Out of the Past

Not your dad's surf trunks. Photo by Theo Douglas

"We do this every time we get acquired," Ocean Pacific PR guy Alain Mazer was saying, by which he meant: hold an open house at night and invite assorted personalities to hang with president Dick Baker over Coronas and grilled snacks. It's only that OP was acquired by Warnaco Group—which also has a hand in your Speedos and your Calvin Kleins—oh, back in fall 2004, so huh? Way to rush that open house into production. No, see, Mazer said, we've been redecorating; and they have, but more on that later.

Three, maybe four conversations and a beer in, it became apparent this wasn't so much an open house as a warm-up for the company's annual symposium at 8 the next morning, on things like marketing and design—revving the creative engines for, among other things, the 2007 swimwear series. 2007 is the new—well, it'll be the new year. And so assorted consultants and managers, plus OP-sponsored surfer and volleyball types, flew in from wherever to stand around in dressy leather flip-flops and regulation OP polos with wooden buttons; in tiki-like necklaces and Burt Reynolds mustaches oddly reminiscent of ASRs past. And the real business began: the eating of hors d'oeuvres and the drinking of drinks.

"Can you make my hair darker?" Baker asked jokingly at one point—having silvered out some time ago—and the answer was yes, Mr. President. I was trying to wangle my way into the symposium, which seemed like a sure thing until one of the OP black ops guys said they'd have to kill me afterward. Which would have been the downside. The upside was getting to glimpse some of the things you'll be seeing on the racks in about a year. And to hear a vaguely interesting remix of "Everybody Knows"—the original. Was the DJ being ironic or unironic? Hard to say.

"These are some of our influences for Swim 2007," said OP Swim design director Anna Kenney, gesturing toward a wheeled cork bulletin board in her office. "We work a year ahead in Swim. There's CENSORED and EMBARGOED and materials like WITHHELD." And, apparently, Beck Hansen; he's been a huge influence on us all.

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On other boards elsewhere in the OP design office—eerily similar to its counterpart on Project Runway but with better lighting and no losers—her staff has pinned up a whole array of other trinkets that excite them: fabrics in unique colors and patterns; swatches picked to highlight the interplay between light and dark and man's inhumanity to man; baubles of various shapes and sheen. This is it: OP Swim 2007. It is just that easy.

Not really. OP staffers brag about getting an OP bikini on the cover of a recent Victoria's Secret catalog—a previously unheard-of association with the brand, which has expanded to include seven OP swimsuits this year. News that Urban Outfitters will feature an OP swimsuit on an upcoming cover—plus the fact that Delia's and Alloy, two key retailers, are bullish on the new suits—has the company quite excited.

And rightfully so. OP has seemingly been on the way back from obscurity—grappling with crucial issues such as quality control and the more philosophical one of balancing its archive of classics with new designs—for the better part of 10 years. At each ASR, it rolls out carefully updated renditions of garments from its glory days in the 1970s, when the dominance of its trademark cords, screened polos and nylon jackets was not open to debate. (The only question was: puka shells or a Lightning Bolt necklace.) Is OP pulling away from its past? The proof, Kenney said, is at the cash register, where customers, stores and buyers all are ringing up.

"I think the younger kids like what they see. And the older customers remember us," she said. "OP brings people happy memories. And I think we design young."

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