ASAP Rocky wearing a red down feather jacket, Balenciaga bag, orange zip jacket outside Calvin Klein on February 10, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Christian Vierig/Getty Images)
MUSIC SNEAKERS & FASHION

Eddie Bauer Makes the Outdoors Cool Again

Since 1920, the brand has continually reimagined outdoorsmanship. Everybody wants in now that A$AP Rocky has teamed up with EBTek for a limited-edition A$AP Worldwide collection.

Nothing screams early aughts like Ford Expedition Eddie Bauer and pop stars wearing Von Dutch.

Just ask Ye. If you happened to watch Jeen-Yuhs, the three-part Netflix documentary chronicling the life of the man formerly known as Kanye West by Coodie and Chike, you may have noticed the white Ford Expedition that the young, brazen rapper and producer was driving over to his assistant/cousin’s apartment to give him a CD with beats on it for DMX. It was when he first arrived in New York in ’02.

That same Ford Expedition was the “Eddie Bauer edition,” Ye confirmed on the 2016 Andre 3000-assisted Life of Pablo track “30 Hours.”

Ye [formerly known as Kanye West] raps “Expedition was Eddie Bauer edition” on 30 Hours, via The Life of Pablo album (c/o 2016)

But Eddie Bauer, America’s original adventurer label, has long cultivated and built a dedicated following of outdoorsmen and cold-weather enthusiasts long before entering the cultural zeitgeist.

Over a century removed from its 1920 founding, the brand has largely stayed true to what brought it to this point; no matter how trends shift and old guards cave in, EB is as relevant as ever.

Most recently, through his role as guest artistic director, A$AP Rocky has delivered a rare, AWGE-certified collaboration between Eddie Bauer and A$AP Worldwide. The collection was first teased by the rapper and fashion mogul on Instagram last week, with longtime A$AP member and his cousin A$AP Nast modeling the clothing.

The A$AP Worldwide x Eddie Bauer collection aligns with EB’s mission to make real-world experiences accessible and incorporates a digital space to get the point across.

How Eddie Bauer has infiltrated hip-hop as well as mainstream culture while remaining true to its outdoor appetite is cause for exploration.

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Eddie Bauer, the Man and Founder

You know Eddie Bauer as a brand, but the man behind it is a legend himself.

Inventor, author, entrepreneur and outdoorsman are just some of the titles Bauer held. Born outside of Eastsound, Washington on Orcas Island, the latter title came from his love of exploring the woods and Pacific Northwest waters as a young teen. He left school early to work under experienced hunters and fishermen.

Once Bauer’s curiosity piqued, he saw an opportunity to make his own products and a market eager for them — beginning with renting a workbench inside Bob Newton’s Gun Shop in Seattle in 1920.

The Eddie Bauer brand was thus born, selling tennis rackets, before patenting America’s first down feather jacket in 1940. What set Bauer apart, even back then, was that he actually took part of the year off to be an outdoorsman himself, traversing extreme weather conditions to test his products out. That led to the authentic development of more products that he needed, such as down-insulated garments and sleeping bags, after a near fatal experience when he suffered hypothermia on a fishing trip.

Based on that experience, he coined the company’s motto: “There can be no compromising quality when lives depend on performance.”

And the opportunity came quickly again for Bauer to prove his ability to develop functioning outerwear.

During World War II in 1941, Bauer received his second and third design patents for quilted down apparel, which led to their most famous staple to this day: the down parka. The pants created a cold-weather buoyancy suit for pilots, too. Bauer manufactured over 50,000 of these suits and almost 200,000 down sleeping bags for the military as well.

This had Eddie Bauer’s business in prime position to grow, becoming an internationally known outwear label. In no time, it was the go-to brand to outfit mountaineering, hiking, snow-sports, and scientific expeditions all at once.

Bauer Has Been Here

When the Golden Age of Himalayan mountain-climbing began to take shape in the ’50s, Bauer was once again called on to create a down-insulated parka for three of seven Americans and one British climber attempting the first ascent of K2, the world’s second-highest peak, in 1953.

Charles Houston, the expedition leader, called it “the finest article of cold-weather, high-altitude equipment I have ever seen” in a letter to Bauer’s partner, William F. Niemi.

By 1983, Bauer entered a partnership with Ford Motors, in which the first limited-edition Eddie Bauer Broncos were produced. It wasn’t until 1997 that the previously mentioned luxurious, now-iconic Ford Expedition model materialized.

Hip-hop embraced the vehicle, and by extension, Eddie Bauer. On 2Pac’s 1996 classic “Hit ‘Em Up,” Outlawz member Fatal Hussein boasted on his verse, “Guess under my Eddie Bauer.”

Tupac Feat. The Outlawz, where he raps, “Tucked in my Guess, under my Eddie Bauer” on the classic song, Hit ‘Em Up.

The popularity of the song mirrored the brand’s ascent through the late ’90s and early aughts, as Eddie Bauer found its way into the collective consciousness of hip-hop. Hefty flannels and hooded parkas became a recurring trend you could find layered under — and sometimes over — polo pieces in an era defined by comfort wear and oversized clothing.

It wasn’t just on the West Coast, either. Ma$e’s classic New York debut album Harlem World housed “24 Hours to Live,” featuring Yonkers’-own Jadakiss, who shouted out Bauer’s vehicular presence: “Load the three power, hop in the Eddie Bauer / And go give all six to papi that sold me flour.”

