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The Look

How Californian brands Are Teaching Men Laid-Back Style

Lessons in wearing this season’s bold prints and washed-out colours (without looking like you’re trying too hard)

Not all trends are easy to put a finger on. When the MR PORTER team came back from the SS18 shows last June, we had a bit of a set-to about what to call the laid-back, somewhat exotic and print-spattered feeling that was core to many of the season’s collections. From Saint Laurent (diaphanous shirting, swooping necklines, ikat prints) to Amiri (palm prints, tie- and dip-dyeing, Mexican blanket textiles) to younger brands such as New York’s You As (flowers, flamingos, stripes) and Japanese designers, including Wacko Maria (there was a pineapple-print cardigan in the mix here last week; tragically, this is now out of stock), everyone was at it.

Some people termed this Baja style, in reference to the broadly Mexi-Cali aesthetic of the whole thing. Other, more literal-minded, folk insisted that it was simply all about statement prints and washed-out colour. Many were too busy adding it all to their Wish Lists to contribute in any substantial way, but such is the way of things. We’re working on it.

One thing we all agreed upon is that, while we couldn’t exactly tie the whole thing down into one digestible soundbite, we could easily assign it to a location: California. This isn’t just because of the preponderance of interesting new brands that are emerging from the area and driving this trend (whether it’s Mr Jerry Lorenzo’s Fear of God, Mr Rhuigi Villasenor’s Rhude or Mr Kurt Narmore’s oddball surf-inspired brand Noon Goons), but also because of the way the locals wear them.

In California, a long history of free-spirited living has resulted in an equally free-spirited way of dressing that brings together colours, prints and textures from both sides of the border and carries them off with a charmingly off-the-cuff attitude. “There’s a laid-backness to California, a way of thinking that’s different from New York, or Paris or London,” says stylist Ms Julie Ragolia, who, alongside photographer Mr Vava Ribeiro, journeyed to Malibu to produce the images you see here, featuring this spring’s most colourful, exotic casual pieces. “It’s not haphazard,” she says. “It’s more like a mellow looseness that California has that the rest of the world doesn’t.”

If we, for some reason, weren’t willing to take Ms Ragolia’s word on this, we’d have more than enough evidence from talking to the stars of this particular story, the actor Mr Kurt Collins and private surf instructor Mr Gavin Hamilton, both of whom are California locals (though Mr Collins is originally from Kentucky). When we ask Mr Collins his age, he says, “I don’t believe in a linear time construct,” which is an answer you certainly don’t often hear in gloomy west London where MR PORTER is based. When we quiz Mr Hamilton about his surfing business, he urges us to “Come find me if you need a lesson.” If only it were as simple to acquire such an easy-going attitude as it is to wear the clothes. Ah well. Mr Collins has his own idiosyncratic advice on that front. “Be a trendsetter, not a follower,” he says. “Don’t wear anything for the sake of wearing it to try and fit in. Be you. Do what feels authentic to you and rock that outfit. Do what you want.”

This is very much what Ms Ragolia aimed to channel in her selection of spring 2018 pieces for this story, which she describes as a “quintessential beach trip in Los Angeles”. “The thing that was really fun for me to play with was print mixing,” she says. “That throw-caution-to-the-wind feeling, the freedom of the journey meaning the freedom of your clothes.” How to do it at home? “The best way to mix prints is with confidence,” says Ms Ragolia. “There’s no such thing as clashing. Playing with scale is good. If you look at a lot of the prints that I’ve mixed, the scales are different, which draws attention to both patterns.”

Ms Ragolia also mentions something that is not often discussed in the sartorial world – “a hint of humour”. Yes, we’re talking about that most controversial of F-words, “fun”. We are going through a rather, for want of a better word, fun moment in fashion, so if it’s a good, freewheeling time you’re after, there are plenty of things to choose from this spring. Take Wacko Maria’s mirror-ball printed shirt, emblazoned with the words “Ladies and Gentlemen, this is dance time”. Or the various tie-dye pieces on offer from brands such as Mollusk, Our Legacy and Aries.

The key to making it all work is to not think too hard about it. “If your focus is to get on a wave, you’re thinking less about the way your clothes are put together,” says Ms Ragolia. “It’s human. It’s super-real.”