ON THE TRAILS
“You need to know someone who can access it, and normally that must be someone in the military. Even like a normal distributor can't get it.” Patrick Stangbye is talking me through the process of acquiring Arc’teryx Leaf, the line of ultra-technical garments that the outdoor brand creates for law enforcement and armed forces personnel, but which has increasingly gained in popularity among fashion-conscious civilians in recent years. This is his area of expertise, a niche and often extremely nerdy confluence of nature, design, fashion one-upmanship, and what happens when each is strained to its limits, until it collapses in on itself, as fashion enthusiasts seek out military-grade GORE-TEX jackets against a backdrop of looming climate catastrophe.
Few are better placed to understand this fashion movement and its most extreme reaches than Patrick Stangbye, who contributes to the Instagram account Hiking Patrol, archiving various outdoor ephemera and products. A marketing consultant with a background in fashion by day, the Norwegian is, in a sense, an outlier within his own scene. Few of his followers put their And Wander or Salomon gear through its paces to such an extent. The reason I know this is because no one would repeatedly run ultra-races, often reaching up to 80km in a single day, if it was just for Instagram. Stangbye does – often. On an average week, he’ll clock up to 120km, through mountains, forests and remote trails.
Growing up on the outskirts of Oslo, a mixture of snowboarding and skateboarding shaped how he viewed nature and the city, informing both a cosmopolitan sensibility and an appreciation of remote wilderness. These are complementary, rather than competing ideas for Stangbye, who gives as much consideration to his running gear as he would an everyday outfit that might typically consist of Raf Simons or Alyx. One might even reach for that dreadfully hackneyed term “lifestyle” when describing what he does. And while it technically is, it is perhaps more accurate to say that Stangbye is the product of unique circumstances: an upbringing that combined the outdoors and fashion magazines; a spur of the moment decision to enter a marathon; and a consumer-led fashion movement that prizes functionality over fashion with a capital F.
In early March, we spoke to Stangbye via video call about running as a tool for creative thinking, memories of his mother wearing Nike ACG, and how outdoor brands can offer a unique sense of luxury.
Calum Gordon: Growing up, were you always in touch with nature and the outdoors, or did that come later in life?
Patrick Stangbye: In my youth, the forest always felt like a playground. I grew up in suburbia, about 40 minutes outside of Oslo. Our street was the final street before the forest. When I was about nine or 10, I started snowboarding and skateboarding. In the winter, we’d build jumps in the forest. We’d go out after school and do whatever. Some of the things we did, like building jumps and cutting down trees, in terms of environmental responsibility, we probably wouldn’t do today. But we really felt like the forest was our playground to the same extent as the city. So, I think for me growing up, sort of in between, I saw the same opportunities snowboarding in the mountains as I saw in the city skateboarding.
CG: How did your interest in fashion come to be intertwined with the kind of outdoor brands, like Arcteryx and Salomon, that we see featured on Hiking Patrol? Such a mix of labels might seem obvious today, but that wouldn’t have always been the case.
PS: Back then, snowboarding and skateboarding was still very non-conformist, which informed my attitude towards fashion. I ended up liking stuff which was pretty progressive at the time. Like when I was 17-18, I got really into Rick Owens, when it was maybe more masculine or more rough. And I think I was able to understand it or take it in, because I was always into subculture and some of the music references were also familiar to me. Around then, I was in Paris for every Fashion Week, as I was working with some Japanese brands. I remember feeling – not that I was posing, because my relationship to those things also connected to what I liked in terms of art. But I felt like maybe some of my youth was still missing. So, I started mixing that sort of stuff with brands like Stone Island. It was 2016, and around that time that The Broken Arm did their first Salomon Advanced shoe. I was already wearing Salomon because I had a friend who did trail running. I didn't do trail running back then, but I sort of knew what was happening and was like, those shoes are cool – it reminds me of what my mother used to wear. Like, I grew up with my mother wearing Nike ACG and I didn't think she was really cool, because I was into other snowboard brands. But I realised, in hindsight, she was[laughs].
CG: You mentioned you lived and worked in Paris for a while, which is obviously quite a dense city, without the space or elements of nature you might find elsewhere. When you moved back to Oslo, what prompted you to take up running?
PS: I think I was always pretty fit. I grew up in a country where it’s very much a sports culture. We have artists, we have pretty good galleries in Oslo, but as a society, it's more about sports than it is culture. So, when I moved back to Oslo, I was working in more of a corporate marketing job. It was stressful and really high-pace, so [running] was a good reason for me to just get out and connect with nature again, and also to connect with my roots in a way. When I train now, it’s still a space where I can really work on ideas or be creative. Most of the time, I do a lot of research – literature, a lot of art books, different auction house catalogues, and of course, social media. But sometimes I need a space to process it, and if I'm at home trying to process something, I know after 15 minutes I'm going to open another web page or be scrolling my phone. Even in the beginning, when it was just maybe half-an-hour to an hour, it was a really nice situation to process and work on ideas.
