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New York may have Soho House, but we have Rooftop at Revere. Yet another moment where Boston can even the score with our frenemies down the coast. Opening for the season on Sunday, May 19, this 16,000-square-foot lounge atop the Revere Hotel will likely be your go-to for day into night drinking, dip in the indoor pool included. What seriously sets this spot apart from the rest is a collaboration with beach-meets-street line, Pret-a-Surf, the critical darling of Vogue entertainment editor Jill Demling and Annie Leibovitz studio manager Karen Mulligan. The staff will be dressed head-to-toe in select Spring 2013 pieces from this collection, characterized by Mondrian-esque colorblocking, stripes, gingham, and floral print all in a Boston-friendly red, white, and blue palette with vintage-inspired silhouettes.
We chatted with Demling and Mulligan about their budding three-year old brand, a little rivalry of theirs, and what to expect for the future of Pret-a-Surf expanding into tennis and skiing.
What in your personal histories has compelled you to start Pret-a-Surf?
KM: Jill and I have known each other over ten years, and we're both big sports fanatics—playing and watching. Jill is a huge Boston fan, which is a point of contention with us as I'm a New York fan. We both grew up on the East Coast; Jill is from Boston and my mom is from Rhode Island so I spent a lot of time in New England. We started the idea for Pret-a-Surf about four summers ago now because we both play sports and love fashion, realizing the marketplace didn't have anything that fit our needs. You can be a jock but still be feminine.
We were planning a trip, Jill's first time to go surfing, and we saw there is nothing for female surfers. A lot has changed in the marketplace since then. What we ended up doing was buying men's board shorts and rashguards in the small sizes because they were the least loud and teenage-ish. Then we started talking about what we would do if we designed our own, not thinking that it would turn into a business. A couple months passed and we realized that we both had been collecting inspirational images.
The original idea came from us looking at vintage imagery of surfing and fashion from the 1940s through 1960s and seeing how that swimwear was sexy but still covered you up. We loved that idea, and that of mixing vintage prints with stripes and polka dots. Referring again to vintage prints, we took them and designed our own one-off prints. Our first board shorts were based on a scrap of wallpaper that we really loved to make a fruit pattern. Over the years we built on that first nine-piece line.
Have you found any pushback of being sporty women in the fashion industry or is there an underserved need that is supported?
KM: I think that it definitely fills a niche and people got it right away. There is nothing in the market like it. The first line with color blocking and a whimsical bold print, people responded to it very positively. In that first six months out of the box we were really critical darlings and we wondered to ourselves, "Is this going to last?" Fortunately for us it's been a snowball effect, each season we grow and we're cautious about doing things smartly and not over expanding too quickly.
How does the partnership with the Revere Hotel fit in to that bigger sensibility?
JD: I was in town for a Patriots versus Jets game and we crushed them.
KM: Jill saw the roof deck as an opportunity and told the hotel about our brand and on that Monday we were talking about not only selling our next line to them but also dressing the waitstaff. That's kind of our dream. It's also our entrée into Boston; we're not selling in Massachusetts right now.
Is there anywhere to surf here in New England? Is there a surf community in the Northeast in general?
KM: Montauk is the go-to place for New Yorkers. They used to surf the Rockaways but after the storm obviously that's not a good place anymore. In the New England area there's Narragansett in Rhode Island, Hull with Nantasket Beach, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket—there are a lot of storms that come in the summertime that offer decent surfing.
The ski spinoff would do so well here as its essentially the predominant seasonal sport. What is the plan for rolling it out?
KM: The tennis has kind of been folding into Pret-a-Surf because we originally launched it last summer in the UK around the Olympics. It was confusing to the buyer and everyone that we had two simultaneous lines. For the ski and snowboard line, whether we change the name to maybe Pret-a-Snow, the idea is to build the Pret-a-Surf brand. Ski and snowboard is a lot more technical, a lot more research and development goes into it. So I would think around the end of 2014 we would be ready for it. We've already designed the line, it's just doing the sampling.
It's interesting how your line is youthful but not juvenile. A woman of any age can feel current in it.
KM: The market is definitely underestimating the sensibility of a teenager. You know, teens are very sophisticated now. They don't want to be in day glow and cutesy things. They want to be in the same thing that a twenty- or thirty-something woman they admire would wear. Our market hits a lot of different age groups. We have friends who are buying the same rash guards for themselves and their daughters.
Where are you pulling inspiration each season?
KM: We look at what we've done for this year and it's pretty different. We're taking things that we've done that are popular and building on them. We've become known for the colorblocking, bold stripes, and the polka dots and the prints. We're staying true to that.
What is the most versatile, wardrobe-builder piece in the collection?
KM: Outside of the bathing suits every other piece could do that. Rashguards can be worn with jeans or on the beach. Same with polo shirts. All of it is very translatable and can move seamlessly from day to night.
Touching upon your other positions, what skills have you both brought from the magazine, creative realm to this commercial endeavor?
KM: We both have very demanding jobs and fortunately we're both Capricorns and can multitask [laughs] and I think the biggest thing is that we know how to manage our time. We also both have our finger on the pulse of culture, especially with Jill being at Vogue, she's at the forefront of what trends are happening. We're trying to stay ahead of it all. That's the thing that's a challenge. But we enjoy doing this line and we both bring different things to do the table in regard to our expertise. It's a great creative outlet.
Especially when trying out means heading to the Caribbean and test it! What are your favorite beaches worldwide?
KM: One of my favorites is Hanalei Bay on the North Shore of Hawaii. Nosara in Costa Rica is beautiful. San Sebastian and Biarritz. Even just in the US Montauk is great, even if it's getting a little built up. But it just takes two and a half hours to leave New York City and be in this amazing place. West Coast I think that the San Diego and La Jolla areas is some of the best surfing, especially for beginners.
Reminiscing back to the times where you didn't have cute sports gear to wear, do you have any regrets or memorable items from surfing or skiing?
KM: Neon snowsuits. Moon Boots. Jill and I got pictures back from this one Costa Rica trip and I don't even know what I was in but I look like an encased sausage and Jill was in some pink logo rash guard with a big flower on the front. Let's say we're not passing those pictures around.
In furthering this idea of a lifestyle brand, you created scented surfboard wax, right?
KM: We teamed up with guys in California for a coconut scented wax. Next one is orange blossom. Some will be available for purchase at the retail shop, along with what the girls are wearing.