For Those About to Bid, We Salute You

Photo by Amy Thelig “Did you guys see Anna Nicole's wetsuit?” was what several hundred shag-haired surfwear-design geeks and the women who might date them—or at least dole out a fake cell phone number—wondered Friday night at the third annual Orange County Design Collective charity art auction for foster kids at the Lab in Costa Mesa.

Some guys from Split behind me in line fixated on Mazda's latest soapbox-derby racer, also on auction—but a gaggle of willowy blondes were among those flabbergasted that Anna Nicole's wet suit had the nerve to show up, and that for a $2,500 opening bid, it could go home with them. They didn't see the irony in this marvel of engineering appearing at a design auction.

“It's weird,” one said, “that it's here. As if anyone would want to bid on that.” As if was the point—even if you'd never wear it, even if much of what we saw at OC/DC we'd seen before, you were supposed to bid early and often on clothes, surfboards and even a Barbie by Paul Frank (sparked by the new Anheuser draft in the green aluminum bottle), and your bid would pay to educate foster kids in the real world, which ironically, this was not.

Updated fatigue jackets and faded jeans with graphics printed on for fellas; flirty printed skirts and impossibly ruffled bikinis for the ladies: here was a chance for the guys at Billabong, Split, Fox, Ocean Pacific (OP) and the other design houses to turn out some high-end streetwear. But it felt like dj vu, or at least winter in San Diego: lost, doing the Western-wear Quiksilver had been pumping at the previous January's ASR. In the real world, don't collections change every season?

Okay, so maybe this was the real world, albeit one where few fashion houses were smart enough to poke fun at what everyone else took seriously. Fox Racing played it to the hilt, with a men's suit that threatened to change the way we think about hooking up. It was reversible, company man Luis Calderin told me: one side alligator, the other leather; one a thin pale blue, the other a dark blue.

This made eight outfits, he told me: “I tried the math a million ways,” he said, and my own natural laziness plus the Anheuser made me want desperately to believe. Such convertibility actually encouraged getting busy, he said, 'cause this time, the man can do the walk of shame taking it home the next morning—but in a brand-new outfit. So no one has to know. Such deviousness.

Less reliant on subterfuge was OP, which took the obvious path of a women's outfit straight outta 1980: flared pants, tank top with a huge sequined “OP” on the front, and over it a corduroy-and-nylon vest that looked like it had sprung directly from the archives. Sadly, it just made you remember the glory days of puka-shell necklaces the first time.

Not that there was anything wrong with reruns, if done right. Long Beach-based Cardboard Robot got it, showcasing a redesigned Army fatigue jacket on a mannequin with a gas mask, an air rifle with a daisy stuffed down the barrel and, on its head, Mickey Mouse ears. Ouch!

Perhaps the best auction items, though, were the surfboards. They were so abstract that everything painted on them—from the reaper to giant rats to Kingsley Aarons' take on Kurt Cobain—looked fresh and new, and the backstory had just enough Zen to make it all float.

“It's all about the consciousness,” surfboard designer Raf McMaster of Seattle told me, describing his board, which sucked in bidders with dark colors, mirror writing and a psychedelic turtle. “It's about the deep, dark wave, and below that, there's a freedom, if you can find it.”

Man's eternal quest, on a surfboard. For sale.

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