CG: Was there a moment where you decided to take it really seriously?
PS: I remember meeting a friend at a party in June 2016. He had just signed up for the Oslo marathon that coming autumn. I used to watch the marathon on TV, but I never had any thoughts about running one. But I had just bought a lot of the Nike Gyakusou stuff, and I was like, “I know Jun [Takahashi] runs marathons. Maybe I also want to run a marathon.’ So, I was with my friend, like signing up in the middle of this party on my phone. And then of course, in the weeks following, I was like, what have I done? We didn't train too seriously for it, just some occasional runs. It was really hard to do your first marathon when you’re not prepared. It's pretty brutal. But up until that point, I had never felt so accomplished in my life. My time wasn’t really that good, but it was a really cool experience, because when you’re not a super-fit person, or like, that's not your identity, and then you do a marathon. There’s only like 1% of the population that ever does a marathon and I did it. I felt really good about it.
CG: Did it motivate you to do more?
PS: That winter, over Christmas, I started watching Nike’s trail running team. They did this race in the Alps, which goes from Cormier in Italy, and to Switzerland and ends up in Chamonix. I was like, ‘these guys are completely crazy.’ But I was astonished by this video, just from the mountains. It looked really close to my experience of snowboarding. So that January, I just signed up for an ultra-race in the mountains and just started training. I was building up from running 30k a week. In 2017, I think I raced like four or five ultra-races, from 50k to 80 kilometres. After the first one, I was thinking ‘this is something I can do into my 60s.’ But it's brutal. It's so brutal.
CG: How much of the challenge is psychological?
PS: Of course, you need to train your body to be able to get through it. But it's very psychological. You can compare it to a lot of other experiences people have probably had in their life, which has changed their direction, or maybe led to a dissolution of ego… Like running is not like taking LSD, but maybe if you take LSD to learn something, and not to just get high, maybe the process can be similar to long distance running. You can use it as a tool, not only to be fit, but mentally too. And I think this is what a lot of people experience.
CG: I also wanted to talk about the gear involved. With your background in fashion, did immersing yourself into the world of specialised running and outdoor gear come pretty naturally?
PS: For me, it's always pretty evident in everything I’ve done in my life. But coming from snowboarding, we always had this hierarchy. If you were not really good you didn't want to have the best gear, because you didn’t want to seem like a poser. So, running, to some extent, is a lot different, because a lot of people get all the gear immediately. But I remember when I wanted to buy my first hydration pack, and I didn't feel like I had earned it. So, I didn't buy it until I had finished my first marathon. That was the first thing I did, like the day after, I was really tired in bed and bought this Salomon hydration vest – and then didn't use it for a month because I was so tired of running.
CG: Ultimately, I guess if you feel good in yourself and how you look, you’ll also run better. Do you put a lot of thought into what you’ll wear for a race?
PS: It's a part of the experience for me. I had this photographer at a race in August say to me, ‘Next time, wear a red t-shirt,’ because I was pretty much camouflaged with the environment. I had on a green t-shirt, some grey, and some light green shoes, and the bushes on this mountain had a similar colour. For me that was a part of my idea for this race. Like, I'm not racing against this mountain or nature. I'm doing this to be a part of it.
CG: In a previous interview, you said that people buy certain brands and products out of a psychological fear of climate change. Can you explain what you mean by that?
PS: Yeah, I think the psychological fear for me, speaks to the fact that we have gone so far in terms of climate change, and that it might be difficult for us to reverse it. People are experiencing more and more extreme weather. Even here in Oslo, the weather can be much more extreme than it used to be. And sometimes it can be frightening for people who grew up in a city. I think psychologically, [it can help] wearing brands or products that you know were made for extreme user cases, for example, ‘I bought this puffer, which is meant to be in the Himalayas.’ I'm not saying everyone is making this argument in their head, but subconsciously you know that these products were made for extreme cases. So, if something happens, you actually have the best version of that product already available to you.
CG: Do you think this line of thinking will impact how fashion brands design too – perhaps more consciously, or with a view to garments having a greater longevity?
PS: What I will give the more premium outdoor brands is that they have always designed with longevity in mind. And that's also probably why some people really enjoy wearing those brands, because buying a brand new Arc'teryx jacket feels pretty luxurious. Someone actually thought about every element of this jacket for many years. And in fashion, a lot of the time, the design process of a jacket can be done in like a few days. There's a lot of mistakes in fashion – and that's okay, because it's fashion. But sometimes I think it feels luxurious when you buy these high-quality items and know it will last for a long while. And if it doesn't last, often the brands offer a repair service, so I think people really feel the quality.
Words/Interview: Calum Gordon @calumgordon_
Photography: Johannes Rummelhoff @johannesr
Thanks: Patrick Stangbye @patrickstangbye
The latest collection of Salomon S-lab is available online now.