'Military Is Very, Very Important'

The camouflage is hidden. Photo by Theo Douglas

As you'd expect of something turning 25, there were haters and lovers in San Diego recently for the first of three installments of the Action Sports Retailer expo: still the show for makers of surf, skate and snow gear.
And that was okay; badmouth a trade show afloat on a tide of energy drinks and keg beer all you want; call it the "bro-deo," as did exhibitors at the "underground" piggyback show Agenda ("the show they don't want you to know about"—with complimentary limo service). Just go, and appear to be interested (please?), despite the fact that, since its inception, the action sports uniform has been—and will probably always be—a T-shirt and shorts; long sleeves if it's cold.

We were there to learn what would be printed on that T-shirt next fall, and what style those shorts would be—and was the sky still blue, and did the Reef girls still wear thongs? (They did.) Until, of course, it became clear Travis Barker was in town shilling for his Famous Stars and Straps label, at which point we had to go look at his Cadillac, shod in something approaching 20-inch Dayton wheels. Daytons are punk, right?

As a guy who hangs out with musicians, Barker understandably has a reputation to uphold, his PR woman said. "Do you have a store?" she asked pointedly after I identified myself. No, I said; you see—y'seeOC Weekly is a weekly newspaper. Ah: but they only discuss the line—T-shirts, hats, belt buckles, bikinis, hoodies—with people who want to buy or sell it, she said. But if I wanted to come back, I could talk to Travis, if he was there. Which I did; and he had duh to say about designing trucker hats and belt buckles emblazoned with various encouraging words—plus the neon-pink and camouflage bikinis stashed in the back, away from my prying eyes. He even missed name-checking the camouflage thing, which was just sad.

This year—meaning for fall 2006—layering and military-inspired action sportswear are huge, and it is okay to be confused. Because when, since the Abraham Lincoln Brigade formed or so, has military gear not been huge? Oh, but wait, it's huge now: the aforementioned camo bathing suits—Quiksilver and others offering the corresponding men's editions—plus nipped-in little battle-inspired jackets for the ladies, from RVCA and others. It's now. Not then. I had to be reassured by design director Bryce Cole, one of the friendlies at Redsand—creator of assorted colorful thermals, which are also back.

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"Military," he assured me, "is very, very important." To which I silently added the words "in Iraq," the way you do with "in bed" to fortune-cookie sayings. Did that all day. And it turned out okay, despite things kind of looking the same as they always do (in Iraq)—Lost's Lost Vegas casino booth (slutty cocktail waitress costumes) and Volcom's fraternity-house booth (toilet-papered at 9 a.m.) being the exceptions.

Another exception was Etnies CEO Pierre Andre Senizergues, waxing about his company's 20th year in the biz, and the salad years, when he knew every skateboarder in France. "There were maybe, like, 50," he said in an interview on the terrace overlooking part of the marina. "Now, seeing where [skateboarding] is today, I think [I] have a responsibility to give back to the community." Part of his noblesse oblige has led to the creation of things like the Etnies skatepark and, more recently, art gallery in Lake Forest—and yes, there will be the obligatory anniversary party there later this year. But much more important in the next 20 years, Senizergues said, will be reducing Etnies' footprint on the earth, through innovations like organic denim and cleaner transportation.

"Where you actually pollute the most is transporting it around," he said, tactfully not mentioning that you maybe also pollute if, when you get it where you're going, you "decorate" with a case of Quilted Northern.

Or not; if you looked beyond the bros, this ASR was proof—like Quiksilver's adult label, and OP's ongoing puffy nylon jacket redux—that action sports is increasingly all growed up. At Split, for example, there was a fashion show—girls on a runway modeling rather demure flowered sundresses (last glimpse of summer styles), and then for winter, deep V-ed sweater vests you might actually wear over earth-toned T-shirts. Of course, while I was shooting it, some guy had to ruin it by hitting me in the back of the head with his ass, but deep down I guess I knew that you can't actually expect people to layer in the aisles. Sartorially, though, you can. Hurley's entire winter campaign was built around layering—risky business here, where Christmas is in the 80s and layering means a shrunken sweater over a tunic slip.

"It's called 'Insulation Nation: a new place to be,'" said Hurley marketing and publicity director Julie Weitzberg-Leffler, "and it's all about layering, both men's and women's [lines]." And, like the camouflage, it's timeless. Or so it seems.

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