The North Face, like so many decades-only American outerwear brands, is designed to withstand the most extreme elements, marketed toward men who "Never Stop Exploring," according to their slogan. It can be argued then, that the designs — whether intentional or not — help perpetuate a heteronormative, masculine way of dressing. For a queer designer like Antwerp-based Timo Sassen, this positioning makes the brand ripe for appropriation by transforming the fleece classics into provocative statement pieces.
Their collection, titled SHOWMODEL, features a lineup of skin-baring looks, all printed with "The Gorge Face" as fake, tongue-in-cheek branding. By using The North Face as core inspiration, Sassen's intentions were to take everyday, stereotypical pieces, and infuse them with a dose of queer, outsider energy. He designed fleece shorts with the ass completely cut out, skin-tight pants with a waistline that dips far below the hips, bodysuits with asymmetrical sleeves, and matching accessories like gloves or scarves.
Check out the SHOWMODEL lookbook, below, and learn more about the bold brain behind the looks (all of which can be purchased online).
Where are you from, and how did you initially get into fashion?
Clothing and self-expression have always been so important to me. As a kid I would spend my time disorganizing my mom's and grandmother's closets, pulling looks and trying them on my friends and myself. I loved fingering through the pages of those seasonal catalogues and my mom's fashion magazines. I adored using unconventional materials to create my own mini masterpieces.
It was always clear to me that I would have a future using my imagination and creativity. Pursuing a degree in photography, I found myself injecting fashion in all of my photo work. I began styling for friends' projects and ended up working for as a stylist at an agency. After some self exploration I realized more and more my passions laid in the design process and construction of garments. This is when I started to teach myself how to sew and things just snowballed from there.
You're based in Antwerp. How has that influenced the way you approach design?
Antwerp is a very vibrant city filled with creatives of all kinds, outspoken fashionable people living among many different subcultures. As a visual person I've always been very attracted to and aware of those things, and it got my creative mind working from a young age.
A lot of big designers are originally from Antwerp (Raf Simons, Walter Van Beirendonck, Ann Demeulemeester, Martin Margiela), studied here at the fashion school (Demna Gvasalia, Bernhard Willhelm, Haider Ackermann), or both. These designers are known for being risky and experimental, which for sure paved the way for me to think outside the box while designing. There's a sense of comfort knowing that those designers who made it big all came from a small town like Antwerp. It's extremely motivating.
For this collection I chose to take the not fashionable people as an inspiration, but take more understated, stereotypical pieces and make them interesting.
What do you bring to fashion that no one else does?
Fashion goes fast. Designers need to be more creative and come up with new and exciting stuff faster than ever before. In my eyes, exciting doesn't need to be bombastic or garish. I try to be exciting in my references — take simple pieces and make them my own with fabric manipulation and interesting/unexpected cuts. I bring a sense of sexy playfulness and a wink that no one else has. My aesthetic is very simple yet kitsch, all while still offering that sex appeal that I love so much.
"In my eyes, exciting doesn't need to be bombastic or garish."
Tell me about this collection specifically. What interests you about The North Face?
The initial thought behind my collection SHOWMODEL is taking very stereotyped, typically menswear concepts into a fab next level. Take, for example, The North Face: I like the idea of taking this typically heteronormative brand and injecting my wink into the fiber of its core — something so simple and staple in men's dress today and approaching it with a whole new perspective.
Do you consider this a queer appropriation of the original brand?
Yes, definitely. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against The North Face, I've just taken what they've presented for years and years and injected my sense of playful queerness into it. I want to always give my work a sense of humor, it should not be taken too seriously.
How do you intend for these pieces to be worn? To be received?
I am designing with my own community in mind, but ultimately my pieces are for everyone to wear. The pieces are, in a way, a protest against the censorship and gender norms placed upon us. I want my costumers to be themselves, feel sexy and be comfortable in any way they choose to dress. Some of them may not have the same day-to-day wearability as others, but all are intended to we worn as a statement. The pieces are perfect for nightlife and all have same show-stopping response perfect for editorials or fashion events.