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Paris, New York, Milan and London usually throw up a plethora of different styles and imagery during their seasonal shows, but one thread seemed to tie together all four major fashion weeks’ Spring/Summer 2019 collections last fall: models walking down the runways as if they were the boardwalks of a coastal town in California.


Across household names and up-and-coming labels, there were tie-dyes and neoprene, tropical motifs and shark prints, each evocative of sunny mid-afternoon beach outings. Surf style was the trend to flaunt.


Riding the wave was Raf Simons’ final Calvin Klein show in New York, where looks included wetsuits – some with the bibs folded over at the waist to reveal graphic, painterly prints – nautical hardware, vests and short-sleeved sweatshirts plastered with the poster of the 1975 Spielberg classic Jaws, a main influence for the collection.

Spring Summer 2019's surfer trend, as seen on the runways at Prada (left) and Proenza Schouler (right)
Spring Summer 2019's surfer trend, as seen on the runways at Proenza Schouler (left) and Prada (right)

Proenza Schouler followed with some polished takes on tied-and-dyed, while Michael Kors and Anna Sui turned to Hawaii – where surfing is thought to have originated – with tropical prints on swimwear, bucket hats and board shorts.


In Milan, Prada played the surfing theme with more tie-dye prints, printed neoprene-esque tops, and rash-guard-like surf socks. Etro brought surfer-girl cool (and two actual surfers) to the runway with a boho and breezy line aptly titled Pacific Zen.

Buckets of tie-dye hit MSGM’s extra-long knits in punchy, almost punk-like hues, for a modern take on the fabric dyeing technique. 


Point Break, a classic surf movie, was the clear inspiration behind Sportmax’s show, which was especially loaded with surf references. Here, looks featured stylised surfwear and shell anklets, dresses in technical nylon ruched with drawstrings, bikini tops under relaxed suit jackets, slides and slouchy backpacks, and leather board shorts – admittedly unpractical on any real beach – paired with wetsuit-style T-shirts.


Another giant, Dior, took on the sea in Paris with more acid wash and artisanal tie-dye on beautifully crafted garbs – a feminine and edgy interpretation of surf’s laid-back, easy-does-it vibe.


Labels to watch embraced the trend too: newcomer Marine Serre’s second catwalk show featured a decidedly utilitarian and sporty aesthetic in the form of wetsuits and neoprene bodysuits, not to mention a showstopping scuba-suit ball gown with voluminous ruffles. In London, Rejina Pyo threw pastel-hued tropical motifs and zingy neon green on short-sleeved shirts, and Richard Malone sent out rash-guard-inspired tops.


But fashion’s fascination with surf culture and lifestyle isn’t new. The two have been crossing paths for decades, ever since surfing began gaining popularity in the 50s and pro surfers started looking at flair as an element as important as function in their outfits in and out of water – a way to display their edginess and carefree style. Together with the first wetsuits – made of bright neoprene pieces and first introduced in the early 50s by American businessman Jack O’Neill – stripes, blue jeans and tailor-made trunks were the garbs of the day. The first surf clothing brand, San Francisco-based Sundek, was established in 1958, further helping create a specific surf aesthetic.


In the span of a few years, as Hollywood the sport and broadened its appeal with films like The Endless Summer, Big Wednesday and Ride the Wild Surf, surf style began expanding its gamut, cycling through different trends just like ready-to-wear did.

Surf style has been kept in the public consciousness by popular films over the years
Films such as Lords of Dogtown (left) and Blue Crush (right) have helped to keep surf style a part of fashion over several decades

In the 60s, it embraced bright colours and slim silhouettes. Fast-forward a decade, and acid hues were its main trademark, followed by the big-logoed designs of the 80s and the baggy looks of the 90s and early 2000s (films like Lords of Dogtown and Blue Crush are particularly great at portraying the latter evolution of the surfer look).


Fashion, on its end, watched and made some of the sport’s signature looks its own. It did so on the high-street, where Aloha-type prints have been a staple since the 50s, and are still bestsellers at Zara, Topshop and H&M. It also followed in the realm of high clothing, with designers like Proenza Schouler, Hedi Slimane and Raf Simons toying with surf style in more than one collection over the last three decades. Even a classic powerhouse like Chanel got involved: in 2010, it launched a range of branded surfboards, priced at US$4,000+. 


Over the past two seasons, the look has picked up strength once again: Spring/Summer 2018 saw anyone from Fenty Puma and Michael Kors to Coach and Gucci<link> take inspiration from the beach-ready sport with traditional surf motifs, silhouettes and loungey, stretchy fabrics. Louis Vuitton went as far as hosting traveling pop-ups in surf spots Miami and Honolulu to showcase its men’s range, and flaunted a special-edition surfboard to accompany the garments.


The trend’s omnipresence is no doubt a logical progression of fashion’s obsession with athleisure and the growing shift towards sporty, comfortable clothes embraced by shoppers and brands alike. Plus, it’s fun – another aspect that seems to have become the industry’s favourite buzzword these days. Call it a new wave of dressing.

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