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LOS ANGELES — The latest installment of ASR, the key trade expo for board sports, streetwear and swimwear at the San Diego Convention Center, proved the show hasn’t lost its edge, despite the evolution of the action sports industry into a multibillion-dollar global force.
Seventies’ California ruled trends: sunset shading and motifs, embroidered palm trees and florals on clothes and bags, crochet and beading on dress straps, T-shirts and accessories.
As retailers wrote orders during the three-day event last week or mingled with their reps — a significant amount of business is written by sales reps before the show even happens — bonus activities abounded. Session offered free tattoos on the spot, Roxy provided the materials to bead jewelry and Transformed Clothing Co. gave haircuts to the daring with a Flowbee, the vacuum-looking device sold on late-night infomercials.
Beneath the festivity, a tectonic shift that began a year ago continued to affect the look of the show and reshape the surf and skate landscape after a wave of mergers.
“It’s been very busy and the pace of the show is indicative of how good the category is,” said Dick Baker, chief executive officer of Op, which is now owned by Warnaco Group. “There’s so much more fashion in all the surf product.”
ASR show director Kevin Flanagan said, “We can’t see the end of surf. It’s so strong, we just can’t see the top to that trend and juniors continues to be an expanding market in our industry, [which is] fueling the growth.”
He said about 500 retailers attended the twice-a-year show, a 10 percent increase compared with last year, and there were about 100 new exhibitors.
Op, which last year converted from a licensing model to an operating model, delivered more feminine silhouettes and more vintage screen prints and logos unearthed from their archives. Spring 2006 represents the first collection done in-house since the conversion.
Creative director Lucy Love and owner Holly Sharp said while the shift toward more feminine, fashion-forward looks was definitely happening, her customer wasn’t going completely girly. Sharp said she did well with what she called “chopped dresses,” which are short dresses that work well over jeans.
This edition also saw the debut of GoldBox Mission, a section designated to showcase brands new to ASR, such as Ed Hardy, Salt Optics, Cardboard Robot and Lil Punk, as well as a DJ booth and bar. Flanagan said the section will continue, but that some changes likely will be made.
“I would have a larger selection of brands next time,” he said. “I think there was a whole discovery aspect and a lot of people weren’t clear what it was.”
Swimwear also reflected the shift to more fashion-focused looks. Tried-and-true California brands Roxy, Raisins, Billabong, O’Neill and others took up a large chunk of the show floor. Retailers such as George Halby of Halby’s in Blyth, Calif., remained loyal.
“We came here with swim in mind and we already know who we’re going to do business with: Becca, Roxy, Hurley, Billabong,” he said. “We’re not planning to open any new lines because we only have room for so much.”
Others were keen on finding new looks and brands.
Annette Demont of Hawaii Swimwear in Riverside, Calif., said she and her sister, Suzette, cut their appointment times in half to make time to seek out new brands.
There were also more lines from Brazil and Australia. Among those with a Rio flair were Cia Marítima, presenting a bikini slated to retail between $1,200 and $1,500 because of a marcasite pendant and straps attached to the bandeau top, along with a silk sash trimmed with the gray stone.
In addition to twists on tropical prints and string bikinis, suits were more embellished, with smaller bottoms and more complex silhouettes that wrapped, tied and draped.
“Fashion consumers are definitely more involved [in what they want], and manufacturers are taking them seriously,” said Howard Greller, chief merchandising officer of Apparel Ventures Inc. “Swimwear has turned into a sportswear-driven industry and that’s good for the consumer. It brings more excitement.”
Greller acknowledged certain looks can be a fad, so banking on every sportswear trend isn’t prudent, either.
Most companies appeared to be hedging their bets with bohemian smocking and stitching, as well as shiny, disco-like treatments.
Raj Mfg. executive vice president Alex Bhathal, who was monitoring buyers’ reactions to the company’s new Tommy Hilfiger license, said Seventh Avenue’s presence in swim is the latest business wave.
“More California companies are getting licenses from New York-based fashion brands,” Bhathal said. “It’s a way to make big volume.”
ASR Spring Trends
- Teal Time: A bold blue green hue, at times appearing as peacock-feather prints.
- Folk Art: Mexican floral embroidery on sweatshirts, swimwear and denim. Girly sundresses trimmed in crocheted hems.
- Hang 10: T-shirts, accessories, board shorts and swimsuits with Seventies’ California surf graphics and silhouettes, in a sunset palette of brown, orange, yellow and red.
- Melon Madness: A bright, juicy blend of orange and pink on everything from flowy feminine dresses to wet suits.
- Globe-trotting: A nod to the exotic surf paradises of Fiji, New Zealand and Hawaii by way of tropical leaf prints, light gauzy fabrics, tunics and straw fedoras.
A few blocks away in a dimly lit warehouse, retaIL heavyweights such as Nordstrom were shopping the Agenda streetwear show.
The maverick show, now in its third year, had no shortage of companies peddling the ubiquitous logo T-shirt. It also housed several more established lines who were there to snap up spillover business.
At Z Brand, which sells ripped, shredded and washed-out cargo pants and T-shirts to stores such as Atrium, M. Fredric and Fred Sega, the slower pace of the show proved conducive to business.
“The Nordstrom people rode through and placed orders,” said Brian Bentti, West Coast-based sales manager at Z brand. “Somehow, for them, it’s more calm to do business here.”
Pooneh Mohajer, co-owner of the Tokidoki line, which this season has seen its popular Japanese manga-style graphics represented on LeSportsac bags, said the major stores were making visits. But she was mum on who was placing orders.
“Business has been really good with a lot of international buyers,” she said.