How MM6 Maison Margiela and The North Face’s collaboration came full circle
The teams behind the two iconic brands discuss how they fused their heritages to create a whole greater than the sum of its parts.
Collage by Calum Glenday
“Looking at collaborations, it's quite rare that both brands are 100% present, that it becomes something more than just tweaking a classic,” the MM6 Maison Margiela team say. “We wanted to be sure that one plus one made three, not just two; that [what we created] was more than what either of us could achieve alone.” They’re referring to AW20 partnership with The North Face, the iconic outdoor gear brand.
It was an unexpected pairing, to say the least. Rarely do the Bay Area-born performance gear pioneers and one of the most provocative forces in contemporary fashion history figure in the same thought bubble. But it was exactly the surprising nature of their joining of forces that spurred both parties on. “Building unexpected partnerships is nothing new to The North Face,” their team say. “We wanted to create intrigue when someone heard about the partnership. We wanted to surprise not only the consumer, but ourselves -- both brands. The North Face is built on exploration, and this project exposed us to new ideas and new ways of working, leading to discovery.”
The roots for the collaboration extend deep into the respective brands’ archives. The MM6 team quickly “developed a deep emotional connection to our icons from the 90s,” The North Face team say -- a natural fit, given that this was precisely when Maison Margiela’s radically rethought proposal for fashion was at its height in Paris. It was a garment from this era that the Bay Area team were, in turn, inspired by: “The Margiela circle shirt dress,” they say. “A circle truly is the simplest shape, and simplicity is something that our brand strives for when creating products.”
It’s a common ground that the two brands share. MM6 is “firstly a ready to wear brand,” their team echo. “We want to create clothing that people want to wear in their everyday lives,” an ethos that harks back to its birth over 20 years ago. Humble as its origins may be, this in no way impacts on its conceptual rigour -- as the circle shirt dress exemplifies. “Abstracting ideas and trying to expose the bare bones of the idea of a jacket or pair of trousers is key to the house, it's very Margiela,” the MM6 team say. “It was exciting to see how far we could go in abstracting The North Face, while still maintaining [a sense of] functionality that's very immediate.”
A crucial component of this sense of functionality is The North Face’s Expedition System, a layered garment-building technique pioneered by the brand in the early 90s to support climbers on the mountain. “All garments were built with zip-in and snap-in capability, allowing our athletes to focus on their climb in conditions when even the most minor gear failures are crucial to life,” their team explain. “After exploring each brand's archives, we knew we wanted to reimagine The North Face's Expedition System in the context of the Margiela circle, and make something new.”
The results were presented in MM6’s AW20 show during London Fashion Week in February. Held In the concrete bowels of one of the city’s brutalist landmarks, models walked a circular route through four interconnected rooms, bristling past show attendees in rounded riffs on The North Face’s bright down jackets and featherlight fleeces. Each garment was cut into a circular pattern -- shoulders were universally sloped, while most pieces had sleeves subbed out for zips. Elsewhere, mountaineering gloves were made fit for the opera, toggled onto the upper arm, while duffles and backpacks were also given the round treatment.
To both the team and the audience, it was a roaring success -- but more valuable than the positive reception of the collection were the unforeseen lessons that all involved learned throughout the process. “When you lose a bit of control, the results can be quite amazing,” the MM6 team say. “It’s been a good learning curve for all of us, to let go a bit.” That’s when things truly come full circle.