Deadbird: The Underground Cool (and Racking) of Arc’teryx
As told to Chris Danforth…
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Canadian brand Arc’teryx has endeavored to excel in one area: outdoor apparel.
Despite its association with the best-of-the-best, industry-leading (and expensive compared to competitors) outdoor gear, the brand has been embraced, adopted, and re-contextualized by groups that Arc’teryx never ever considered designing for, namely graffiti writers, skateboarders, and lately the capital “F” fashion crowd.
Because of its logo, Arc’teryx product is often colloquially referred to as “deadbird” by some aficionados. So what has Arc’teryx done to deserve this street-level credibility?
The following is a series of interviews conducted over email, Instagram DM, Reddit, and Google Forms. Some quotes have been condensed for brevity. Arc’teryx declined to answer questions for this article.
Graffiti artist Victor Ving highlights Arc’teryx products for their utility and hardiness, telling me, “I was put on to Arc’teryx from some Pacific-Northwest friends. It’s lightweight and good for the constant rain up there. Personally, I’m a fan of the Beta/Theta AR shells. Similar to The North Face Mountain Light Jackets, they have chest pockets. It’s a good place to put your cans of spray paint.” Ving notes that he observed Arc’teryx jackets becoming a choice look for writers, explaining, “You do see a graffiti subculture of people that wear Arc’teryx. I don’t think it’s so much of a functional thing, but it just became a trend. In NYC, I feel like it was about The North Face jackets in the ’90s and then it evolved into Arc’teryx.”
Milan-based Gianluca Quagliano operates a radio show called Skate Muzik, and produces apparel under the same name. He has issued a number of homage, Arc’teryx-inspired T-shirt designs, re-imagining the Arc’teryx Archaeopteryx logo as a a Japan-air grab. Quagliano has been wearing Arc’teryx for some time, despite having to search and travel for certain items. “I’ve been wearing their products for years, it was quite hard to find in Milan for some time though, I remember going to Tokyo, seeing an Arc’teryx store there, and I went crazy.”
An East Coast graffiti writer who chose to remain anonymous told me, “Racking has been part of graffiti since the ’70s. Arc’teryx is part of the graffiti subculture, strictly because of racking. No other reason at all. Kids would rack jackets because of their high price-point and ease of selling them.” Comparatively, he says, “The top tier at the time was The North Face Summit Series, and if you could find it, Steep Tech gear. I found a store that had these [Arc’teryx] jackets, with this sick bright blue color that no one else offered at the time. I checked the tag and it was $500. I couldn’t believe it. Even two Summit Series [jackets] weren’t close to that. I took an Alpha shell and two Gamma soft shells and that was it. It started an addiction, an appreciation, and brand loyalty that has been a part of my life ever since. Racking happens for several reasons, firstly to make money, and secondly to have the best jacket money can buy on your back, while not paying a thing for it.”
Nick Kusto is an artist who spends his time between Dublin and Berlin. Kusto mentions he is fond of products like the Sinsolo and Motus hats, as well as vintage jackets. He continues, “GORE-TEX has always been popular amongst writers, a friend of mine has it [GORE-TEX] tattooed in massive block letters across his stomach.” Kusto mentions the planning that can go into Arc’teryx heists, noting, “People travel all over Europe and Scandinavia looking for the easiest shops to steal it, renting out cars and hitting all the stores on the way. It’s easier in small towns.”
In Melbourne, Australia, Lloyd Wellington’s understanding of the Arc’teryx brand could not be further from any mountaineer or climber: “To me, it’s a brand that I have always associated with crime. I have never paid for an Arc’teryx jacket, period. I feel as though people who wear Arc’teryx are almost in a secret club together. When I see another person wearing it, I always give them a head nod and acknowledge them.” Wellington also draws comparisons between the cult appeal of Arc’teryx and the Ralph Lauren-obsessed Lo-Life crew, noting, “To me, Arc’teryx is the modern-day POLO for a certain level of people. People trade loot photos among each other, and show off their rarest pieces, always bragging about the missions that scored them the most.”
Toronto-based graphic designer Brendan G says, “The [GORE-TEX] Pro shells are worth up to a rack in CAD, and it’s easy money if you know what’s up. I rate it, the world is burning and we’re in a late enough stage of capitalism that I don’t give two shits if somebody steals from a large company.” Brendan also touches on the brand’s appeal off the mountain, “It’s also a high-key flex to be wearing a thousand-dollar technical jacket meant for belaying in the Himalayas on your run to the bar. Too bad it’s become mainstream enough that it’s low-key corny now, thanks Virgil and all the fakers paying retail!”
London-based Bennett gave me his first name, but preferred to remain otherwise anonymous when speaking about Arc’teryx, telling me, “Graffiti is a largely outdoor hobby, so you want good clothing to help with the elements.” Bennet also highlights the price point of Arc’teryx as a factor that sets it apart from other brands. “The gear is well made and looks good, and isn’t generally affordable to everyone. This makes it stand out against The North Face. Always GORE-TEX models, they tend to be the most expensive and therefore desirable to me.” On the topic of racking, Bennett responds, “Love it. If the clothes are there and can be got for free, then fuck it. Take them. Save yourself some money.”
An anonymous responder from Denmark told me, “Arc’teryx is hard to steal and expensive, which makes it more popular. Also, Arc’teryx is good quality. When I started racking, it was The North Face that was the top brand in the graffiti world.” They went on to note, “The best story I can share is about a shop in the city center of Copenhagen. It’s a two-floor store and it had scaffolding on the outside. So a group of four guys went up, opened a window, and took all the Arc’teryx that the shop had to offer!”