Jadakiss of LOX, raps “Load the three power, hop in the Eddie Bauer,” on Ma$e’s 24 Hours to Life, via Harlem World album.

The Resurgence of Outerwear as Street Style

It wouldn’t be until Kanye’s documented reverence for the brand that Eddie Bauer reappeared and reached the tip of the streetwear iceberg — becoming centered amidst the outerwear and workwear darlings of today, including The North Face, Patagonia, Dickies, Carhartt, Engineered Garments, Teva, Columbia, and Arc’teryx.

It started with Ye riding in the Expedition in ’02, and then came the reference to that SUV in “30 Hours.” Ye later wore a purple EBTek fleece jacket during his Kids See Ghosts set alongside Kid Cudi at Tyler, the Creator’s Camp Flog Gnaw Carnival in 2018.

That wasn’t the last time Ye wore the jacket, either, as he was pictured wearing it while celebrating his niece True Kardashian’s first birthday in early 2019.

This trend was beginning to formulate around 2017 when the shift from maximalism to minimalist functionality took a real turn and the term “Gorpcore” was coined by New York Magazine’s, The Cut. The concept essentially encapsulated fashion’s attachment with the outdoors, infatuated with fleeces, puffer jackets, and Birkenstocks.

This gorpcore trend works for both— those who wear their products strictly for performance and those who wear for performance art— as in the idea that consumers are effectively evoking their own value system and personal aspirations through their wardrobes.

It goes hand-in-hand with modern-day fashion enthusiasts infatuation with running shoe and hiking boot silhouettes, like the popular Salomon S-Labs, Asics, vintage Nike ACGs or even Merrell.

Frank Ocean and A$AP Rocky are two more celebrities leading the charge in this movement, with Rocky sporting full-zip fleeces and Frank Ocean being dubbed ‘the High-End Euro Hiker’ during respective Fashion Weeks. Even the late-great Virgil Abloh saw the usefulness in such design practice, incorporating Arc’teryx into his Off-White Women’s runway show in Fall/Winter ’20— doing what he does best, deconstructing the jackets as he does.

Tremaine Emory, as Supreme’s newly appointed Creative Director continues the brand’s seasonal North Face collaborations, and it’s hard to miss guys like Drake in Nocta or Jack Harlow rocking the Stone Island patch proudly.

These tactical garments have placed brands like Arc’teryx and Carhartt at the center of this new distinguished genre. And the high fashion brands are noticing too. Look no further than the recent Gucci x The North Face collaboration, which gave us the monogrammed puffer, endorsed by Rocky, or the Jil Sander x Arc’teryx collab and many others.

And of course we’re well-aware of Kanye’s affinity for stylistic theater and haute couture (see: his Yeezus era), but in this new era for the ready-to-wear, style purveyor, there’s been a keen focus on practicality in the way he chooses to dress — opting for a more uniformed, sustainable approach and often wearing the same pieces over and over— as a nod to his more utilitarian aesthetic.

So his, and many others’, appreciation for vintage Eddie Bauer should come as no surprise, especially since his billion-dollar-baby YEEZY, is inspired by so much of his eye for technicality, monochrome palettes, and subtle form.

Content Conquests

Bauer sold the company to GM some two decades ago. It survived two tumultuous bankruptcies in 2003 and ’09, where successive owners diluted the brand and deserted its outdoor heritage for a more lifestyle take.

So how is Eddie Bauer hot again?

Simply, Eddie Bauer’s clothing has become familiar and universal. Look no further than the perfectly-fitting collaboration with minimalist, Montreal-based design studio JJJJound just last year.

But certainly, the most helpful was its acquisition by Golden Gate Capital late last year, helping to scale up the brand media’s content landscape with its new digital endeavors, beginning with the announcement of content hub “Eddie Bauer Stories” earlier this month.

Produced through Eddie Bauer Productions and living on the official Eddie Bauer website, it will allow the brand’s creator community to consume archival content, brand content and user-generated content in hopes to inspire and empower people to continue having meaningful outdoor experiences.

Additionally, Eddie Bauer recently announced its second annual One Outside Film Grant, which supports the brand’s long-standing mission to bring the benefits of the outdoors to all communities — particularly amplifying underrepresented voices. Up to six $10,000 film grants will go toward helping fund outdoor films made by filmmakers who identify as part of LGBTQIA+ community.

A$AP Rocky’s Imprint

All of that brings us back to the Eddie Bauer x A$AP Worldwide collaboration, which features contemporary outerwear-inspired pieces such as camouflage fleeces, puffer jackets, and windbreakers.

Focusing on EBTek, the collection blends vintage-inspired color-mixes with Rocky’s signature sleek sensibilities.

“Eddie Bauer is such an iconic brand with rich heritage, and I thought it would be cool to revisit their archive and reimagine some of their core styles,” Rocky said said in a press release. “I’m always down for camo, and the pieces work not only in the outdoors but are good for cozy travel now that the world is moving a little bit more than last year.”

Fresh off teasing his AWGE and Mercedes-Benz collab, it’s clear Rocky could’ve chosen any brand for his run of collaborations with PacSun, as he has with January’s third-and-final Vans drop, but once again, Eddie Bauer is always in the conversation at just the right time.

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