was for Comme des Garçons working for Junya Watanabe. I moved to New York for Steven Alan. That was the time he created his own collection. Before Arc’teryx I was with Cole Haan. At the time it was very interesting to be able to use Nike technology there. That’s my brief story.
Lars, can we talk about how your job is different from Taka’s?
Lars McKinnon: Absolutely. I’m the designer for Veilance and have been for three years. Every day I’m developing ideas for collections in the future, trying to find new fabrics and solve problems related to temperature or daily activities, and how they relate to the clothing you’re wearing. I’m also physically designing collections. Right now I’m designing Fall 2018. I work with Taka to make sure what we’re offering makes sense commercially, then I try to find ways to make everything interesting and focus on user experience. Everything has to be better than what else is out there. How can we make a sweater better? A pair of pants? I liaise with our factory here to work out these solutions.
Who are Veilance clothes for?
LM: Generally they’re for people living in the city, living active lives. People who work. People who travel for work. Lately we’ve been working on a concept where we build collections around environmental conditions like wind, rain and cold. I don’t design like a lot of people in the outdoor world where it’s really activity-specific. There’s no Veilance jacket for ice climbing, or car commuting versus bus commuting. I try to be a generalist, somewhat.
TK: We are fortunate to work at Arc’teryx because we work next to designers who make gear for extreme conditions, and do it all in-house. We can use what they create for these lifestyle pieces. How can our garments enable you to live your life better? That’s our goal.
LM: Right now Taka and I are wearing prototype T-shirts for Spring 2019. It’s a huge advantage that we can turn around clothes so quickly.
TK: It’s something we adapted from the outdoor clothing process, which is not typical of fashion. Early prototypes, frequent field testing.
It’s like Stone Island, a brand where the cut and style are new but so is the fabric, with original yarns. Everything custom from the ground up.
LM: I love Stone Island for that very reason. I have a deep appreciation for what they do.
How long has Veilance been around?
LM: Its first season was Fall 2009. We launched under a designer called Conroy Nachtigall, who designed until I took over. I worked underneath Conroy as a design assistant for about a year, and previously I’d been working for Arc’teryx in the Law Enforcement and Armed Forces division that they have here. I’ve been here for five years now and I’ve spent about three and a half to four on Veilance. When I took over from Conroy, I felt really happy and fortunate because I was a big fan of the product before I even worked for the company. As soon as I got my foot in the door I expressed my desire to work on it. Luckily Conroy was receptive. As for the aesthetics, there’s a certain idea that Veilance has a defined aesthetic that, while there can be minor changes to the design architecture, the foundation is there and remains. A lot of that comes from the simplicity of how Arc’teryx likes to make patterns. It’s about garments that move well, but also moving seaming away from high abrasion points, move pockets to where they’re most accessible from a variety of positions, those things are inherent to what the design of Veilance is. I like to think there isn’t a big change in aesthetic from one season to another. I don’t think there should be, frankly.
What other parts of the aesthetic are fundamental?
LK: There are certainly angles we come back to time and time again. Nothing locked in and fundamental, though. It comes down to trying to build things in a way that’s simple but also considered, in a way that makes the most sense for the fabrics. That’s the core idea. Certain looks can be achieved in some textiles, as far as design lines, that can’t for others. You can’t push an aesthetic on every garment. It’s more about values, like for example the value of reduction.
Your Anode pants in particular are really cool. On the Internet they look like black pants. You might not notice that they’re made from wool and also nylon. And the nylon feels like cotton. And the wool is extremely soft. What else is easy to miss about these pants from just a glance at an image?
LM: I’m happy to talk about those pants. I was just digging through my fall and winter stuff last night, and pulled those out. I’m wearing them right now. It is rather unfortunate how they get represented online. You can’t see or feel that textile difference that you’re talking about. It’s a comfortable wool face, with a cotton-nylon jersey blend on the back. They both feel great next to the skin. We wanted to make the whole pant out of that soft shell wool, but in the high-abrasion areas, the durability just wasn’t there. So we used a fabric we know really well, that cotton-nylon jersey, and used it for the places that are going to get a lot of wear. It’s a warm pant that’s breathable and comfortable.
