Attracting a younger and perhaps hipper customer was one driving force behind the designs of lifestyle apparel companies exhibiting at Summer Market as companies known as more conservative, such as Woolrich, Royal Robbins and White Sierra, came out this season with designs intended to attract a more youthful customer.
"The message was pretty loud across the board: Don't take the same road. Have a fun line that has a lot of younger appeal," said Francisco Morales, Royal Robbins president, whose company asked retailers what they wanted. "Give them something to differentiate them from the other stores. We took that information and went back to the drawing board."
But even youthful companies are joining the crowd as all blur the lines between technical and lifestyle, with lifestyle companies adopting technical features and fabrics, and technical companies adopting designs with more of a fashion flair that may never make it beyond a city street. Pure lifestyle vs. active lifestyle? Technical vs. streetwear? Is there really a difference anymore beyond the label? And when it comes to the feel, everybody, it seems, wants to be a softy.
Beaver Theodosakis, head of Prana, said his company's offerings have a lot of technical features that aren't overtly visible to the wearer. "That's the beauty of them. I think that's what the younger generation wants."
Ojai is breaking new ground by getting into men's pants -- designing them that is. Robb Shurr said they had a lot of curious "drive-bys" checking out the new pants with the patented anti-chafe Onsight Gusset that had one buyer saying he hadn't thought anything new could be done in the category. Shurr said, with a touch of humor, "We didn't get the memo."
Many companies had lifestyle apparel to show-off, even companies that normally don't call it by the "L" word. Here's a rundown of a few things, in alphabetical order, that grabbed us -- not all inclusive, of course, but highlights:
Clucky & Co. -- For something a little different, turn your attention to Clucky & Co.'s windshirts and shells. Born of the ski and snowboard industry, Clucky's quick-drying, windbreaking, water-resistant nylon windshirts are also finding their way onto whitewater kayakers and could even work well for hiking and backpacking trips. In long and short sleeve versions for both genders, the shirts come in prints ranging from Hawaiian flowers and Hula girls to psychedelic '60s retro to pin-up girls and, now, solid colors. They may want more than one.
Ex Officio -- The big buzz of the show for Ex O was its Buzz Off Insect Shield Insect repellent apparel for men, women and even kids. The active ingredient is tightly bound into the garment and works by creating an odorless protective barrier around the clothes and body. But we aren't just talking backpacking shirts; the fabric has been incorporated into classic styles that Ex O is known for, such as its Baja shirt and Convertible pant. And it still shows up in fun designs such as a check-print long-sleeve shirt for men and women. On other fronts, Ex O has a women's Fatigue capri in Teflon nylon with cargo pockets, and the attention-grabbing Athens print that depicts scenes from life in Greece on a capri and skirt.
Gramicci -- Gramicci prides itself on its garment-dyeing program, and the folks there say it challenges them to do a lot of research to find the ultimate textiles that will perform in the processes they put the garments through to achieve a custom look. Two collection highlights were Travelyte, with pieces made using ringspun-combed, ultrasueded cotton, and Qwikdry, with two-sided, micro-sanded nylon and a 50+ SPF rating. Both lines have styles for men and women. Also, new for the company is translucent buckles and webbing that have been dyed to match the pant or short color, rather than traditional black.
Horny Toad -- The toads have been working overtime and hopping all over the fabrications available to the industry. Head Toad Gordon Seabury said the company is always working on the front end of fabric development and finding ways to incorporate them into use for everyday applications. The retro-styled Sting Ray shirt for men has a blend of silky polynosic and polyester for easy care and quick drying. For the ladies, there's the Jalapeno halter top -- a popular style this season -- with an internal shelf bra. Women have lots of new bottoms to choose from like the Tikcapri which is a beach-inspired semi-fitted capri and the Bella Bottoms shorts that have the Hollywood waistband that's very boardshort inspired with a short inseam of 4 inches. And for those lazy days, don't forget the Vixen reversible hoodie and Veronique low-rise relaxed pant made of Velush, a plush stretchy velour.
Kavu -- Eco-Hemp has made its way into three men's pieces and three women's pieces at Kavu. Made of 55-percent canteva hemp and 45-percent recycled PET, it looks like linen, has a silky drape and soft hand, and is said to hold up to machine washing and drying.
Life is Good -- It ain't just about cotton T-shirts anymore at Life is Good. Celebrating its 10th year in business, the company is introducing Good Tech shirts made of synthetic microfiber for men and women. Rather than bogging users down with techy jargon, the folks there just say they'll stay dry, smell good and keep you cool. Four graphics are available: runner, mountain biker, hiker and kayaker. The women's shirts are cut for women -- no more boxy tents! -- while the guys get a classic crew.
