Rainbow Coalition

Before surfers began wearing “jams” that ran to their shins, like so many beach-going basketball players, wave riders favored a shorter, knee-high, butt-hugging, hip-hanging look (along with their feathered hair).

The brands and their labels were legend, and whichever you chose, you had to own every color. That is, if you were a part of surf culture from the ’70s through the ’80s (or your parents owned a beach house and you were trying to fit in with the local rats).

The surf shorts were nylon and dried in seconds, from Birdwell Beach Britches to Off Shore, Ocean Pacific (OP) to Billabong, the enduring Quicksilver to that lovable nostalgia brand, Hang Ten (which lifeguards favored). But if you were a surfer, or a wannabe, you had to own at least one pair of Sundeks.

Featuring a one-eyehole waist-tie, a Velcro fly, and a square back pocket, and coming in mostly primary colors, Sundek trunks were identifiable by the rainbow strip that ran around their backsides. “Follow the Sun” was their slogan. They looked good on your girlfriend too (when she wasn’t wearing faded OP corduroy “walk shorts”). Going for about $20 a pair then, they were often sold exclusively in surf shops.

What few likely knew is that they were made in Italy and that the company had been stitching them since 1958, where they were worn on the Mediterranean before they became a staple of Hawaii and California surfing championships with famous pro surfers endorsing them.

But in the late ’80s, the subculture that wore surfwear went commercial, and the look ended up on racks in shopping malls, with a new hue added to them: tacky neon. Their cult status evaporated. Nearly every dork on the beach could be seen in them. It marked the end of an era.

Now, to mark the 50th anniversary of the company, Sundeks are about to make their mark again on both coasts, and are being marketed to such upscale designer stores as New York’s Jeffrey. The price tag is still reasonable (from $62-$68), and the original design and color choices have been only slightly modified.

And while it’s doubtful that surfers will make a major return to them—the jam thing is not going away—expect to see stylish hipsters grabbing them up, for water play and nostalgia appeal, from Fire Island to Zuma Beach.

A warning: While they hold up fine on 10-foot waves, the stripes shredded on this writer, then in grade school, cutting classes, after he made a leap off a cliff, 50-feet down into the local quarry while listening to Foghat’s “Slow Ride.”

Editor’s Letter: Door Policy

One man’s “coach door” is another man’s “suicide.” Vintage car enthusiasts know what I’m talking about. Most import companies, dating back to the 1930s, featured at least one luxury automobile in their stable that was designed with suicide doors, meaning those that hinged on the trailing edge closer to the rear of a vehicle. In other words, the car door handles were positioned side by side, and opened like one-way saloon doors, or butterfly wings. “Suicide,” as a word and as an action, is not pretty, so most American car salesmen refer to that design as “coach doors.” The Brits leave well enough alone.

The suicide door arrangement was deemed dangerous for a host of reasons, which are dull to detail but somewhat accurate. Yet, the designers of the Citroen 2CV and the Fiat Topolino, the Pierce Silver Arrow and the four-door 1967 Thunderbird, didn’t really care. It was a case of function following form.

And so it went with the most famous car model to feature suicide doors, the Lincoln Continental sedan, 1961 through 1967. “Drama,” Kevin Dillon on HBO’s “Entourage,” drives one, proving that he is actually the guy in the gang with a true sense of style.

You’ll see a maroon-colored model on page 46, with our cover girl Christina Ricci standing in front of it, having collided with a much newer model of Ferrari. (The indie actress herself is on a collision course with super-stardom with her kick-ass role as “Trixie” in the Wachowski Brothers’ high-stylized Speed Racer).

Design always collides with the inevitable challenge of substance vs. style. And the great architects—take Frank Lloyd Wright—were constantly facing it with skeptics. Why was Fallingwater falling down? Why were the ceilings in Wright’s homes so low? (Answer: The guy was practically a dwarf.)

With this, BlackBook’s “Design Issue,” we didn’t feel a necessity for that perfect marriage. But you could argue either way. Take Joan Collins: Is she a great actress, or just a great showboat? We think she is both—and always worth a second look (see for yourself here).

Sometimes the marriage of function and form are realized, as was the case when we staged a men’s fashion shoot at the Lower East Side rustic bistro Freemans: a place that has good taste in both its food and its antlered décor (click here).

To open the door just a bit more, we asked a host of style-savvy artists to detail for us their favorite design in one single item—from a Twinkie to a fountain pen. We’re democratic, and really like all the selections (although we’ll let Harmony Korine explain for himself his adoration of “cement parking lot curbs”).

And I’m sure that many will argue over whether the Lincoln depicted in our cover story is a finer model than its flashier—and far costlier—competition. For our money, though, it’s a no-brainer.

