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Swimming in fashion

Designer Dan Ward, inspired by his love of the ocean, offers resortwear that combines creativity and functionality for men, writes Divia Harilela

 

If you think resortwear is exclusive to women, think again. As men have become more style-conscious, the market has seen an emergence of new brands in this category.

"Even if times are tough, what men continue to spend on is their off-time. They want to look good when they are vacationing. [Vacations] used to cover a three- or four-month period of the year, but now everyone is so mobile, it's always summer everywhere. Fashion stores and brands are starting to acknowledge that," says Dan Ward, founder of new resortwear brand Danward. Although it only officially launched this season, Danward is already creating buzz thanks to its fashion-forward swimwear, sandals and other necessities. In just one season it has already been picked up by prestigious retailers, including Lane Crawford, Selfridges, Harrods, Rinascente and Neiman Marcus. Its launch on Mr Porter was such a success that buyers have already put in a second order. So what does Danward offer that other brands don't? "If you look at the swimwear market, there's the active end which isn't very chic or pretty. Then you have the fashion end with brands, such as Gucci and Prada, who only create one or two styles a season. [Swimwear] is an after-thought for them.

"I felt that there were a lot of guys out there like me who want to have a designed alternative, but don't have the time to shop around.

"I am frustrated every time the season starts, and I can never find the right sandals. I knew I wanted to create a product with an urban feel, but also a quality element that a fashion guy would be looking for," he explains.

Indeed, Ward's background in men's fashion makes him the perfect candidate for the job. Although he graduated with a degree in chemistry, he was always attracted to creative disciplines. When it was time for medical school, he did a 180 and decided to devote his energy to a more arts-driven profession. He moved to Paris, where he completed a degree in commercial photography, before embarking on a 20-year career in the fashion industry.

His first gig happened to be at Hermès, the crème de la crème of luxury brands, where he was appointed head of menswear, commercial and marketing. A few years later, he relocated to London to work at Alfred Dunhill, overseeing the transformation of its menswear across design, development and manufacturing. Stints at Bally and Calvin Klein soon followed.

"I had worked in so many different arenas in the industry that by the end of it I knew how to create a complete product from start to finish. For me, Hermès was the universe of luxury and the most formative years in terms of who I am creatively. At Alfred Dunhill, I was able to redefine the brand, which was exciting. At Bally, it was an opportunity to focus on footwear and accessories. Calvin was aesthetically aligned to who I am, but I started forming the idea for Danward during this time," he says.

Although most of his experience was in the luxury sector, Ward also had a passion for the ocean. A former life as a competitive swimmer and a love for tropical climates (he grew up on the Japanese beaches of Okinawa) led him to come up with an idea for a resortwear brand that combined fashion and functionality with the best quality available.

The result is a line that's clean yet angular, with unexpected twists that make it chic and modern. Offerings for spring/summer 2013 include the understated yet chic flip-flops (in dark sleek rubber), and a complete shorts and swimwear collection. Quality was of paramount importance, so he opened up his address book of manufacturers he had worked with previously. Most of the items are made in Italy - the prints are designed by a printer based in Lake Como.

"The real standout for me is the prints. I don't take seashells and slap them on a pair of trunks. Our prints are modern and fresh so that the shorts are sporty but also refined and fashionable. Another big seller is the flip-flops - they really define who I am from a design perspective. We have taken a common item, given it a design twist and elevated the manufacturing on it to make it more unusual and quite cool," Ward says.

Although the line has a fashion focus, functionality is also important. Fabrics are chlorine-resistant and feature built-in SPF protection. They are also light and breathable. To complement this are styles designed for the modern man on-the-go.

For the next season, Ward has designed shorts with four pockets. In addition to side pockets and a zipper pocket on the back, there will be an extra pocket for men to carry their iPhones or iPods. "These are invisible features that once the wearer buys and wears it, they will appreciate them. In fashion, men are dogs and women are butterflies. Men are as loyal as your dog. They come back if they like something," he says.

Ward has refined the collection even more for the next season with the addition of more items, including new sandals, jersey sweats for après swim, and more shorts. A graphic element is achieved through colour blocking and a monochrome palette to create a more directional look.

"We have these really cool shorts with a contrast insert between the legs. There's a positive/negative design element that's quite cool. I have also added in a lot more jerseys. It's about strengthening the direction and adding into categories that I thought were a little weak. Menswear, at the end of the day, is about refining and working on details and shapes," Ward says. With the line set to grow even more, one can't help but wonder whether Ward will return to his roots and launch a ready-to-wear collection for men.

"I have no ambitions beyond making great resortwear. I don't want to get distracted and to extend the brand beyond that. I think you should stand for one thing and stand completely for it. If you look at the brands that are successful, like Moncler for example, they all own a segment and do it completely. There's more freedom being corralled into an arena and being able to explore it completely.

"In the end of the day, I am designing products for myself and a lot of guys out there are like me. I want people to say, 'wow, it's a cool new way of looking at something'. No one needs anything else - if you can't come to the market with a fresh approach, what's the point?" he says.

 

1982
Graduates from university
1993
Joins Hermès as head of menswear commercial marketing
1999
Relocates to London to join Alfred Dunhill
2003
Joins Bally
2008
Appointed president of design and merchandising, Calvin Klein Asia and Europe
2012
Danward launches for spring/summer 2013 and is picked up by retailers including Mr Porter, Harrods and Lane Crawford.

 

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