Photo by Theo DouglasA party, er, show this big—the Action Sports Retailer blowout—comes maybe three, four times a year to the drab little worlds of professional skaters, surfers, motocross riders, drifters. It makes them smile until their faces hurt. And you must speak slowly and loudly to be heard over the din when ordering boardshorts/greeting people you see twice a year/asking about the new line/accepting a fake, plastic Alpine hat at Volcom's Volctoberfest—earliest Octoberfest on record.
The occasion, technically speaking, was the new lines—winter/spring 2006. But even bigger than the stacks of boardshorts, jeans, sport shirts, T-shirts, bikinis, snakeskin boots ("They're gonna go up real fast and come down real fast," Nomad's Patrick La Haye said matter-of-factly at 9 a.m.) or the joining in wedlock of skull and argyle graphics were the girls, and the old guys. Nineteen-year-olds and men who could be their dads are in. Again.
Women first: they've been marketed to for 30 years, but a niche market always seeks new niches, and the new one is 19-year-old women. Vowing not to lose its way like what happened after Fast Times,'80s, Santa Fe Springs-based Vans debuted a new spring women's line—a series of flirty, cap-sleeved, hand-sewn tops with an understated maturity that should help them fly off the shelves.
"Girls are now 30 to 40 percent of the [action sports] market," Chris Overholser of Vans says. "Now I think that next step is for Vans to be known as the action sports youth apparel brand." And you thought they were, only not for girls until now. Costa Mesa-spawned Hurley wanted in too, opting not only for girls—its new spokesmodel is 19-year-old Angeleno Rosie O'Laskey—but also for an upscale, sophisticated look whispering "Surf all day, rock all night"with a smoky palette and urbane sweater sets and skirts that hit the grown-up side of edgy. "We're kind of talking to that 19- to 20-year-old girl," explains Hurley's Juniors Marketing Director Lyndsey Roach. "It's individuality, personal style. The whole image is tomboy-sexy."
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That's part of it. The other part was Stacey Peralta—graying, thickening proto-skater, who loaned his name and memories to the Powell Peralta museum upstairs; whose longevity must inspire companies like corporate-backed Honolua Surf Co., which caters to older male riders. You need Peralta, or O'Laskey or, say, 17-year-old Vans model Erica Hosseini of Newport Beach, who's still in high school; you need a face, a wise or beautiful face—preferably the latter—to crystallize your image. Buyers have to know why they're buying it now, so they can explain it to the consumer in six months. A face says that, even if, as with O'Laskey, its owner just hovers in the background. That's what ASR is really about—as is its little brother, Agenda, the no-admission shadow show for the underground-of-the-underground, held the same weekend in a warehouse blocks away.
The two shows really aren't all that different—though they should have been, for all the publicity—and in fact they were connected this particular weekend by a couple of limousines Agenda rented to shuttle its visitors to and from a pickup point outside ASR—playing against type: we can so rent limos. The connection was telling; previous Agenda stalwarts like Costa Mesa's RVCA and Long Beach-based Cardboard Robot had spaces in bothshows. The Robot people, in fact, were invited to ASR's new overrated hipster display area, Gold Box Mission, and a space across from the Ed Hardy booth, whose T-shirts with vintage tattoo graphics enjoyed a sales spurt about five or six months ago when pregnant Britney was photographed in one.
People at ASR want to buy our shit, the RVCA guy at Agenda said a bit defensively, and of course, their ASR space was jammed with reps signing up orders for shirts in spring's pale organic hues and soft-washed denim. Agenda—not so; Friday was dead, Generic Youth's Jeff Yamamoto shrugged. And it all seemed rather anticlimactic. Two, three years ago, companies like RVCA began a new design cycle with limited off-kilter graphics by lowbrow or outsider artists whom few had ever heard of, meandering embroidery, and new ways of fading denim for unique softness and hues. The cycle is complete now; everyone else has it. Vans used that exact same embroidery technique on its girls' tops, and deconstructionist graphics like the skull-argyle mash-up were everywhere. And unless we turn another corner in graphic design or prewashing, everyone at the party will be sobering up soon—and realizing some of the stuff they're here to buy looks not unlike the stuff they were here to buy last year. Or else they'll see the freedom in all this sameness: the reality that almost anything goes.
"Jim Greco, one of our skaters, came to an event the other day," Overholser says of the veteran rider, whom Vans is sponsoring. "And he was wearing a track suit." That's it: fall 2006, the track suit re-emerges. Start sketching.