A Call to Arms

Hilarious, hard-edged, and surprisingly dark, The Foot Fist Way is a breed of sports comedy unlike any other. On the surface, it looks deceptively like a poor man’s Will Ferrell vehicle, chronicling the predictable fall and rise of a delusional half-wit. But The Foot Fist Way is distinguished by an unusually genuine concern for notions of honor, and a scabrous humor that is miles away from conventional studio fare.

Danny McBride stars as Fred Simmons, an overweening Tae Kwon Do instructor who lords over a tiny, Concord, NC, dojo. He’s narrow-minded and megalomaniacal, but tries to live faithfully by a personal code that advocates “self-control, integrity, and an indomitable spirit.” That code is tested when his wife cheats on him, first with her boss, then with Simmons’s hero, martial arts champion Chuck “The Truck” Wallace. Simmons struggles to maintain his dignity amid these humiliations, but his life and work unravel precipitately until a battle with Wallace delivers a possible shot at redemption.

Although Simmons is the kind of character many would blithely consider a loser, director Jody Hill does him the courtesy of taking him seriously. Simmons’s misfortune may be played for laughs, but the jokes are in each case alloyed by emotional pith and a very real existential crisis. Is he the righteous, code-bound warrior he’s always believed himself to be, or simply a blustering strip-mall charlatan?

McBride invests the character with a degree of hyper-oxygenated intensity that is as frightening as it is funny. Simmons is not, as per the usual comic hero, a loveable doofus, but a marginal weirdo with anger issues. “At the core, people are shit,” he confesses to one of his students. It’s not hard to imagine someone like Jack Black soft-peddling that line, but Simmons gives it enough heft to make it credible, and The Foot Fist Way is stranger, sharper, and altogether funnier for it.

Equally funny, but without the dark subcurrent, is Son of Rambow, directed by Garth Jennings. The film is an ’80s nostalgia trip that looks back at the creative possibilities occasioned by the camcorder, while simultaneously exploring the way children absorb and reconfigure pop culture.

Will Proudfoot is an imaginative but inhibited boy who’s never seen a movie before, owing to his religion’s strict injunction against all types of media. Lee Carter is the school bully who introduces Will to the explosive cinematic pleasures of First Blood. A friendship is immediately born, and with it a scheme to direct their own homegrown sequel. The rest of the plot is devoted to the pair’s riotous and half-baked attempts at filmmaking: they wreck cars, set things on fire, and nearly drown themselves executing stunts.

The story inevitably calls to mind a host of recent and similar pop phenomena: the “sweding” in Michel Gondry’s Be Kind Rewind, the teenage, shot-for-shot remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark, half the content of YouTube, etc. Son of Rambow glorifies the moment when video first made it all possible, and furthermore insists that these forms of cultural worship/borrowing are constructive. Will and Lee might be appropriating a pop landmark as their starting point, but the movie they make is very much their own. It gives them an identity, cements their friendship, and miraculously solves a number of their personal problems along the way.

May Music Releases

Scarlett Johansson Anywhere I Lay My Head (ATCO)

We know what you are thinking: Don Johnson, Heartbeat. But you are wrong, oh, so wrong. Scarlett Johansson’s first album, Anywhere I Lay My Head, is one of the happiest surprises in years. On this inspired collection of Tom Waits covers, Johansson’s famously oak-smoked voice is a natural cousin of the Roches, John Cale, and Sinead O’Connor. David Bowie, who sings backup on two tracks—“Falling Down” and “Fannin Street”—adds splashes of cream to this perfect cup of hot, dark New Orleans coffee. —Alison Powell

ROBYN Robyn (Cherrytree/Interscope)

Robyn presents a strong case for the pop-star comeback, exhuming pop culture artifacts like 8-bit Nintendo blips and late ’90s dance anthem basslines, and reprogramming them into deft, electronic hip-pop compositions. Of the set, “Konichiwa Bitches” is the most synecdochic: a brazen kiss-off to Robyn’s mid-level teenybopper past that also re-brands her as the queen of a pop revolution, where the darlings are encouraged to forgo glamour and spit filthy rhymes. —Rohin Guha

Portishead Third (Island) Sadly, Geoff Barrow’s reputed recent death metal fetish doesn’t really make a showing on the first record in a decade from Bristol’s much-heralded purveyors of groove-laden gloom. But if anything is noticeably different, it is how much stranger the trio seem to have become in their absence. Their sexy, heartrending beat-noir is now set to wild and peripatetic experimental arrythmia (“Machine Gun” is a literal song title, mind), while rather jarring, apocalyptic noises dart in and out, bereft of any particular reasoning. And all the while, Beth Gibbons carries on doing her aching, weep-inducing gothic-Billie-Holiday thing. Astonishing. —Ken Scrudato

