When climber Yvon Chouinard invented his first removable climbing pitons, his goal was to reduce impact on the outdoor world that he loved. Interestingly, while this invention ultimately did reduce physical impact on the outdoors, it also was the beginning of one of the most influential companies in the history of the outdoors industry—a company we know as Patagonia. For decades Patagonia has shaped the way we look at and approach the outdoors with high-performance equipment and apparel. Now in its 40th year, the iconic California-based company has decided to take a look back at its history and commemorate the anniversary with the Legacy Collection—revamped versions of some of Patagonia’s most popular fleeces, jackets, vests, pants, and packs available online and at Patagonia stores now. We caught up with Patagonia designer John Rapp to learn more about what went into creating this special collection.
Why did you guys decide to celebrate Patagonia’s 40th anniversary?
Our founder, Yvon [Chouinard], took the product philosophy of make it, break it, try it, and then improve it, that he developed making climbing equipment and put it into clothing. We wanted to take that benchmark of the 40 years and celebrate everything that he had done with this 40th anniversary collection.
How did you guys come up with the items in the Legacy Collection?
We picked 200 of our most iconic pieces. We got the original garments, turned them inside out, and analyzed them. We took what we have learned now versus then and narrowed them down to the dozen or so that were the most iconic. Then we got to completely re-engineer them and apply all the newest, greenest, most technically functioning fabrics. Our fits have also changed quite a bit in the past 40 years. It embodies our 40 years of making clothing in an unconventional way.
What was the final selection process like?
It was really fun; it wasn’t stressful at all. We had these double roller rolling racks and we went over to our archives—which were in a separate warehouse—and basically grabbed every piece we loved and related to and then went through every catalog we ever put out. Then we looked at the pieces that lasted the longest and that held those colors and silhouettes that got people outside and went with the ones we thought fit that criteria the best.
So you guys have a physical archive of Patagonia gear?
We have a room with tons and tons of boxes; it’s definitely not at all organized. That’s a long-term goal I’d say. It was fun picking through it, though. There was one box where a kid had gotten into a motorcycle accident and had bought a whole climbing kit, so we had this whole virgin time capsule in there, pretty cool.
How did you update this “retro collection” to 21st century Patagonia standards?
Each piece was run through a quality filter, and a footprint filter, so we knew the footprint of each garment and how can we make them in the most ecological way. Part of that is timeless design—having something that you can go back to for years and years. But, instead of making something out of polyester, now it’s 100 percent recycled cotton, or with the Retro X it’s all cutting room scraps from a factory in Italy. We take the scraps, re-shred them, and weave them into a new fabric. So it’s about as close to a closed loop as possible at this point.
Were any past designers involved in the creative process? If so, how?
We actually had three of the parents of people involved in the project work here at some point and then we have many folks that have been here for 40 years. Some of the original designers and pattern makers were able to tell us what they came up with and how they got there. It was a pretty organic process. Because of that we had incredible storytelling about each piece and how they came about.
Is there anything else planned for the 40th?
That is it, I think. It’s kind of interesting because all of our colors and many of our silhouettes and historical processes were brought into our entire fall line [because of the anniversary collection]. In that way we infused what we are doing today with some of those little things from our past.
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