Peter Valles likes to fly under the radar.
This story first appeared in the March 20, 2017 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The vice president of global creative for The North Face is so reluctant to be in the limelight that his LinkedIn photo shows a picture of a caveman. “Yeah,” he said with a chuckle. “It’s my way of staying incognito.”
But while his persona may be relatively anonymous, his work is very much in the spotlight.
Since joining The North Face three years ago, Valles has spearheaded a number of buzzworthy collaborations including the Comme des Garçons-backed Junya Watanabe Man and Sacai. And while the brand’s uber-popular Supreme partnership predated his arrival, he has built on the ongoing popularity of that initiative.
A graduate of the Fashion Institute of Technology with a degree in men’s wear design and illustration, Valles started his career at Fila as an outerwear design. He then joined Abercrombie & Fitch before heading to Nike, where he spent a decade, working primarily on the ACG brand. “It was pretty awesome,” he said of his time at the Oregon-based active brand.
He left to join Spyder as creative director before launching his own agency in Boulder, Colo., where he consulted for brands including Apple, Red Bull, Woolrich and The North Face. It took a while, but eventually The North Face managed to lure him to join the company on a full-time basis.
Valles attributes his success to his ability to see brands in a different way. “With a lot of the projects, I had to get intimate with the brand and absorb the DNA, but keep an outside perspective,” he said.
So while the VF Corp.-owned The North Face has built its reputation on providing technically advanced apparel, footwear and accessories for the outdoor enthusiast for over 40 years, Valles was convinced it could also make a mark in more urban lifestyle products.
His first project was with Barneys New York, for which the brand reimagined some of its popular jackets. And last season, Junya Watanabe Man’s collection featured the brand’s jackets prominently on the runway in a collection centered around protective wear where The North Face jackets were used as a foundation.
Other popular collaborations include a capsule from Sacai that was shown at the Japanese designer’s recent fall men’s show in Paris, and one with Mastermind that will only be available in Japan, he said. Another, with Olivia Kim, Nordstrom’s director of creative projects, is in the cards for later this year.
Valles said The North Face is approached constantly by brands seeking partnerships, but “the ones we work with need to have similar interests.” Each project is evaluated individually to determine its longevity, so some are quick while others are long-lasting. The Supreme partnership has been going on for years, but it remains one of The North Face’s most successful. “Every piece sells out in 15 minutes,” he said. “It’s nuts.”
It has also attracted a whole new customer to The North Face. But once these shoppers get a taste of the outdoor brand, Valles seeks to retain them with its own urban-skewed collection. “We’re building product for the lifestyle consumer,” he said.
So what else does Valles have up his sleeve? “We’ll continue to push the collaboration aspects with people and places in art and fashion design that have a mutual interest. The consumer has accepted us in the urban space and given us permission to compete,” he said.