The North Face Haines Tuxedo, designed by Academy grad Paxton Madison, is built entirely of Gore Pro 3L fabric and loaded with snow-sports features for extreme skiing conditions.

A tuxedo designed for extreme skiing—must be for a James Bond film, right? Actually, no. Alum Paxton Madison, BFA 2004 Industrial Design, helped create the “Haines Tuxedo” for The North Face, where he spends his time designing and obsessing about his greatest passion: outdoor sports.

The Haines Tuxedo is a one-piece ski suit for professionals in extreme conditions…or anyone who wants to hit the slopes looking like one. Paxton says the name comes from Haines, Alaska, one of the heli-skiing capitals of the world. With helicopters allowing access to remote mountain slopes, heli-skiers get the freshest powder and steepest runs.

Professional heli-skiers are recorded by videographers, and the footage is cut into incredible films. One of the major production companies making these films, TGR, recently featured a North Face athlete wearing the Haines Tuxedo. At the film’s San Francisco premiere, Madison got to see his design grace the big screen. That’s not the only place where this slick outfit got public attention: The North Face is currently running an ad campaign that features the Haines Tuxedo in major publications such as Wired and Men’s Journal. “I went to the premiere of this film, and there’s one of our athletes wearing my outfit bombing down the ski run. And then I get to see the same design in a print ad campaign…it’s just so fulfilling, so rewarding,” he says.

For Madison, his job at The North Face is a childhood dream come true. “I had always played soccer, tennis and baseball, but then I quickly moved on to more outdoor-oriented sports.” But he had no idea he could build a profes­sional career out of his interests. “I wasn’t aware of product design as a profession,” he says. So Madison followed a fairly traditional path: He enrolled at the University of Virginia, got a business degree and took a job.

Luckily for him, Madison’s job brought him to San Francisco. He worked in marketing for The Industry Standard, a publication focused on the internet economy. “I met so many artists and designers living in the Bay Area: photogra­phers, illustrators, graphic designers. And then this whole world of design as a profession opened up to me.” When the magazine folded in 2001, Madison used the job loss as an opportunity to start over again. “I took a tour of the Academy,” he remembers. “When I saw the models all over the place, all the renderings and drawings, and all the students working in the shop, I knew this is what I wanted to do.”

At the Academy, Madison tailored every class project toward his interests. If assigned to design a radio, his would be rugged enough for a back­packer. Upon graduating, he had a perfect portfolio. As Madison explains, “I could walk into interviews with these outdoor companies, and show them that I have an aesthetic that’s similar to what they do.”

After graduating, Madison joined The North Face, where he’s worked since 2005. He designs for the Action Sports division, where his specialty is ski and mountain bike apparel. In addition to designing highly technical products, Madison is also responsible for the HN24 col­lection, a stylish, European-inspired line of ski apparel. (HN24 is the industry term for the amount of snowfall in the last 24 hours.) North Face offers apparel for all parts of the world—every design has international implications. Satisfy­ing the tastes of different regions is a balancing act that’s not always easy to manage. “One of the most challenging parts of my job is bridging the gap,” he says.

Paxton Madison, BFA 2004, Industrial Design
Madison also participates in product testing trips. On these, he hits the ski slopes with the pros, getting feedback on prototypes developed by his team. “At the end of each day we sit around and brainstorm and do wrap-up conversation. We talk about what the athletes liked, and what they didn’t like. We always focus on improving the product.” His favorite trips are ones when he gets to see athletes using the gear. “Spending time with our pro athletes makes me realize the importance of the design work I do. It quickly becomes obvious that every decision I make could be critical to their success in the most harsh and unforgiving environments.”
Madison appreciates the opportunity to hit the slopes with elite pro skiiers to field test the gear his team designs for The North Face.

Tags: Alumni,  Industrial Design,  People