Listen to this article
When luxury fashion group Kering announced a plan to develop a clothing line with 11-times world champion surfer Kelly Slater, it made not only a canny business move but also hit on the menswear trend of the summer.
“Surf style offers the perfect fashion escapism. It is all about freedom, rebellion and long, hot summer days,” says Eleanor Robinson, contemporary and designerwear buyer at Selfridges, referring to a look that has influenced labels such as Prada, 3.1 Phillip Lim, Kenzo, Dries Van Noten, Neil Barrett, Julien David, Raf Simons and Saint Laurent.
In store, that trend is reflected in pieces such as neoprene T-shirts from Raf Simons (£250), Kenzo (£195) and 3.1 Phillip Lim (£210), as well as tropical-print shorts from Vilebrequin (£175), Ralph Lauren (£100) and Orlebar Brown (£225). There is also an array of Hawaiian-style shirts, including Junya Watanabe’s floral print (£295), Kenzo’s fish-and-wave print (£220), 3.1 Phillip Lim’s floral panel shirt (£225) and a “Laguna” floral print from Marc by Marc Jacobs (£165).
“The Hawaiian shirt has a quirky coolness and vintage edge,” says Robinson. “Elvis Presley or Al Pacino [as Tony Montana in] Scarface are the Hawaiian-shirt poster boys, so even in the prettiest of floral prints, there is no question of it not being a masculine choice.”
It is not just London’s designers dreaming of the beach life this summer. “I think all guys would love to have the freedom of the surf world,” says Adrian Ward-Rees, director of menswear at Hong Kong-based Lane Crawford. “The appeal of surf-inspired style is that it brings colour and happiness to your wardrobe; it allows us to enjoy the playfulness of summer.” For Lane Crawford, that playfulness comes in the form of Neil Barrett’s wetsuit-style colour blocks (T-shirt, £325, and neoprene shorts, £365) and Scotch & Soda’s colourful floral prints on just about everything (tropical-print shirt, £70; blazer, £165; T-shirt, £45).
But can the surf look work away from the beach? “You can reference the look in an urban setting by combining a great short-sleeve Hawaiian-print shirt or a simple graphic-print T-shirt with some sun-faded, colourful chino shorts,” says Ward-Rees. “The idea is to have fun, keep it light and colourful. Don’t be afraid of print but balance it back to a solid colour. Keep it simple with footwear, too: lace-up canvas sneakers such as YMC [£75] or Havaianas [£15] work best – or even Valentino camouflage sandals [£535]. But it must look effortless.”
New York-based designer Phillip Lim captures that spirit in his print collection, inspired by the idea of a globetrotting “accidental tourist”. “I took inspiration from 1970s surf, exotic prints and the notion of merging work and play,” he says. “I wanted to mix the untamed nature of surf with an urban street sensibility in a simple way.”
Another fan of the beach look is French designer Julien David, whose palm-tree motif print tops (£340) and shorts (£280) sell through Dover Street Market, in London and New York.
“Surf and skate style are a continuing influence on my work,” says David, who is based in Tokyo. “They represent some kind of freedom of spirit. You don’t [have to] surf or skate to compete, you do it first for yourself. There are no opponents, rarely teachers, it’s something that you learn on your own. This culture represents youth and a way to go against the grain – that is part of the appeal.”
That youthful appeal is certainly not lost on mainstream clothing retailers. “The whole surf-style thing is a perennial favourite at Topman,” says Gordon Richardson, the store’s creative director. “It is something we design into every summer, especially across key items like shirts and shorts that take prints well.” This season Topman has everything from floral-print board shorts (£26) to washed-out floral T-shirts (£20) and Hawaiian shirts (£35) to choose from.
“After the long winter, surf and tropical prints encapsulate the escapism of summer and immediately say ‘holiday’ more than anything else,” says Richardson. “Who isn’t envious of the Californian surfer guy spending all day catching the surf? It’s pure escapism on every level.”
Sporty cover-ups: Rash decisions
The “rash vest”, or “rash guard” – that streamlined, high-tech top more commonly seen on the backs of hipster surfers – is the latest sportswear piece to have caught the attention of designers, writes Eve Simmons.
Traditionally worn as a base layer under a wetsuit or on top of a bikini to prevent chafing caused by surfboards, these lightweight vests now feature in ready-to-wear collections, in block colours and bold prints.
“The rash vest is perfect for the active as well as the sun-conscious beachgoer – its man-made fibres are quick-drying, they protect from UV rays and are chlorine-resistant, too,” says Adam Brown, founder of British swimwear specialist Orlebar Brown, which this season is offering sand-resistant, quick-dry, long-sleeved vests in navy and white (£130) with UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) of 50+.
“Rash guards have proved extremely popular this year,” says Emma Pake, lingerie and swimwear buyer at Selfridges in London. “They are versatile and more fashion-oriented than pure performance-wear. In March we dedicated a scheme to celebrating the influence of surf sports and bought rash guards from brands such as Beth Richards and Zimmermann.”
Floral-print rash guards can be found at Marc by Marc Jacobs (£60) and Pret-à-Surf (£115), while New York-based swimwear designer Mara Hoffman’s stretch nylon versions at Net-a-Porter feature three-quarter-length sleeves and bold tribal patterns (£135-£145). Capped sleeves such as the block-coloured Air Rush Rash Guard can be found at Sweaty Betty (£70).
J Crew has a sleeveless botanical print rash vest (£54) and, for increased sun protection, a long-sleeved hibiscus-print rash guard (£78, left).
Stockists in this article and this week’s other Style articles
Runway photographs: Catwalking