The North Face might 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 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.

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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.

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