The seams on that pant are 100% weird. They’re all perfectly symmetrical, but going at angles you don’t expect.
LM: That’s a really interesting thing about when you start at Arc’teryx. If you’re used to conventional pattern-making, you’re confused. How do these pieces join to become a jacket? Or a pair of pants? It’s all about moving seams away from high-abrasion zones, and allowing for an ergonomic shape in the garment. The structure of the Anode pant allows it to move more freely with the body. That comes from the work we do with Gore-Tex. Gore-Tex is a static fabric, pretty much. No stretch. To make a Gore-Tex garment move with the body, you really need to focus on shape. It can make a really appealing visual. Like you said, the seams are in odd areas, which can be visually attractive. But it’s not arbitrary at all. And you can swing your leg over your bike. Or jog up those stairs. And the look is still refined.
TK: Any seam is a raised area, which is an abrasion risk. If you notice on a shirt, for example, that you don’t see a shoulder seam, that’s because we’re considering you may be wearing a backpack.
Another new product for Nordstrom is the Partition coat. One thing that strikes me when you pick it up is how much it’s one solid piece.
LM: That coat, that car coat shape, is a menswear staple and Veilance has been doing it from the beginning. The version you guys have right now is a great iteration. The textile is an 80 denier nylon textile from Gore-Tex, with a dry hand and a matte face. It feels substantive even though it’s really light. But it’s incredibly durable. Typically at Arc’teryx and at Veilance we use a three-layer laminate from Gore-Tex. What you see on the outside is nylon, very densely woven so it’s water-resistant and abrasion-resistant on its own. That’s treated with a durable, water-repellent finish. Then there’s a layer of expanded tetrapolyeurethane, which is what keeps you dry. And on the inside there’s usually a tricot mesh, which is often a silver or gray color. If you look at Gore-Tex jackets that are made by other companies, they’ll often have a waterproof seam, with one sealing tape with one-inch-wide tape inside. That works. It’s totally waterproof. But we’ve developed our own way of making that seam without external sewing. It looks a lot cleaner. We reduce the seam tape, using 12 millimeters versus the industry standard 25. That increases breathability.
The Mionn IS Comp jacket looks redesigned to me this year. There’s more merino on the back and on the sleeves.
LM: We have what we call the Mionn capsule, which involves jackets, vests and longer coats. We see this range as an insulated middle layer. This idea comes from the outdoor layering world, which we believe in and support at Veilance for urban climates as well. You can wear that jacket, the Mionn Comp, on its own in milder conditions. Overcast. Maybe looks like it’s going to be rainy or windy. If it gets intense outside, you can easily fit it under our Monitor coat, for example, making a really strong combination to protect against wind and rain. On the Mionn Comp jacket it’s a merino-nylon textile we’re using there, a plated knit. The surface is all nylon, which is durable against pilling and for resisting rain. The inside is all merino wool, which is good for comfort and managing moisture. It’s a piece you can wear on its own but it’s designed to be part of this system. Everything in Veilance is meant to work together.
Throughout the Veilance line there’s a lot going on, but when you stand back all the pieces look so simple and elemental. Was that always a guideline, that minimal look?
LM: I would have to say so. That’s a hallmark of the regular Arc’teryx design, which is function first, nothing purely decorative.
Where did the Veilance name come from?
TK: This is based on research, because it was ten years ago when it was named Veilance. But what I know is it’s a combination of three words. The first one is balance, which means to recover and to react. The next is valence, which is the capacity to react with others. The last one is veil, to be secret. So we do have that characteristic of a little bit of secrecy, something hidden, written right into our name. And about our logo, if you look at the V, it’s the Arc’teryx A flipped upside down. Like everything at Arc’teryx and at Veilance, there’s more than immediately meets the eye.