Arc'teryx hardly needs an introduction. The outdoor legend should be imminently familiar to those who've been paying any attention to contemporary street culture at all. Thanks to celebrity co-signs, timely collabs, and rising demand for fashionably functional gear, Arc'teryx's archaeopteryx logo has become nearly as desirable as a well-placed Swoosh or Half Dome. System_A, Arc'teryx's latest sub-label, makes ample use of that iconic dead bird, but let's be clear: it's not a streetwear brand.
Not that System_A creative director Taka Kasuga minds the word "streetwear" all that much or even keeps up with the steady stream of Arc'teryx adoration on Instagram (well, maybe just a little). We've chatted several times over the past few years about Veilance — which he's still overseeing alongside System_A — and it was a pleasure to reunite with him via Zoom about the new line. In the midst of the flighty fashion industry, his reliably patient presence and thoughtful conversation are always a breath of fresh air.
Similarly, System_A is a fresh face compared to much of Arc'teryx's more recognizable output. It sports big logos on the back of its Copal T-shirts, vivid green hues dapple its Paltz jacket/short set, and there's even a twice-per-season drop schedule. But Kasuga insists that System_A isn't Arc'teryx gone Supreme.
"Market trends have influenced us but Arc'teryx has been doing this for a long time," he said, referring to System_A's effervescent presence. "We have done larger logos in the past, as well. With this collection, in particular, we were inspired by climbing."
"It made sense to us because Arc'teryx started as a climbing brand and if you look at the T-shirts in the climbing scene, they're quite expressive."
With that emotionality in mind, System_A was partially envisioned as product you'd buy as you mature into mainline Arc'teryx.
"This is kind of a gateway," Kasuga said. "We want to bring a more youthful, progressive audience to the brand. [Sort of] like introducing Arc'teryx to a new audience."
So, System_A amps up the "style component," as Kasuga put it, but it sacrifices none of Arc's technicality. It's also not at all a diffusion line.
Really, System_A is Arc'teryx's version of casual dailywear. It's loungier than Veilance and more playful than Arc'teryx, delivering on Kasuga's vision of approachable technical staples. A little GORE-TEX here, some stretch nylon there, a little bit of DWR, and you've got some grab-n-go Arc'teryx classics, zhooshed up a bit with some flash and flair.
"When you look at your [wardrobe], there's a section dedicated to outdoor gear and then everything else," explained Kasuga. "But when things look good, you start to [unite] the two [halves]. That was the idea for System_A. Like, one jacket can [be used for] everything because it looks cool, from the outdoors to anything else in your life."
"Part of the research we did was through the historic Arc'teryx archive. Today, Arc'teryx veers more toward a minimal, streamlined aesthetic. But we had some very funky pieces in the past," he laughed. "There is that [blend] of technicality and playfulness."
This dichotomy manifests in, among other things, the tweaked branding. I've mentioned those big birds on the tees already but the rest of the line is actually pretty low-key. System_A "products don't say 'System_A,'" Kasuga pointed out. "They only have the Arc'teryx text logo at the front and sometimes the Bird on the back. Only the hang tags call out 'System_A'."
Kasuga is staying mum on System_A's future — "Find my lawyer!" he joked when I pressed about future collaborations — but he opened up a bit more about its origins.
"Back in 2009 or so, we were working on this new line, which became Veilance. One of the [potential] names that came up was System_A, which came from William Gibson's Sppok County," wherein one of the main characters practices Systema a Russian martial art. Plus, I mean, "A" for "Arc'teryx" — it just makes sense!
For those longtime Arc'teryx heads worried that their go-to brand has become corrupted into the latest flavor of the week fashion trend: relax. System_A isn't a seismic shift for the Canadian company, it's merely playing with existing tropes, teasing them out into a fresh facade.
Instead, think of System_A as "a kind of an evolution," Kasuga said. "We're staying authentic to who we are."
The first System_A capsule launched on August 11 via Arc'teryx's website, stockists like HAVEN, KITH, and global Arc outposts with prices ranging from $60 - $550. But the sold-out collection just hit SSENSE. This first drop comprises men's and gender-neutral cuts, with dedicated women's shapes launching in Spring 2022.