Inside the North Face’s Wall-Conquering Climbing Gear for the Paris 2024 Olympics

Photographs: The North Face, Getty Images; Collage: Gabe Conte

The North Face might be best known in fashion circles for its celeb-approved Nuptse jackets and megawatt collabs with Supreme and Gucci, but its roots will always lie in rock climbing. The brand was founded as a humble San Francisco climbing store in 1966, and today it continues to outfit mountaineering greats like Jimmy Chin and Alex Honnold. So it's no surprise then that when climbers from the USA, Japan, South Korea, and Austria take to the walls this year at the Paris 2024 Summer Olympics, they'll be suiting up in gear from the North Face.

Sport climbing made its Olympic debut at Tokyo 2020, with Team USA and Team Austria taking home silver and bronze, respectively, in their TNF uniforms. For their second go-round, Patrick O'Sullivan, senior designer at the North Face, was able to consult directly with Olympians from the inaugural climbing teams, along with other elite climbers, to inform the designs of the 2024 uniforms.

<h1 class="title">the-north-face-olympics-climb-uniforms</h1><cite class="credit">Joe Hale</cite>


Joe Hale

The first challenge, O'Sullivan tells GQ, was creating a wide spectrum of performance silhouettes to allow athletes to choose the pieces that worked best for them. “It's the idea of: If I look good, if I feel confident in what I'm wearing, my mental state is so much better, and I'm confident in my climbing,” he says. The final collection includes T-shirts, muscle tanks, and rugbies, along with a selection of shorts that range in fit from baggy to skintight for a barely-there feel.

With professional climbers like Nathaniel Coleman, Melina Costanza, and Nina Williams at his disposal, O'Sullivan was able to get constructive criticism for reworks on the designs. On-wall fittings allowed designers to make real-time changes depending on how the clothing would react to the climber's movements. Coleman—a self-proclaimed dirtbag (a term of endearment among climbing enthusiasts) who earned silver in men's combined sport climbing in 2020—tells us that his biggest ask was for the uniforms to offer good heat dispersion, ensuring the wearer wouldn't be trapped with their own body heat. O'Sullivan took that into consideration for the final designs, resulting in pieces that dispel heat and offer a greater range of movement. And while Coleman takes zero credit for the final product, he says the brand excelled at addressing his specific needs.

<cite class="credit">Courtesy of The North Face</cite>
Courtesy of The North Face

Performance capabilities aside, the North Face also had to make sure the climbing kits looked good. The design team decided to adorn each top with a design of the country's highest peak: Mount Denali in the US, Mount Grossglockner in Austria, Mount Fuji in Japan, and the Hallasan Volcano in South Korea, making for a “unique story for each country,” O'Sullivan says. The main inspiration for the in-your-face designs were Lithuania's tie-dye basketball uniforms from Barcelona 1992, which were sponsored by the Grateful Dead. The personalization for each country, Coleman says, delivers “way more personality” than the inaugural climbing uniforms from Tokyo. And for viewers, the bold designs make it easier to differentiate the competing countries while they're climbing, since the gear silhouettes across the teams remain the same.

If you're looking to gear up to cheer on the climbers as they race up the walls this summer, the North Face will be making the entire collection—including a kit for host nation France, which the team won't be wearing for sponsorship reasons—available to the public on July 1.

Originally Appeared on GQ

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