SAN DIEGO — The hint of rear cleavage on Roxy’s spring catalogue and Ezekiel’s second-season double-E printed ribbed tank, a nod to Chanel’s much-imitated logo, may have best summed up the three-day ASR trade show: Brands that cater to the maturing surfer girl can’t afford to ignore her fashionista alter ego.
Many lines were taking more fashion risks and departing from traditional logo styles. Tunics and multifunctional pieces were top sellers at the Roxy booth. A jumper was seen on the Split runway and Ezekiel touted its overall mini in railroad-worker denim.
Brands such as David & Goliath, Roxy and DC Shoes raised the bar on their cuffed denim jeans and miniskirts, pushing the retail price to $68 to $88 with the use of more expensive washes, baking treatments, wrinkling effects and undone hems.
“Junior is definitely regrouping,” said Diane Biggs, owner of the 15-store chain Diane’s Swimwear, based in Torrance, Calif. “There’s an extra ruffle here, more detail there and a lot of glitz. It’s about fun and stylish clothing.”
And it’s paying off, she said. Her sales are up 20 percent compared with last year and she opened a 1,500-square-foot store in Manhattan Beach, Calif., two months ago that will carry designer labels mixed in with surf and sportswear.
At the same time, companies that looked nothing like traditional surf brands, with nary a hibiscus flower in sight, were testing the waters at the show that ended last Sunday.
Amerikan Project, a four-year-old line out of San Clemente, Calif., made a splash with its rebellious looks, such as paint-splattered Ts and abraded denim. The Closet from Huntington Beach, Calif., and the Active Ride Shop chain picked up the line, designer Eric Crane said.
“There’s the surf, skate, lifestyle crossover thing happening,” he said. “Key stores want to carry both the contemporary lines like Seven jeans and surf lines such as Volcom.”
The show got a boost from the arrival of foreign lines, intent on tapping into the burgeoning U.S. market. The Australian brand Insight, known for its rocker sensibility with its drapy shirtdress and skinny jeans, attended ASR to find American distributors after its strong debut at ASR Europe in July. Plain Jane Couture from Canada and We from Sweden also piqued retailer interest.
Designed by a group of four Swedish designers, We features an array of products from windbreakers and Ts to denim in vivid color combinations and patterns, setting the brand apart from its competitors. Previously carried only in Europe and Japan, the four-year-old line will premiere in 10 stores in the U.S., including Fred Segal. We opened its first U.S. store on Monday on Robertson Boulevard in Los Angeles.
“It’s life after skateboarding,” said Greger Hagelin, chief executive officer of the brand. “There’s a great gap [in clothes] for boarders who’ve grown up.”
Even swimwear grew more sophisticated, with sequins, laser cutouts and geometric hardware accenting fashion bikinis. Sports suits, such as Wetskins by Rip Curl, got punched up with new color combinations. Ashley Smith of Rincon Designs in Carpenteria, Calif., shopped for wearable and trendy designs, which she found at O’Neill Clothing in the form of crisscross, reversible halters “that stay on when you surf.” Other trends she planned to buy were bandeaux (replacing the halter as the newest top silhouette) and Kelly green. “I’m also looking for turquoise and bra tops, both of which we get a lot of requests for, but I’m not finding as much of,” she said.
Peter Low of Exposure in Vancouver, British Columbia, was looking to expand his store’s high-end offerings, which he found at Vitamin A and Vix. Accents such as big gold rings and paisley prints caught his eye, as did Sixties-style floral prints at Billabong.
Jennifer Zweig, a buyer for the Destination 1440 chain and Marin Surf and Sport, both in Northern California, said she made her first trip to ASR in search of “a good, solid young swim line.” The bold print offerings at L Space made an impression, particularly the Kelly green hues and the short cover-up skirts. “Girls want selection,’’ she said. “They want to be able to take 10 suits into the dressing room and buy three.”
Still, not all retailers embraced the fashion wave.
Kathy Miller, owner and buyer of the Sun Shops in Santa Cruz, Calif., said that her buyers tend to be at least a season or two behind the trends. “We’re much more resort than this show, but this show sets the trends for juniors’ resorts,” she said.
While Miller said that many of the pattern styles, such as polkadots, plaids, checks and bold graphics would not work for her customers, there were other ways she hoped to keep the looks in her stores fresh.
“We’ll go for all the colors, but not the patterns,” she said.
Leslie Freeman, buyer for West 49, a 58-store chain of skateboard shops in Canada, said the show provided more inspiration than inventory.
“We’re from Canada…so we’re a bit behind,” she said, noting the company was coming off a good year.
That was good news for manufacturers, many of whom believe the junior business is still in growth mode. Men’s brand, like Fox, are still eyeing the hot juniors market. Fox is making a push in its second season with juniors.
Sales are up 40 percent year-to-date compared with 2003 at O’Neill Clothing, said Kelly Gibson, president of the line, which holds the U.S. distribution license from the O’Neill family in Santa Cruz, Calif.
“We’re still dominated by men’s brands, so there’s plenty of market share to capture,” he said.
In the big picture, however, some show veterans groused that the industry was far removed from its glory days.
“Look across the convention center and the booths used to go on and on, maybe it was 40 percent bigger,” said Frank Sinatra, president of directional brand Stüssy, coming into its 25th year. “Where are the new players? Where is the hot new indie brand?”
Ezekiel owner Steve Kurtzman echoed the sentiment, citing the spate of acquisition deals this year. Quiksilver, owner of Roxy, picked up DC Shoes, VF Corp. scooped up Vans and the Warnaco Group bought Ocean Pacific Apparel Corp. “It’s hard to find a player here who isn’t public or part of a public company or financed by a major player,” he said. “In the future, that can stifle creativity.”
But show director Kevin Flanagan said the event is on the rise. The number of exhibitors grew 10 percent to 400, representing 500 brands. He said he anticipated the show would attract an average of 6,000 buyers. Hurricanes prevented some Florida buyers from attending, including those for the influential store Ron Jon Surf Shop.
“I don’t know if the show will as big as it was in its golden years, but it can be more influential,” Flanagan said. “It’s about quality, not quantity.”
Blocks away from ASR, the Agenda trade show got its own groove on in a warehouse in the Gaslamp District, where RVCA, Hussy Jr. and Arkive were among the 38 smaller brands on display. Show organizer Aaron Levant said retailers such as Nordstrom, Tilly’s and Beams from Japan had visited.
Cinched-waist dresses and shrunken argyle vests were key looks at the RVCA booth. Hussy Jr. showcased T-shirts imprinted with black-and-white images of Steve McQueen and Brigitte Bardot. The show’s relaxed atmosphere meant business wasn’t always done as usual. Chef and caterer Lo Huynh said she was helping Hussy Jr. owner Forest Wise as a sales rep. “I love fashion and he couldn’t make it, so we both benefit.”
— With contributions from Marcy Medina and Michelle Dalton Tyree