Over the past decade, the majority of impactful menswear trends have leaned toward tailored pieces with traditional inspirations. Now, as the fashion pendulum swings away from suits and ties and toward a more relaxed, casual look, Riviera Club is stepping out with a laid-back California style.

As the story goes, Derek Buse and Greg Ullery met at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego. A few years after graduation, they connected with designer Joe Sadler while he DJ-ed at the Designers & Agents tradeshow in New York. Over a game of golf and some beers, they decided to combine powers and hatched the idea for Riviera Club. The label’s debut for Spring/Summer 2010 was picked up by Ron Herman and now the collection is found at department stores and boutiques including Opening Ceremony, Bird, Saks Fifth Avenue and American Rag.

Taking its name from Santa Barbara, CA, aka the American Riviera, the company celebrates a lifestyle of leisure. Ullery explains, “Fashion, for the three of us, is the way we live, our friends, our environment and the way we interpret these things into our collection.” In fact, there’s nothing forced or over-styled in the brand’s look. Rather, the result is defined by quality fabrics and an easygoing demeanor.

For Spring/Summer 2012, the trio looked to retro Palm Springs, what they term “an international hotspot for celebrities and cultural sophistication since the 1940s.” The striking color palette is sunwashed and beach chic. Faded pastels and color blocking are paired with prints or polka stripes. Key pieces include unlined blazers, printed shorts, double-sided button-downs and slim fit chinos with rolled-up cuffs.

A key moment in the brand’s evolution came in 2011, with a semi-finalist nod as GQ/CFDA Best New Menswear Designer in America. While top prize went to Alexander Wang, the nomination landed Riviera Club a limited edition pant in Bloomingdale’s and helped increase its profile among store buyers. And for Fall 2012, a capsule collaboration with Lucky Brand aims to bring Riviera Club’s riff on luxe basics to an even wider audience.

Even as the company’s lighthearted approach resonates with regular guys, the designs still implement high-end fabrications and quality construction. This eye for detail ensures their humor and openness is not misinterpreted as lazy or disheveled. And therein lies the fine line that makes the brand so appealing. Riviera Club is laid back but not indifferent; easygoing but not easy; accessible but not dumbed down.

Past collections have looked to golf, travel and surf legend Bunker Spreckels. As the brand has matured since 2010, the looks have further developed to a type of refined, blue collar appeal. While many fashion companies treat their male demographic as over-idealized jet setters and refined gentlemen, Riviera Club works from an enviable position of reality. That is, the three co-founders approach the aesthetic of design like regular guys so that fashion can be easy, garments can be thrown around and the overall glamorization of fashion can be debunked as superficial.

In terms of broader trends over the past 20 years, the black, grey and concrete utilitarianism of Helmut Lang gave way to premium denim, and casual Fridays as every day. Then bold colors, suits, and ties lent themselves to the proportion play of Thom Browne. Now casual returns with a vengeance, but in a refined, modern version. The colors have become more sophisticated and their purpose reaches well beyond just weekend sportswear. Somewhere between Balmain and Burkman Bros, Riviera Club’s casual vibe doesn’t scream ‘relax’, it simply leads by example.  www.rivieraclothing.com

Text by Michael Cohen
Photography by Chris Clinton