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The man behind The North Face’s shift from functional to fashionable

the north face 2

Darren Shooter, design director for The North Face, talks to us about the company’s collaboration with British Millerain, skiing in the Swiss mountains, and coming out the other side of the coronavirus lockdown. 

Darren Shooter took on the role of design director at US clothing and outdoor equipment retailer The North Face in 2017, and has since helped transition it from a core outdoor provider to a “current fashion staple”. He joined from Black Mountain Clothing, which he co-founded in 2015, having previously worked in senior design roles for Tommy Hilfiger, LVMH and Björn Borg. 

Darren Shooter, The North Face design director

Darren Shooter, The North Face design director

Founded in 1966 by Doug and Susie Tompkins in San Francisco, The North Face originally began life as a mail order and retail company, selling rock-climbing and camping equipment. The label is now known for its puffer jackets, fashionable fleeces and backpacks.

Now owned by VF Corporation, the company’s global headquarters are based in Denver, Colorado, and the EMEA office is in Stabio, Switzerland, where Shooter is based. 

What’s the first thing you do when you get up in the morning? 

Have breakfast with my wife and kids. I love to have an hour’s family time before diving into the day.

What was your first job? 

A summer internship with Vogue in London. I worked with the styling team before moving into design later that year.

Describe The North Face in one sentence? The world’s leading exploration brand.

What’s your coffee (or tea) order? Black Earl Grey for breakfast and espresso after lunch.

Where is your favourite place to shop? London.

Last fashion purchase? Why did it catch your eye? I’m addicted to vintage military clothing, so it was a 1945 World War II British army smock. It caught my eye because it had never been worn. I love the functionality of military clothing and how everything is designed for a purpose.

Emails or phone calls? Face to face whenever possible. Failing that, a phone call. People these days are obsessed with meeting culture. I’d much rather have a five-minute chat and then crack on.

Most important lesson you’ve learned during your career? Be nice, be humble and always speak your mind. I lived in the Netherlands for 15 years, so I’m used to the Dutch style of directness, which I love. 

What would be your ideal office/meeting space? Large, light, open plan and near a forest. I hate working under artificial lighting, so I always try to work in as much natural light as possible. I also need outside space to be able to think and reset.

What’s your favourite part of the creative process? The journey from blank page to seeing it in the street. There’s nothing better than seeing your ideas come to life. It’s addictive.

What has been your proudest moment since you joined the brand/launched? There are so many. I’m really proud of the British Millerain collection we launched earlier this year. I’m incredibly passionate about British manufacturing and craftsmanship, so to work with the British Millerain team to develop a fabric for The North Face and even do the photoshoot in its factory was just amazing.

What’s the last book you read? Enid Blyton’s Five on a Treasure Island with my 9-year-old son. 

Last holiday? Skiing in Trentio, Italy, just before the Covid-19 outbreak. The following week all the ski resorts in the Alps were closed more than a month early.

Who in the fashion/retail industry inspires you? Growing up in the north of England, I have always been massively inspired by Dame Vivienne Westwood and her rebellious spirit. Her approach to design, fabrication and tailoring has always had a huge influence on my work.

What’s the biggest challenge facing fashion today? The outbreak of Covid-19 and the global lockdown means there are so many challenges facing the fashion industry. From high fashion to fast fashion, I think we all need to take a serious look at how we work, our processes, our supply chains, our calendars, how much we create and what we do with our waste. I really hope we can learn from the lockdown and move forward in a new way.

One piece of advice would you give your younger self? Stay out late, because that’s when the really interesting stuff happens. 

Who do you turn to when you need advice? My wife.

What would we find you doing at the weekend? We live in southern Switzerland on the Italian border, so we’re incredibly lucky to be surrounded by forests, lakes and mountains. In the summer, I love to go running or cycling around lake Lugano and, in the winter, I hit the mountains to ski.

What are you looking forward to most in the year ahead? Right now, after being on lockdown for eight weeks, I most look forward to simply getting back to having the freedom to go out and explore. Living so close to the Italian Lombardy region, the Swiss government has taken the Covid-19 situation extremely seriously from an early stage, so it’s been a very long couple of months. I’m also looking forward to meeting up with my team again, and physically getting our hands back on the product, instead of working virtually.

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