Gossip Live In Liverpool (Columbia/Music With A Twist) This is the Gossip album fans have been waiting for—the one that captures the band’s raw concert experience in all its visceral glory. Right from the bluesy stomp of opener “Eyes Open,” singer Beth Ditto’s howl establishes her as Janis Joplin’s rightful heir, imbuing Gossip’s art-punk with real soul; even potentially jokey Aaliyah and Wham! covers become grittily transformed. Live In Liverpool proves the sonic equivalent of a sweaty, torn T-shirt, an essential souvenir of one of today’s greatest live bands. —Matt Diehl

Dizzee Rascal Maths + English(Def Jux)

This maverick London rapper’s third (and best) album, which was given only an aborted digital release last year, is finally coming out Stateside. It remains the most vital hip-hop album of now. “Sirens” perfectly hybrids Public Enemy with Rage Against The Machine, Lily Allen guests on “Wanna Be,” and “Flex” is the electro-funk anthem for Pitchfork-literate strippers. Meanwhile, “Where Da G’s”—a collaboration with legendary Houston rap crew UGK—indicates that Dizzee can keep up with his American cousins. —M.D.

Madonna Hard Candy(Warner Bros.)

A purveyor of addictive sonic treats since she opened her musical bon- bon business in 1982, Madge keeps it light, frothy, and irresistibly danceable on her 11th and final CD for Warner Records (before the Material Girl rakes in a rumored $120 million more bucks in a ten-year deal with Live Nation). Produced by Timbaland and Pharrell Williams, with Justin Timberlake collaborating on songwriting and vocals, Hard Candy’s vibe is more Jolly Rancher than Hot Tamale, with tracks like “Heartbeat” and “Candy Shop” glossed up with the elastic bounciness of her first two albums. On “4 Minutes To Save the World,” the Timbaland-produced first single, with its grinding wall of sound and Justin Timberlake vocals, Madonna isn’t pushing for spiritual revelations or shock value—just a radio-friendly track. Mission accomplished. —James Servin

Midnight Juggernauts Dystopia (Astralwerks)

The title of this Australian trio’s debut suggests futuristic apocalypse; Midnight Juggernauts’s sound, however, proves more of a disco-topia—a sci-fi dance floor paradise. That’s because their songwriting suggests greater depth beyond just heavyweight club beats. Amid vocoder synth action recalling Daft Punk and Justice, there are also touches of Bowie glitter, New Romantic glam, Heaven 17–style new wave, and atmospheric ’70s prog-rock, all tethered to massive pop hooks. If this is dystopia, the end of the world’s gonna be one hell of a party. —M.D.

Range (Rover) Life

imageIt’s official: size matters in car design. Only instead of ever-bigger and brawnier gas-guzzlers, it’s the little guys who now rule the roadway. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the new Land Rover LRX. Long known for its size and off-road power, the iconic all-terrain brand is going mini (well, mini-er). Six inches shorter and almost eight inches lower than an LR2, the LRX was conceived as a premium car, designed to appeal to customers who want the benefits of a 4×4 and the presence of a larger vehicle, but don’t want to be held personally responsible for the disappearance of the ozone.

The LRX is a 2.0 liter turbo hybrid, capable of running on bio-diesel. The model’s weight-loss makes for reduced aerodynamic drag, which in turn increases fuel efficiency and reduces carbon dioxide emissions. While the LRX is compact, clever use of space makes it impressively roomy. The clear roof relieves claustrophobia, as do the LRX’s distinctive “floating” seats. The three doors are a head-scratcher, but the iPhone and iPod docks, buttery chocolate brown leather, and top-of-the-line dashboard features more than make up for the extra time it takes to climb out. —Rebecca Heydon

Kiehl’s, Boy!

James, getting buzzed, from Jesse James and His Beautiful Machines by Nathaniel Welch.

Jesse James is about to blow the lid off a few biker stereotypes at a Kiehl’s store near you. The 39 year old is best known as the host of the Discovery Channel shows “Monster Garage” and “Motorcycle Mania,” and for the celebrity-heavy client list of his Long Beach, California bike shop, West Coast Choppers (Kid Rock, Keanu Reeves, and Shaquille O’Neal, to name a few).

