By  on January 24, 2008

It's easy to see why San Francisco attracts surfers, skateboarders, snowboarders and skiers, since the Pacific Ocean is a quick drive from anywhere in the city, hills are everywhere and the Sierra Nevada slopes are a few hours away.

The urban action sports crowd has been a part of San Francisco's counterculture for decades and is now a part of the worldwide urban streetwear craze, which Bilbao, Spain-based Skunkfunk is riding into the U.S. Eight months ago, Skunkfunk opened its first store in North America in San Francisco's Mission district. A second lease this month was signed for a store on New York's Lower East Side and a location in Los Angeles is being scouted.

"It's edgy, but versatile," is how Sheri Calvert, a Skunkfunk U.S. sales representative and surfer, describes the women's and men's line, which is also wholesaled to 200 boutiques in the U.S. and Canada that caters to skateboarders, surfers and DJs, as well as indie fashion stores. "The skaters really dig Skunkfunk, but at the same time, we sell to Fred Segal in Los Angeles."

Among the women's fashions for spring are a soybean and cotton jersey jumper with a crisscross front bodice and built-in bloomers in olive for $60, and a khaki cap-sleeved dress with snap epaulets and a tab collar and deep side cargo pockets on the skirt for $80.

The Skunkfunk label expanded to specialty stores in Europe after starting in the Nineties selling graphic T-shirts at music festivals. Skunkfunk stores are run by licensees. There are five stores in Spain and one each in Dublin and Berlin.

As part of its creative underpinnings, Skunkfunk associates itself with artists and musicians — a marketing strategy that also will be pursued in North America. For example, in Europe, the brand is collaborating with avant-garde Swedish artist Jonas Liveröd to create installations in stores in Madrid and Berlin. "We're inspired by music and art," Calvert said when asked what makes Skunkfunk tick.

Edgy, often surrealistic art tie-ins, some with graffiti painters, are part of the streetwear culture in the U.S. and Canada as well, and are generously represented in San Francisco skateboard, surf and ski shops. In many cases, these stores are becoming as savvy about apparel and design as they are about defying gravity in their action sports."This year, we're going to branch out to do more cut-and- sew," said San Franciscan Tory Treseder, a champion skater who designs $22 silk-screened T-shirts and $65 hoodies for his label, Heat, which is now carrying some women's sizes. The merchandise is sold online, at skater stores and at D-Structure, which Treseder opened two years ago in the Lower Haight with two other top skater-designers of T-shirts and hoodies under the labels Able and Valo. (There are also two D-Structures in Montreal and Quebec City, run by Treseder's skiing and snowboarding friends.)

For sale on D-Structure's walls in San Francisco are abstract oil paintings and limited edition skis fancifully painted by champion ski jumper Eric Pollard. T-shirts neatly line a long shelf below the art in a spare presentation.

An urbanwear competitor down the block, Upper Playground, has extended its artist tie-in to operating a separate gallery and publishing limited edition art books that are also sold at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. One of Upper Playground's featured artists, with a T-shirt, hoodie and tote line, is graffiti-inspired painter Sam Flores.

Rvca (pronounced Roo-ka) in upper Haight-Ashbury opened in November and sells apparel, although about a third of its space is a gallery. The works shown are by artists who are internationally famous skateboarders and surfers competing on Rvca-sponsored teams. The corner store's display windows also feature art by athletes and not a thread of clothing.

Rvca, based in Costa Mesa, Calif., is sold in more than 500 specialty stores including Nordstrom. This season is the first time for Rvca women's apparel. There are artisan T-shirts for $31 — one has a brown wolf silk-screen print by surfer Ashley Macomber, and another, by skateboarder-artist Ed Templeton, is of a blue abstract women's head with two sets of lips and noses.

"It's all about inspiring our generation, providing something of substance and culture as a united family and close-knit community," said assistant manager Sara Pavao — who's also an artist.

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