Meet the sun-kissed labels whose enticing summer vibes run through every eye-catching fibre, whatever the weather.
Sure, every fashion brand has a summer collection that wants to dazzle us with beach-inspired looks. But then there are brands whose very DNA is linked to sun and sea (and hopefully a bit of sex too) and that entice us to feel that vibe all year round. But there’s a problem. If they pile on the aloha shirts too liberally then they will only see sales for a few months a year. If they want global commercial success, they need to take the summer essence and make it appeal all year round – and in big urban settings too. For this Quality of Life issue we profile the brands that make us want to dive into their sun-kissed worlds, no matter the season.
Step inside the long narrow Saturdays NYC shop on Soho’s Crosby Street – the brand’s original location – and the first thing you’ll notice on your left-hand side is a row of perfectly lined-up surfboards, just before you reach a coffee counter. But this isn’t a surf shop and it isn’t a café. It’s somehow all and none of the above.
Established in 2009, Saturdays NYC mostly sells seasonal, well-cut casual menswear to urbanites. But while the “Surf” may have been dropped from the original name, it’s still an important part of its make-up. “We work with [surfboard] shapers who are craftsmen and artists,” says suitably bronzed co-founder Morgan Collett, who is originally from southern California. “What they make is beautiful and it correlates with the clothes.”
Although one of the three founders is no longer involved, Saturdays remains a personal business started by a bunch of friends who were into skating, surfing and snowboarding. “On a trip to Long Beach we were having a really fun time and we said, ‘We don’t feel like this lifestyle we’re living is something New York has really gotten behind,’” says co-founder Colin Tunstall. And so they decided to plug this gap in the market, bringing together all those elements that they felt contributed to a decent quality of life, from own-blend coffee to appreciation of the outdoors. “Everything just got put in a pot and stirred from there,” adds Tunstall.
Whatever the season, Saturdays stocks swimming trunks. At the same time the brand is also rooted in the urban rat race of New York – and that means grit, grind and extreme weather that demands a diverse wardrobe. As such, its shelves are also stocked with everything from button-down shirts to bomber jackets, jumpers and leather lace-ups.
The brand has evolved, growing up with its founders. It now boasts nine shops – not least in Osaka and Tokyo, and at Sydney’s Bondi Beach – and it recently launched a series of grooming products. It’s about to release its autumn/winter collection, which features pieces as diverse as Japanese-fleece shorts and a shearling jacket. But while it sells just as many chinos as swimming trunks, Saturdays’ image remains intrinsically linked to a laidback beachy lifestyle. It pulls in a crowd that is looking for a certain surfer confidence – even if they are just as likely to be sitting on a company board as riding one.
On a quiet side street in Paris’s well-heeled Marais neighbourhood, one shop stands out. Its cashier counter is splashed with a painting of dark-blue waves, while a surfboard acts as a display for shorts and polo shirts embroidered with palm trees and beach cabins.
Bringing the seaside into the city is the trick of brothers Lucas and Séverin Bonnichon, who founded their men’s and womenswear label Cuisse de Grenouille in 2010. Their “Made in Portugal” collection with its beach-hut logo has many sunny pieces: seersucker dresses and shorts covered in yellow stripes that reference Italian deckchairs, and sweaters emblazoned with the slogan “Surf in Paris”. But, Lucas explains, “our clothes are also urban, with chinos, blazers and Oxford shirts. Selling only summer clothes is not very commercial so we prefer to say that we are selling the atmosphere of summer.”
Considerable thought has gone into the layout of their four shops: three in Paris and one in Cannes. At the Paris flagship, blue-and-yellow surfboards line the back wall, while the curved wooden ceiling evokes both a wave and the inside of a boat. And that sea-splashed coffee counter was painted by artist Joran Briand as a tribute to Hokusai’s The Great Wave. The result is an alluring brand that attracts Parisians looking for a hit of inner-city sunshine.
A stint at university in Santa Barbara was enough to convert Tokyo-raised Hayato Takasu to the charms of California’s easy-going lifestyle. On his return to Japan he set up his clothing label, Grown in the Sun, and started selling casual shirts and trousers from a shop in the heart of Tokyo. A second shop in the seaside town of Hayama followed shortly after.
Twenty five years on, the brand continues to thrive. Summer or winter, the look is relaxed and the colour palette cheery: linen and cotton shirts, cashmere jumpers, vivid canvas bags and bright washed-cotton T-shirts. Most are made in Japan, while the popular bags are stitched from Okayama canvas and the T-shirts are made in the US (“If I made them in Japan they’d look too perfect”).
The Hayama shop, Sunshine + Cloud, is the mothership, a standalone building with bare concrete walls that serve as the backdrop for a line-up of vividly coloured shirts and a vibrant flower stand. There is a café called Over Easy and piles of books and summer straw bags. “People love an excuse to come to Hayama,” says Takasu. “I think of it as a community store. People come for different reasons: some for a glass of wine, others to buy flowers or to shop for clothes.”
He takes care of the menswear and ex-Margaret Howell designer Seiko Namikawa looks after womenswear, which is sold under the Sea Salt label (all names associated with the brand are eminently sunny). The company now has 25 employees. “I don’t want to get bigger, I’m thinking more about quality,” says Takasu. “Great products and a good quality of life for me and my staff.”
Kahana Kalama and Billy Wickens are the top models for clothing brand and retailer Aloha Beach Club. They’re also the founders. On the brand’s website they dress in the sweatshirts and surf in the swimwear that they sell. “I’m a Hawaiian kid who loves the beach,” says Kalama.
Since launching their first collection and a shop in San Diego in 2011, Kalama and Wickens have drawn inspiration from their own beach-town lifestyle, Kalama’s roots and the street fashion of LA and New York. Everything in the shop – from the clothes to the rack of surfboards and display beach-cruiser bicycles – is meant to channel Brand Hawaii, without the clichés. “Our aesthetic changes but we tend to err on the side of simplicity,” says Kalama.
Kalama creates T-shirts, aloha shirts and swimming trunks in muted colours and slender silhouettes; chinos and Oxford shirts for casual business meetings; and parkas for cooler climates. “I try to design pieces that are appropriate for my own travels and not too season-specific,” he says.
In 2015 they opened a shop in Kailua – Kalama’s hometown in Hawaii. They took the Hawaiian theme a step further, teaming up with Gabriel Tennberg to add a takeaway counter that sells shaved ice flavoured with lilikoi, mango, ginger and other fruit and spices from around Hawaii.
Today all of Aloha Beach Club’s products are manufactured in Hawaii or California. For Kalama, this makes it easier to monitor production and react to problems. But finding a factory in Hawaii that could print, cut and sew aloha shirts was not easy. “It took us three years. The printing technology is outdated and sometimes we have to simplify the patterns. But I love the fact that our aloha shirts have coconut buttons and are made in Hawaii.”
Customers do too. Since the beginning the brand’s sales have grown by at least 25 per cent every year. “We didn’t set out to find an audience; we were doing what we wanted to do,” says Kalama. “We’ve been surprised by how easy it’s been.”