Last year it was skate. This year it's our turn!
When you see fashion/music/media appropriating surf do you care? I remember, as a high school boy, seething at classmates who wore T&C/Quiksilver/Billabong but didn’t surf. “Poseurs…” I would hiss. “No good stinkin poseurs in poseur shirts acting like full on poseurs.” I thought surfing meant something, you see, and I thought that only those who actually did the something should be rewarded with public praise and day-glo gorillas.
This was costal Oregon in the early 1990s so who knows how real surfers in Orange County, California and Bondi, Australia thought about non-surfers wearing surf clothing but when I moved to Orange County for college I stopped caring.
Anyhow, last year Thrasher caught on bigly with everyone from Justin Bieber to your mom’s third husband and skaters were furious about, crowing about cultural appropriation. Fashion analysts warned that surf would be next and they were right. But are surfers furious? A new wonderful interview with OuterKnown’s designer John Moore suggests, “No!”
Let’s read a smidgen from Fashionista?
Surfing and fashion certainly aren’t strangers to one another and have existed hand-in-hand for decades. John Moore, the founder and chief creative officer of Kelly Slater’s Kering-backed lifestyle brand Outerknown, says he’s watched brands reference surf culture on the runway for as long as he’s been paying attention. Surf brands, too, have always taken note of what happens in fashion, though according to Moore, many of them probably wouldn’t admit it. The appropriation and love, he notes, goes both ways, and has for years. Remember the Chanel-branded surfboard made famous by Gisele Bündchen in 2014?
Moore also calls out designers like Proenza Schouler and Hedi Slimane who often toy with both surf and skate style. One of Moore’s favorite-ever collections is Raf Simons’s “Black Palms” range from Spring 1998. Only Simons’s second-ever runway show, the presentation took place in a parking garage in Paris’s stylish Bastille neighborhood with a soundtrack made up of extra-booming rave jams. Of the clothes, Moore offered: “Those palm graphics are indelibly stamped in my mind.”
What’s important about so-called “surf style,” though, is that it isn’t just one thing, despite the tropical, Polynesian imagery that represents the sport’s birthplace and remains most associated with it today. It’s what Thaddeus O’Neil, a designer of loungey, unisex playwear and of CFDA Fashion Incubator acclaim, instead calls a “sartorial mash-up.” He of all people working in capital-F “Fashion” would know, having spent his childhood on Eastern Long Island surfing with his dad. (“These days, I try to not miss a swell,” he says. “New York gets good waves, but it’s also very fickle — so you take what the sea will give you when she gives it to you.”) If he gets to surf three times a week, he says, it’s Shangri-La.
“Surfers have adopted different prosaic clothes and integrated them into what has become, over time, a coherent and recognizable style,” says O’Neil. “Surfing has simply proven the most powerfully iconic cultural vehicle for those motifs.”
Surf garb cycles through trends just as ready-to-wear does. Moore explains that in the 1950s, surfing was a subculture defined by stripes, blue jeans and made-to-order trunks. By the ’60s, clean, slim and colorful silhouettes took over, followed by the “soulful, psychedelic” influences of the ’70s and fluorescent, big-logoed designs of the ’80s. Then, things “went south” in the ’90s, when everything got baggy and all production went overseas.
“The common denominator across all eras in the evolution of surf style is that surfing has always been about this intangible cool,” says Moore. “And today, all designers and brands search for it. This idea of ‘effortless fashion’ or an ‘I just threw this on’ vibe — surfers would laugh at these descriptors because that’s just how they are every day.”
Mmmmmm the appropriation and love does go both ways, I think. Anytime I see a major label playing with a surf motif it delights me to no end and I even purchase from time to time. But what about you? Do you care?
Do you hate poseurs?