A look from Split.

SAN DIEGO — Barrel bags printed in a spoof on LVMH’s Murakami design. Patent creeper shoes and Dolce Vita sunglasses. Fifties party dresses with tulle skirts. Elbow-length mittens.<br><br>This is surf?<br><br>Such frou-frou and...

SAN DIEGO — Barrel bags printed in a spoof on LVMH’s Murakami design. Patent creeper shoes and Dolce Vita sunglasses. Fifties party dresses with tulle skirts. Elbow-length mittens.

This story first appeared in the January 22, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

This is surf?

Such frou-frou and punk-princess staples were, indeed, the offerings for summer and fall from the action sports industry last weekend at the ASR Expo in San Diego. And they are a significant shift in a marketplace that, for the most part, relied on tried-and-true signature surf basics such as T-shirts and board shorts.

But the confluence of a developing junior category in this industry, as well as the mainstream marketplace’s embrace of surf styling, have given brands the confidence to expand their identity — and offerings.

“I’m seeing and wanting more of the fashion-forward clothes,” said Danielle Miller, buyer for Santa Cruz Surf Shop in that city, who ordered plenty of skirts, tanks and capris from Rusty Girl, Rip Curl and Seven2.

Two lines that kicked off the fashion trend in recent years are Split and Ezekiel (which recently wooed away the former’s junior designer, Chelsea Burggren). “Our juniors business this spring has grown four to five times larger than last spring, and we expect that trend to continue through summer,” said Ezekiel owner Steven Kurtzmann.

At the Split booth across the way, owner Dave Patri voiced similar enthusiasm for the brand’s line, which bears a more contemporary sensibility, pointing out a new licensing deal for its hats, handbags, belts and other accessories.

Eighties garb was out in full force. Think electric blue Members Only-style jackets from Split and metallic pink foil print shirts from Seven2.

“I love this whole Eighties punk rock, New Wave thing, and Billabong is doing it absolutely tremendously by being able to touch on the younger teen and the customer who’s in her early twenties,” noted Gina Bruno, women’s buyer for the 30-door Pacific Retail Group, which includes Pacific Eyes and Tees and Beyond the Beach stores throughout the West.

Swatches of bar stripes were pieced together for a slight zigzag effect into tube dresses and tops, A-line handkerchief skirts and roll-top minis. And O’Neill’s shrunken Johnny collar knit shirts were a hallmark of most lines. Tube dresses and tops represented the shape of the season. “They want to show skin and be sexy in a wholesome way,” said Roxy design director Dana Dartez.

Designers also revved up the details. Charms dangled from zip-up jackets and bikini bottoms at Hurley, and Zippers zagged at Dickies Girl.

Dickies Girl, standing out from the profuse color parade with its black, white, red and khaki looks, was accommodating buyer requests with its new open-stock program, replacing its pre-pack requirements as well as presenting a narrower line.

With about 300 vendors exhibiting around 500 brands, the size of this show — for the first time taking place in mid-January, instead of early February — is 15 percent smaller than the September installment, and with some notable no-shows: Paul Frank Industries, Puma and Obey.

A smaller ASR didn’t mean less showboating, however. At Volcom, one of the larger booths, the theme was plaid — from the plaid patchwork of walls to the clashing plaid uniforms worn by the small army of brand representatives to the bagpipe musician. The Scottish circus, though, didn’t eclipse the clothes inside the tent: a gauzy boatneck top printed in artist Steve Zapata’s ink doodles of women’s faces and a limited-edition Army blazer with hand-stitched roses and patches were a fashion world away from the hibiscus-splattered board shorts still a staple at other companies.

Volcom’s fall assortment of fleece shirts, wovens and denim jeans in new washes caught the eye of Erin McDaniel, women’s buyer at Huntington Surf and Sport in Huntington Beach, Calif., as did Lucy Love’s micro-miniskirts. McDaniel said her business was up 20 percent last year, but her pencil wasn’t necessarily working any harder. “We’re not necessarily buying more at the show, just maintaining a tight inventory.” she said.

For Ashley Ayala, buyer at Hermosa Beach, Calif.-based Spyder Surf Shops, miniskirts and linen fabrics were top of mind. “We’re looking for comfortable clothing and we like the longer shirt bodies,” she said.

Longer bodies cut from buttery soft, fine cottons dominated the show, no doubt due to the success of C&C California, the Los Angeles T-shirt brand that isn’t part of this industry — but is an obvious favorite among the dozens of sales reps and designers wearing the shirts this weekend.

The twist: slashed sleeves and necklines, shirring up the sides and screened graphics of retro beach life images such as the bending palm tree or “Mexico” emblazoned at Billabong. And just about everyone spelled out its brand name in Old English typeface, a nod to both chola and biker cultures.

Higher up in hems, however, were bottoms. No miniskirt could be mini enough, apparently, and shorts looked better suited for swim than street.

A standout in swim: Hurley, which launched its Lunada Bay licensed and designed collection at the show with a strong separates story flirting with bright colors, metal charms and original silhouettes such as a tiny pleated skirt that stops short of wrapping around a tiny bottom, and a wet suit-styled onesie with a skull and crossbones on the chest that could do for surfing girls and the industry what board shorts did a decade ago.

ASR wasn’t the only game in town. The Agenda Show, held Saturday and Sunday at a nearby warehouse, drew 40 exhibitors, about 20 percent more than last season.

Or at least megabrands striving for the patina of fringe. Securing exclusive leads was the goal for Chris Nicola, business director for Nike White Label, which hit stores last week. “We just wanted to find some key accounts for the line, which we hope will create brand heat for all of Nike.”