Ojai -- Ojai is plunging into uncharted territory and introducing men's pants. The men's Flex pants and shorts feature the patented seamless Onsight Gusset, which is an anti-chafing, two-ply Flex mesh crotch system that allows airflow for cool and chafe-free flexibility. Called ideal for high-movement activities and travel, the nylon fabric makes the pants light. They are also touted as breathable and wrinkle-free. Ojai has also spent the last three seasons shifting its women's line from pure lifestyle to active lifestyle. Fast Dry nylon/cotton fits the bill for active, functional and stylish fabrics and silhouettes. Available in a short, capri pant, skirt and jacket, Fast Dry garments can be worn hiking, climbing, on the water or around town.
Patagonia -- The folks at Patagonia say when they follow the lead of their athletes, they're never led astray. Case in point, Patagonia's Rhythm line came from athlete feedback and has been highly successful. Spring 2004 shouldn't be any different with a dynamic array of prints and apparel detailing for men and women. The men's Highball Snap lifestyle shirt is lightweight organic cotton, and its morning glory prints pop out at you with a psychedelic sunburst and spiral theme in limestone greens and malt tans. Not to be outdone is the women's line with many revised pieces, like the Freebird and Zodiac tops, which are both halter style in solids and eye-catching prints like the floral hot tomato in retro colors. The new women's Dulce shirt emphasizes Patagonia's foray into embroidery with a floral design on the front of the shirt and around the neck on the back. Any of these lifestyle shirts can go with the new men's and women's High Wire hemp jeans -- a classic jean pant with soft hemp that drapes well.
Prana -- It's hard to take your eyes off Prana's latest apparel offerings. Each piece is even better than the next. Organic cotton is making its way more into the line with 11 new pieces introduced at the show for men and women. Owner Beaver Theodosakis said, "Even if this young audience doesn't buy our organic cotton pieces, but the environmental message gets to them, it will be just one more positive impression to get them thinking in the right direction -- everyone will win." The women's line had stylish new halter tops all with shelf bra support, like the Shanti top with racer back, Marilyn halter with inspiration from the '50s movie star and the Betty halter sport top. The long-sleeved Bindi Wrap shirt will be on the top of every woman's list for after climbing or yoga comfort to roaming around town. Men get the Plaid Mandala short-sleeve shirt with Eastern-inspired embroidery.
Royal Robbins -- With a revamped design team in place, Royal Robbins seemed to be in overdrive churning out several new pieces for men and women. Fabric was a big story, with numerous fabrication categories each showcasing a limited number of pieces. President Francisco Morales also said that consumers want more. "They want an innovative fabric, and they want a style that is different. When you have a high-performance fabric, you have to have a nice style and the style becomes the packaging of the fabric." Like a few other companies, it also debuted a capri-length pant for men, the Slub Canvas Crag pant, in a soft cotton canvas. The Ceylon Rayon Challis fabric group for women has a tank, shirt, skirt and Capri that have a soft hand, fluid drape and are wrinkle-resistant. The red/white and white/blue floral print has an Indian inspiration.
The North Face -- The North Face's A5 line was launched last spring to increase penetration in its existing specialty accounts and is "showing nice increases," according to President Mike Egeck. The brand is getting a little funkier every season and youth oriented, he added. The women's Hydra halter was a standout with its floral embroidered front panels, while the draping Althea sleeveless shirt had an Asian-inspired neckline and Lotus-flower print. The men's Crimpit cargo pant is made of a cotton/nylon oxford with a relaxed fit, and the nicely styled, cotton canvas Crag pant with jean-style front pockets has articulated knees.
White Sierra -- In the past three years, White Sierra has been steering itself into a brand that is more meaningful and relevant to specialty retailers and has poured more attention into product development and design. One example is the Simpson Capri for women, a travel-friendly pant with a quick-drying nylon and a hidden security pocket that can hold a passport.
Woolrich -- The women's business has been booming at Woolrich and for the first time in the company's history it is outperforming men's, 55 percent to 45 percent. The company's focus is on textures and it is introducing pigment-dyed cotton for women. Senior Merchandise Manager Lederle Eberhardt said the company is emphasizing basics -- with a twist. She said her 35- to 44-year-old customers think and feel younger than their age and "don't want to wear what their mom would wear." And, she's ready to shake up the men's styles at Woolrich with more textures, fabrics and colors. "Men need variety and we're going to give them something they're not expecting," she said.
No outfit would be complete without a pair of shoes, and we had to throw in one footwear company that has made notable strides in its lifestyle-oriented line:
Dansko -- Known for its sporty open- and closed-back clogs, Dansko is now rolling out dressier footwear. The new Bay Bridge collection has shoes with low, sleek outsoles, subtle stitch patterns along the sidewall of the outsoles and zigzag-embossed sock linings. Uppers range from strappy toe post sandals to mules with graphics stamped into the leather. Even further down the design spectrum is the dressy Hampton collection with a higher heel, slender ankle straps and soft blind seams in buttery-soft calf leather with laser-cut accents, like flowers and vines. Dansko's new styles are said to still offer the company's comfort, not just more distinctive styling.