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On the Edge

September 10, 1993|KATHRYN BOLD / Special to the Times

Orange County's surf-and-skate crowd likes to ride on the cutting edge of fashion. Local skaters and surfers are always one step ahead of the mainstream, trying out new styles before they spread like a wave across the rest of the country. Skaters, for instance, were among the first to wear really big clothes, those massive T-shirts and baggy shorts that fall to theeir ankles. Now that the oversize look is turning up in area malls, skaters are off on a new fashion direction: slightly more fitted, tailored looks inspired by industrial work clothes and thrift-shop finds from the '70s. If such looks catch on, kids everywhere will be sporting shirts that look like gas station attendant uniforms and retro-striped knit tops.

The new looks are generated by local clothing companies that are small enough to experiment. Their more successful designs are frequently copied by larger manufacturers of young men's sportswear and often wind up in department stores everywhere. Long before that happens, the smaller labels have moved on to something new.

Those wanting to find out what new styles will spring from Orange County's sidewalks and seashores visit the area's alternative clothing stores such as Psyclone and The Edge in Costa Mesa and Electric Chair in Huntington Beach.

"I saw the big and baggy look happen before it happened," says Pat Tenore, the 20-year-old owner of Psyclone. "Now we're getting a lot more fitted stuff." Clothes will be taken in a bit, but the look will still be relaxed, he says.

"If a kid has a size 34 waist, he'll probably wear a 36 instead of a 40," Tenore says.

One of the cutting-edge clothing lines carried at Psyclone is produced by a small Santa Ana company called Twenty-Four Seven, as in 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

"Surfers and even hard-core skaters who don't follow trends love it," Tenore says.

Twenty-Four Seven's latest creations are '50s-inspired crew-neck cotton knit sweaters with short raglan sleeves and vintage stripes in updated colors such as lime green, brown and rust ($38) at Psyclone.

Scouts from larger clothing companies watch Twenty-Four Seven's line closely for clues to where trends are headed.

"We're relatively small so we're able to get things out quickly," says Natalie Rigolet, co-owner and designer of Twenty-Four Seven. "Fashion is reactionary. We know if things are baggy now, people will tire of it and want something more tailored."

Her ideas for new designs come from all over: magazines, people-watching, old TV shows, films and picture books, she says. Yet the company lacks the resources to fully capitalize on its own ideas. Two years ago Twenty-Four Seven introduced brightly colored yarn-dyed T-shirts that it couldn't make fast enough to appease the market.

"Now even Sears has them," Rigolet says with a sigh.

Twenty-Four Seven is moving toward clothes that are more detailed and sophisticated instead of the "straight up and down look" of baggy T-shirts and pants. One example of the emerging style: utilitarian shirts of heavy cotton twill with a sturdy zipper front and contrasting stitching highlighting dual front pockets ($44) at Psyclone.

Deluxe, a small clothing company in Costa Mesa that sets its own fashion course, has introduced a line of retro-looking, zipper-front cotton twill tops that resemble vintage bowling shirts, in two-tone color combinations of tan and brown, sky blue and dark blue and gold and ivory ($44).

"Everything's getting more refined," says Billy Carney, owner and designer of Deluxe. "Companies are focusing more on style."

The companies are often made up of just three or four people scarcely out of their teens. Some begin by making T-shirts and expand to cut-and-sew styles. A few grow into mainstream monoliths.

"A lot of street artists have gone from making a few T-shirts to having full clothing lines. The strong ones have the potential to be the next Quiksilver," says Joey Liebke, owner of The Edge in Costa Mesa, a four-month-old store that sells "urban threads."

"These small labels are the leaders of everything now," Liebke says. "They have a strong following among skaters and surfers."

Liebke sees his skate-and-surf clientele turning toward clothes with a heavy industrial influence. Smaller designers are making clothes with sturdy fabrics, heavy duty zippers and contrasting top-stitching reinforcing the seams.

One Los Angeles-based company, Zung, has created a variation of the classic Ben Davis work shirt made of tan canvas with box pockets, a zipper front and a slightly exaggerated collar and embellished with paisley print side panels ($49).

Chrome Artillery in L.A. has produced a cotton twill worker's jacket with a heavy zipper opening ($40), while Euro Funk in Costa Mesa is offering black and white striped denim jeans ($60) with a large front zipper for a mechanical look.

"It's a revolt against the mainstream," Liebke says. "You'll always have kids who want something different . . . who want to wear what shocks."

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