But he’s sure to pick up some new fans in the wives and girlfriends of “regular dudes who work with their hands and are filthy dirty every day like I am,” as James describes the men he’s targeting with his new pick of skincare products. As a hater of anything “stock,” James designed a custom dopp kit to hold them all; a rugged vintage bag with a gritty “war eagle” illustration on the outside. “To me, a dopp kit should’ve been your dad’s, a cool leather one that’s gonna last forever.” It will be filled with a few of James’s favorite Kiehl’s products. “Believe it or not,” James says, chuckling, “I get a ton of letters and emails from guys wanting to know about my hair stuff.” (Kiehl’s Creative Cream Wax, if you’re curious. And it wasn’t by way of wife Sandra Bullock, either.) “I used their face protector to ride, and I got sucked into the Kiehl’s stores just because there’s cool vintage motorcycle stuff in them,” James says.

His latest two-wheeled masterpiece is soon to be among it. Kiehl’s commissioned a custom bike (pictured above) for their upcoming West Coast flagship store in Santa Monica, a sleek six-figure monster made entirely of one-off parts that looks like something the Silver Surfer would ride. Asked if he themed the bike for the unlikely client, James says, “No, we just did our own thing.”

Gimme Shelters!

Walking into Ralph Lauren’s massive, incomparably opulent Polo flagship on Madison Avenue is like time-traveling back to the last gasp of the Gilded Age, a Gatsby-esque glimpse into how the other half died. The Rhinelander Mansion, as it’s properly called, has not been (as many suppose) preserved in aspic from the Vanderbilt Era. In fact, the place was basically gutted when Ralph bought it; interior designer Naomi Leff did the rest, articulating Lauren’s vision so magnificently that he barely blinked at the multimillion-dollar tab. That’s just one of the many projects picturesquely presented in Naomi Leff (Monacelli Press, $60) by Kimberly Williams, the first of the decorous design-oriented offerings this month.

Judging by the regal interiors she concocts for clients, it sometimes seems as though Southern belle Charlotte Moss would have been more at home at Versailles than modern-day Manhattan, though she’s doing her best to instill it with a little Sun King style, as shown in Charlotte Moss: A Flair for Living (Assouline, $65). Back in Moss’s native Virginia, meanwhile, they’re still hot to trot for all things horsey—see Kathryn Masson’s groovy Hunt Country Style (Rizzoli, $55). Tents and camp chairs have a come a long way since the Isak Dinesen days, as displayed in The New Safari: Design, Décor, Detail, edited by Robyn Alexander (Exhibitions International, $58). Ruthie Sommers shows us around the gold-plated canyons of Los Angeles in The L.A. House (Collins Design, $40). And two new titles that have great taste together celebrate the plush life inside and out: Luxury Houses: Holiday Escapes and Luxury Private Gardens (teNeues, $50 each).

In matters architectural, Philip Johnson’s Glass House in New Canaan, Conn., recently opened as a museum, is revealed in all its glory in Christy MacLear and Dorothy Dunn’s The Glass House (Assouline, $19). Geoffrey Gross and Roderic H. Blackburn take us behind the doors of bluebloods and Brahmins in Great Houses of New England (Rizzoli, $55). And Maria Tuttle and Marcus Binney fling wide the portals of Barbara Hutton’s famed London manse in Winfield House (Thames & Hudson, $60).

imageOn the fashion front, one of the dressing game’s most glorious seasons is extremely seemly in Paris, 1962: Yves Saint Laurent and Dior, The Early Collections by Jerry Schatzberg (Rizzoli, $75). And the legend behind one of the world’s most famous houses of horology is presented with panache in Panerai: The History by Simon De Burton and Giampiero Negretti (Flammarion, $125).

Also worth the price of paper this month: Leslie K. Overstreet’s beauteous Botanicals: Butterflies and Insects (Assouline, $50); the painter’s lens in Cy Twombly: Photographs 1951-2007 (Schirmer-Mosel, $99); the brilliant intersection of artforms in Blood on Paper: The Art of the Book (Abrams, $90) by Elena Foster and Rowan Watson; and the hardboiled genius of Ross Macdonald in The Blue Hammer and The Instant Enemy (Vintage Crime, $13 each). Macdonald’s Lew Archer could match drinks with Chandler’s Marlowe and Hammett’s Spade any day.

All About Yves

Freeze Frame: Tom Palumbo sizing up Tania Mallet, 1962.

We love France in the springtime, and Paris 1962: Yves Saint Laurent and Dior, The Early Collections—out in May from Rizzoli (176 pages, $75)—offers an insider’s view of just such a season in fashion history. On assignment for Esquire during Paris Fashion Week, Jerry Schatzberg captured moments of glamour and drama—including candids of Diana Vreeland, Helmut Newton, and Hiro—providing a vivid portrait of a bygone sartorial era.