Arc’teryx is a brand built around systems. If you ever want to lose yourself in a techwear K-hole, consider trying to memorize the various collections, modifiers, and Latin alphabet-based product families that comprise the Arc’teryx naming scheme. GORP heads may already be familiar with the Alpha class of products meant for tackling the toughest alpine conditions, especially with the “SV” modifier, indicating a class of gear meant to tackle Mother Nature’s worst (and then some).
And while Arc’teryx has become an indelible part of the modern menswear lexicon, with colloquialisms like “Deadbird” becoming common parlance for bros who love GORE-TEX and outerwear enthusiasts alike, it was a little over a decade ago that the Canadian company actively set out to create a label specifically targeting the men’s lifestyle space.
It’s a story that starts with Errolson Hugh, before the lauded designer even founded Acronym. In the late ‘90s he met Tom Herbst, former Arc’teryx CEO (and current “Arc’teryx Consigliere,” arguably the most gangster title at the company), where they bonded over watertight zippers. Herbst even sent Hugh some of the exclusive closures as well as the pattern for the zipper garage, a magnanimous act that directly influenced the construction of Acronym’s first Kit-1 jacket and is still used by the label today.
Around 2007, then-Arc’teryx CEO Tyler Jordan reached out to Errolson Hugh about developing a line for Arc’teryx with a metropolitan consumer in mind instead of its on-mountain constituency.
That line ended up becoming Veilance. Hugh worked on the line as an adviser along with designer Conroy Nachtigall, Tom Herbst, Tyler Jordan, and project manager Kate Patterson, whose family ties ended up connecting them to an unlikely contributor.
“We landed on Veilance based on veiling, covering, surveillance. We were looking for something that wasn’t a word, something that could exist as part of vocabulary but wouldn’t show up in a search engine,” Hugh says of the name in a 10-year retrospective on the line. “At the end of the day after months of going back and forth it was Tyler who had to make the call in order to meet our print deadlines, and he chose Veilance.”
After Nachtigall left the company, Veilance has been overseen by creative director Taka Kasuga, a Bunka Fashion College graduate who cut his teeth working for Junya Watanabe before taking his talents overseas. His purview has since grown to overseeing many of Arc’teryx’s special projects and statement-making initiatives, including its newest one: System_A.
And that brings us back to Kate Patterson. Hugh recalls that they were discussing a Buzz Rickson MA-1 at a meeting to use as a reference piece, and Patterson mentioned that Rickson was visiting her uncle. It turns out that uncle was William Gibson.
“The next thing I knew I was invited to a lunch with William Gibson and he showed up wearing an Acronym jacket, which still seems surreal to me today. William joined our next concept session, and it turned out he knew more about historical military apparel than Conroy or myself,” says Hugh. “William had just finished a book called Spook Country and one of his characters practices a Russian martial arts called Systema, so he proposed System_A.”
Systema is first mentioned in Gibson’s 2003 novel Pattern Recognition, in a passage where a wealthy Russian’s bodyguards are supposedly proficient in the secretive fighting style, described as being “restricted to KGB, bodyguards and the special forces.” According to a Slate article on the fighting style: “It focuses on hand-to-hand grappling and weapon disarmament, emphasizing the importance of intense Zen-like calm to turn an attacker’s strike against him, coolly and effortlessly.”
If that sounds familiar to fans of Hideo Kojima, it’s probably because there are some parallels with the CQC fighting style from the Metal Gear games, albeit Systema is more practical. In addition to William Gibson’s references to Systema, it’s notable that the main character of manga series Akumetsu purportedly uses it as a form of combat.
The System_A name not only dovetails with Errolson Hugh’s appreciation for martial arts (which he’s practiced since he was 10), but Taka Kasuga also liked the idea of the “A” alluding to “Arc’teryx.” It’s fitting that this new endeavor is designed by the two of them, with some consulting help from lauded special ops design mercenary Jeremy Karl.
In many ways, System_A is the everyday utility of Veilance merged with the slightly crunchy appeal of Arc’teryx’s mainline. If Veilance was about austere minimalism and a disdain for logos, System_A bridges the gap between casual GORP guys, dudes who just want to rock something with a Deadbird on it (check the baselayer tees), and real techwear heads who won’t wear any materials under 80 Denier and want sealed seams on everything.