“Where were you in ’92?” probes M.I.A. above a barrage of airhorns in 2007’s “XR2”, her homage to London’s fledgling rave scene of the previous decade. Assuming you were part of The North Face’s product design team that year, there’s a good chance you were on an office away day halfway up a mountain in Nepal. And while basecamp on Nuptse – the 7,861m-tall peak and the third chunk of the region’s “Triple Crown” for climbers alongside Mount Everest 2km to the northeast and Lhotse – might as well be a world away, not to mention above, sniffing Vicks in a car park just off the M25, what those hardy souls came back with actually had a surprising impact on the numerous dance subcultures that splintered out of acid house.
First produced in 1992, the Nuptse jacket, named after the mountain (itself from the Tibetan phrase for “west peak”), was the result of The North Face’s 55-day field trip spent on the roof of the world. Far above sea level, in treacherous weather conditions, lumbering your kit around challenging terrain with very little oxygen in your lungs, what you choose to put on in the morning becomes a life-or-death decision. The Nuptse was built for survival in this climate: made from lightweight materials, it pioneered a baffled construction that ensured the goose down it employed as insulation stayed in place. It was also cut to sit at the wearer’s waist, allowing for more fluid movements when climbing. And while this exacting environment shaped what has become the brand’s trademark item, its hardiness, not to mention distinctive silhouette, has seen the jacket flourish in more urban settings.