By  on January 4, 2012

CULVER CITY, Calif. — Quiksilver Inc. and champion surfer Kelly Slater are introducing an apparel line aimed at adventurous globe-trotters.

The line, called VSTR, will launch this spring, offering sportswear that mixes function with understated design and quality fabrics. Pronounced “visitor,” VSTR is an acronym for visiting, surfing, traveling and responsibility. The target customer is a man of any age, with a slightly higher income and a bout of wanderlust. The brand summarizes its philosophy as “modern travel essentials for the ocean, road and the journey in between.”

In other words, VSTR is “about how to put your passions and beliefs into something that wasn’t seen as just a product for mass sale,” Slater said. “The line and Web site are ways to express that in a different forum. Of course, we’re still a company and we’re backed by [Quiksilver] — just to be transparent about that — but we can quickly change direction or make decisions without all the red tape.”

Slater is the latest elite surfer to jump from the surf to sportswear. Dane Reynolds, another surfer sponsored by Quiksilver, also created a signature line with the Huntington Beach, Calif.-based company. Joel Tudor collaborated with Vans on a better-priced men’s capsule collection highlighting eco-friendly fabrics such as recycled polyester and organic cotton.

While one can’t deny Slater’s status in the sport — last year he won his 11th world title and picked up his 17th Surfer Poll trophy — he is hardly considered a fashion role model, à la soccer stud David Beckham. Still, surfing and traveling are what Slater knows best from 20 years on the pro circuit, chasing waves from Australia’s Gold Coast to Hawaii, Brazil, South Africa and beyond. He channeled his experience into VSTR.

“Creating function into the design is really the idea we have for making pieces,” he said. “I take a lot of flights and drive a lot and end up in a different climate day after day. You need something that keeps you warm but won’t be overly warm, or fits in your backpack without being too bulky. Things you see along the way you sort of pick up mentally or physically and incorporate that into the pieces. Lots of artists and drawings from our own sketches make their way into the line.”

For instance, boardshorts are printed with watercolor paintings overlaid on topographical maps created by Simon Buttonshaw, a Quiksilver artist who hatched the idea for VSTR with Slater a few years ago. Other men who collaborate with VSTR include artist Sandow Birk and Kepa Acero, a former European surf star. Their influences range from Slater’s idea of sewing the front pockets on a wool blazer at a 45-degree angle so that the hands can slouch better inside to Acero’s video of surfing the tip of Patagonia.

Fitting the men’s peripatetic lifestyle, each piece is designed with travel in mind. For example, the selvage jeans, in straight and slim fits, feature an inner back pocket that holds a passport snugly. The line’s signature detail of nautical rope is stitched to the bottom hem of a T-shirt so that it can be used to hang the garment dry from a hook or even a tree branch. Otherwise, the styling is clean, classic and minimal, in rugged neutral hues such as black, indigo, dark green and brown.

“You should be able to wear each item three days in a row without raising an eyebrow,” said John Moore, founder of Pop Studio, the design and brand consultancy that oversaw the creation of the line. VSTR is Moore’s latest project with Quiksilver; his firm also designs Quiksilver’s collections for girls and women.

At Pop Studio’s loft here, Moore and Jesse Faen, VSTR’s marketing director, explained that VSTR is different from Quiksilver Waterman, another brand that is geared toward what Faen dubs an “aging surfer.”

“We’re not an adventure brand, but we’re adventure-spirited,” Faen said. VSTR is also about quality, particularly in the current economy, he said. “People are looking for quality when they buy something. You don’t want to buy something new every six months,” he said.

Slater has already identified his favorites from the line, which will offer as many as 40 styles for spring and 30 more for fall. He’s waiting to get his hands on a marled cotton pullover hoodie with an extended panel that acts like a muffler.

“The long-sleeve shirts are slim-fitting but have some stretch to ’em, and I love those,” he said.

Hovering between the upper end of the action-sports market and the opening level for premium brands, retail prices start at $38 for T-shirts. The rest of the line sells from $65 to $75 for boardshorts, $68 to $150 for shorts, $85 to $115 for woven shirts, $98 to $125 for pants, $125 to $180 for denim, and $195 to $350 for outerwear. There’s also a $395 waxed-canvas backpack that VSTR produced in collaboration with Partners & Spade. In fact, VSTR’s philosophy is embodied by that bag, which also comes with a compact hammock and removable messenger bag.

“The idea is that if it doesn’t fit in that bag, it’s not necessary,” Slater said. “The whole package can fit in our travel bag as a whole travel piece with every item in the line.”

U.S. retailers that have ordered the inaugural collection include Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s, American Rag Cie, Ron Herman, Fred Segal Man, Thalia Street Surf in Laguna Beach, Calif., Voyager in San Francisco, and Air and Speed in Montauk, N.Y. VSTR also plans to launch in Europe this spring. Its e-commerce site is expected to debut in March. Moore is now scouting locations for a freestanding store in Southern California, which will supplement the shop that opened last October in Byron Bay, Australia.

“The plan is to have a gallerylike space to showcase our product and collaborators we work with,” he said of the criterion for the California store.

Moore declined to provide sales projections for VSTR. To promote sales, Faen said VSTR has placed ads in publications in the U.S. and Australia, including Malibu, Monster Children and the March edition of Surfer.

True to his stature as a world-class surfer, Slater wanted to make sure VSTR set its mark in boardshorts. At his first design meeting with Moore, he twisted the boardshorts as hard as he could. Well-made boardshorts, in his opinion, would pass the wring test.

“It’s not about fashion. Fashion could care less about our wring test,” Moore said. “It’s about great function.”

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