Patagonia Modernizes Its Most Iconic Activewear

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Courtesy Patagonia

You probably remember buying your first piece from Patagonia before your first backcountry trip or the first day of college. More likely than not, that durable jacket or shirt is still in your closet. Patagonia rose from rebel roots by making activewear that had all the function of expedition gear, but looked completely normal in the stands at a football game. For its 40th anniversary, the company is feeding our nostalgia for trips gone by and reviving icons of the past four decades. For the new Legacy Collection, available September 1, Patagonia’s designers got together with founder Yvon Chouinard and friends – the brand’s first makers, testers, and wearers – to create a 10-piece range with modern materials and a less bulky fit, but that keeps an original eye on honed functionality.

For those who don’t know Patagonia’s backstory, the company’s history is worth studying. Chouinard was a 14-year-old member of the Southern California Falconry Club in 1953 when he got his start as a climber. In 1957, he taught himself how to blacksmith so he could forge and use his own hard-steel (rather than soft-iron) pitons, which he tested on ascents in the Yosemite Valley. As he told ‘Men’s Journal’ in a 2005 interview, “The innovation was driven by making the stuff for ourselves.” Soon he was surfing the coast from Big Sur to San Diego and cutting out pitons on the beach. He also followed the climbing seasons in Yosemite (he dodged park rangers who were out to evict campers who’d stayed past their two-week limit) with trips to Wyoming, Canada, and the Alps, where he sold handmade gear to support his rather singular lifestyle. Chouinard subsisted on tinned cat food from a damaged-can store.

Chouinard Equipment, established in 1965, was behind the game-changing switch from the environmentally damaging piton to the aluminum chock that could be wedged by hand. Having changed climbing for the better, Chouinard brought a technical approach to attire. Climbers had been wearing cutoff chinos and thrift-store dress shirts, but in 1970, Chouinard bought a regulation rugby shirt in the U.K. because its overbuilt collar kept hardware slings from cutting into his neck. He began to import these colorful shirts and other items from his explorations: polyurethane rain cagoules [jackets and coats] and bivouac sacks from Scotland, boiled-wool gloves from Austria. The self-developed line, Patagonia, was next. An early catalog evoked “romantic visions of glaciers tumbling into fjords, jagged windswept peaks, gauchos, and condors.” That was a few years before the debut of Bruce Chatwin’s classic travel narrative “In Patagonia,” which charted the evocative inspiration of those five syllables. “Patagonia is the farthest place to which man walked from his place of origins. It is therefore a symbol of his restlessness.”

“We were kind of blacksmiths making clothes,” Chouinard has said, but that shortchanges the many innovations that came out of Patagonia headquarters. (Forget Apple and Google, Patagonia was the original California tech company at the forefront of ideas like open offices, employee cafeterias, and on-site child care.) A history of gear can be mapped through inventions such as Capilene and Synchilla and styles that include Stand-Up, All-Wear, and Snap-T, which – to a certain segment of the population anyway – are phrases that hold tremendous weight.

If you need a reboot and a reminder of how far we’ve come as travelers and in terms of clothing, the Legacy Collection is for you. We’re highlighting some of our favorite pieces. Click the link at the top for a slideshow of archival inspirations and their 2013 reinterpretations.

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