Earlier this year, surf brand O’Neill introduced a capsule collection designed by Anna Sui.
Anna Sui for O’Neill, which the New York-based designer said was inspired by the ladies of Laurel Canyon in the ‘60s, was filled with festival-ready crocheted swimsuits, fringy coverups, and other staples of the Coachella crowd.
That collaboration, priced between $44 and $100, made designer duds accessible to a younger and less affluent market and added fresh perspective to the heritage brand, which started as a surf shop in 1952.
Indeed, the partnership was such a hit — it was beloved by bloggers who fell for the collection’s “Harmon Romper” in droves and was hailed by fashion writers as “bohemian meets the beach” — O’Neill decided to do a second designer collaboration, said Kari Johnson, the company’s General Manager of Women’s.
In mid-April 2016, the Irvine-based company will launch a 17-piece line with designer Cynthia Vincent.
“Anna Sui was so well received that we wanted to ‘anniversary’ that with another top tier designer, and Cynthia Vincent was a perfect fit,” Johnson said.
Vincent’s semi-eponymous line, Twelfth Street by Cynthia Vincent, is a mid-price luxury brand that runs in the same boho lane as Sui.
“We always want to align with a designer that has similar strengths to us, but also brings something new that will create an unexpected twist,” she said. “There has to be a synergy to the partnership. That’s when the magic happens and the product really stands out. Anna and Cynthia fit that bill for us, so we targeted them and it worked out beautifully.”
The Cynthia Vincent for O’Neill collection will be sold at slightly elevated prices Johnson said, and features pieces rendered in luxe fabrics with embroidery as well as neoprene swim sets and wetsuits — a first for the brand.
“The sportswear was designed with versatility in mind. We wanted each piece to be worn to the beach as a cover-up, but also look fabulous when you have a night out,” Johnson said. “The neoprene is super exciting since it’s the first time O’Neill, known as the inventor of the wetsuit, has collaborated with a fashion designer for this category. We styled the sportswear pieces with the neoprene and think that will be a compelling story when it hits the retail floor.”
Johnson said the collaborations allow O’Neill to bring “something new and unique” to its core customers, and they also open up new channels of distribution in fashion boutiques for a brand best known for surfwear.
“We’ve added Mod Cloth, Urban Outfitters, and several other specialty boutiques” with the Anna Sui collection, she said.
Given that success, O’Neill is planning to increase its partnerships with designers in the future.
“For 2016 we’re introducing capsule collections each season,” Johnson said. “This gives the design team freedom to create unique and special items at a slightly higher retail price.”
O’Neill’s design team is also considering a designer partnership for its activewear line, O’Neill 365.
“We’re definitely thinking about it, but we need to find the right partner. An authentic and meaningful partnership is important, so if we don’t find that we won’t force it,” Johnson said.
Activewear, what Johnson calls a small but growing segment of the brand, will also see some updating in 2016.
“We’ve taken a fresh approach to the category by incorporating sportswear influences such as crochet insets, and have added a larger variety of beautiful and feminine prints. We’re also introducing sportswear inspired silhouettes, which make our collection unique,” she said. “We love shimmery things in all categories so we’ve added our luxe fabric in key silhouettes. Lounge pieces will be new for 2016 and we expect them to become just as important to the collection as our true activewear pieces.”
Look for swim to take a larger role in sportswear as well.
“Another key idea is swim becoming part of the girl’s everyday outfit, especially as we approach festival season,” Johnson said. “We used the same prints in sportswear and swim so that you can create that look by pairing the two categories together.”
The strategies appear to be working in the core channel, where O’Neill Women’s has shown growth so far this year, according to Cary Allington of ActionWatch.
The brand is very focused on honoring its heritage, while pushing forward at the same time.
“Staying true to our look and feel, and evolving at the same time, is the key to our continued success,” Kari said.