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Beyond the Break

Although stylish, sophisticated looks are making a comeback in urban areas across the country, it’s surprising to learn that the movement has taken hold amid Orange County’s laid-back surf and skate culture.

“Men forgot how to dress for about a decade and a half. The ‘90s were super-sized fashion--men pretending to be boys in oversized cargo pants, sweatshirts and baseball caps,” says Jade Howe, 39, who grew up in Laguna Beach and now lives and works out of his loft in downtown Santa Ana. Howe, who started as a designer with Huntington Beach’s Quiksilver, the surf and skate apparel company, started Howe Denim four years ago to create edgy but well-tailored clothes “that actually fit.” His designs, which he calls “cowboy punk meets English country gentleman,” have found fans in Jesse Metcalfe, the Rock and Chester of Linkin Park. “Men are finding that a comfortable lifestyle can coexist with a more sophisticated approach to personal style.”

Howe is one of a group of talented designers whose surf-skate, suburban Orange County backgrounds inspire their unexpected designs. Paul Frank, 37, whose iconic monkey, Julius, adorns everything from T-shirts to bedding, has made 9-year-old Paul Frank Industries into a global phenomenon. He cites among his biggest influences growing up in Huntington Beach and “the architecture of Disneyland . . . not the buildings so much, as the trash cans and railings.”

Newport Beach-based Trovata and its principals--non-native Californians Josia Lamberto-Egan, Jeff Halmos, Sam Shipley and John Whitledge, all in their mid-20s--received a coveted $25,000 Ecco Domani Fashion Foundation grant this year in New York. The four avid surfers are known for the stories they concoct for each season’s collection. The latest concerns a preppy from Cape Cod who steals a boat and sails to Brazil, where he meets a beautiful girl eating lunch at the yacht club. The team uses the story--part whimsy, part autobiography--as a focal point for their designs. The collection of corduroy blazers, polos and crew-neck sweaters fits perfectly with the fiction of a seventh-generation preppy hipster.

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Based in urban-suburban Santa Ana, LRG (Lifted Research Group) consists of designers Jonas Bevacqua, 27, and Robert Wright, 32. The pair mix and match high-style items from Chanel, Burberry and Gucci with their own eclectic street-inspired fashionisto collection. “We pick an influence for each part of our collection,” says the burly, bearded Wright. “We’re not just influenced by clothing. We believe real design is taking the world and adapting it to clothing with wit and humor.”

San Clemente’s Robby Apple, 30, and his partner and head designer Jared Brandt, 25, of Costa Mesa, had both worked for a number of surf-skate apparel companies before forming Donn Mason 18 months ago to create what Apple describes as “sophisticated men’s intimates”: underwear, lounge wear and smoking apparel that’s best described as dilettante punk turns playboy after dark. “We’re responding to a different trend toward high styling,” Apple says. “And the guys we know, they even want their underwear pimped out.”

The O.C. design spirit is perhaps best summed up by Trovata’s John Whitledge. “We’re more influenced by the life we lead here than anything going on in the fashion world. That’s why we don’t live someplace like L.A. or New York, where we might take a wrong turn. We just want to tell the stories, design the clothes and then go surfing.”


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