Surface To Air is a French creative studio that has reinvented ideas more commonly associated with the worlds of art or graphic design – that of the creative collective- and applied them to a fashion context. Rather than presenting itself as a more traditional fashion brand in which the designers are foregrounded as personalities, Surface To Air emphasises the products and projects themselves and sends its tendrils out in almost all directions: creative direction for hip and happening bands, urban streetwear for men, sexy shoes for women and even stuff for kids.
Showcasing its rich and varied output at its Paris flagship store on the rue Vieille du Temple, Surface to Air has nonetheless achieved a unique international distribution with a far more varied profile of stockists than one ordinarily sees. This, to some extent, is only logical since the studio concerns itself with far more than luxury fashion meaning that many different markets are likely to be interested in its varied output. What is particularly impressive is that Surface To Air has been so successful given that it has effectively broken all the traditional rules of how a brand achieves success.
If anything, Surface To Air has taken lessons learned from more mainstream retail concepts arising in the USA or Japan and given them a French twist. Perhaps it has smartly noted that the individuals comprising many contemporary couples or nuclear families don’t always have the same requirements when it comes to fashion. How many times has one heard some fashionable young professional mother bewailing the fact that her partner has a far more casual idea about fashion than she does? Thus, there is actually something very smart about stocking and producing upmarket and slick women’s fashion alongside far more casual trendy streetwear-inspired menswear collections and quirky fun garments for children. Surface To Air truly is a retail concept in which a certain, once neglected, demographic can actually all happily shop in the same place.
Of course, that’s not to say that the men’s collection is apologist. On the contrary, it’s a carefully thought through exercise in offering a wardrobe for contemporary men who may want different things from fashion ranging from an understated casual trendy feel to a far more snappy dressed-up look.
That the studio is able to offer strong fashion to suit varied sensibilities is, once again very clear, from the current collections. From the high-street prices of the men’s graphic t-shirt range to the sexy luxury of the women’s shoes, Surface To Air feels very in touch with the zeitgeist and an urbane pragmatism.
Like so many good ideas, the concept seems glaringly simple in hindsight. One can’t help thinking though, that unlike those behind setting up the studio in 2000, it remains an unexpected and yet obvious success. Similarly, one suspects that it is another one of the cases in which people have created something in the market that they themselves sorely missed. With a range of international stockists, an online store and a burgeoning presence in Brazil, it’s also clear that there are many people around the world who think it’s a good idea.