Morning in Orange County

Photo by OCW Staff"I could talk about the Gipper all day," Monument Clothing co-founder Dave Matt says as we face off in high-backed wood chairs across an oak conference table and revisit the painting by pro snowboarder Blair Rusin that hangs over his desk.

Matt's art is a window into the soul of an independent surf company that has not only survived its first year but also thrived, located just south of El Granjenal taqueria in Costa Mesa. It did $500,000 sales this year, and he promises $1.5 million next.

The Gipper? Matt is a Knute Rockne fan, and really, who isn't these days? Those baggy three-piece suits, the endless forward passes, that selfless devotion to . . . he means Reagan. The painting is of Ronald Reagan, the 40th president, in cowboy gear. The former Screen Actors Guild president rode more fences than waves, but Matt says surfers are cowboys at heart—and Reagan is the Laird Hamilton of his heart, with his go-your-own way environmental policies, his love of rugged individualism, his fondness for deregulation.

"What did Ronald Reagan stand up for? He stood up for the individual. He systematically got the government out of people's way and let the people be free," argues Matt, a Republican. "He stripped away the trappings of regulation and let people run their lives. I think surfers are lovers of freedom and expression."

And sales. In surfwear, Matt says, you gotta sell, no matter how good or revolutionary your designs are, how many sponsors you have or how many patents you have pending (he has one)—you gotta make dough. Having this desire, he adds, makes him one with the 40th prez, who warmed up for Reaganomics broadcasting Big Ten football and speaking for General Electric.

"I don't look at this as the business of selling clothing. That has to be understood. I really look at it as we're selling a label, a message, a theme," Matt says. Monument's vehicle comprises all the usual suspects—hoodies, baby-doll tees, boardshorts, casual dress shirts, jeans—but its message, the typical one of rebellion, gets juiced by the graphics department (art director Aaron Martin) and then again in design, thanks to Matt.

Call it Morning in Orange County, courtesy of Aaron Martin.

"There's nothing revolutionary about nonconformity. Jesus Christ was pretty much the [spokesman] for nonconformity," Matt says. "It would be the way we package nonconformity."

Monument's other co-founder, pro surfer Shane Beschen, gives the label its street cred; Martin provides the visual punch to distract you from warmed-over rebellion. Virtually all the company's graphics are his: stripey boardshorts, fakey herringbone dress shirts, eerie skulls, heads of people, abstract contrast stitching framing odd-shaped pockets, Asian-inspired cherry trees.

The overall effect is reminiscent of the deconstructed, wiggy design style that David Carson pioneered 10 years ago, first as art director for Beach Culture, then at Ray Gun magazine. People hated Carson: his magazines looked good, with their Linotype-explosion layouts, but the type ran off the pages, making them hard to read. Except you don't read clothes. And in the design world, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. And that's all Ronald Reagan was doing: taking something that started somewhere else, giving it a new spin, and running with it all the way to the bank.

He was the political Dave Matt . . . or was he?

Monument Clothing may be had at 1660 Monrovia Ave., Costa Mesa, (949) 548-1140.


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