A Question Of Style: Hurley Creative Director Lian Murray says the market’s best days are straight ahead.

Lian Murray was working toward a psychology degree when she realized how much time she spent doodling apparel designs in her notebook. So during a summer vacation in Hawai’i, Lian took the plunge and started her own company. Called Lianeliyse, it eventually grew into a pretty successful endeavor, with its own store on Melrose and all the trimmings, such as a trade-show presence at the early ASR shows.

It was at one of these shows were she met Quiksilver Founder Bob McKnight and was able to convince him to hire her as a freelance designer. Although it was at the peak of Quik’s Echo Beach phenomenon during the early 80s, Murray wasn’t really interested in boardshorts. “It wasn’t boardshorts and T-shirts, she recalls. “We did fleece, sweatpants, and denim. It was a pretty big investment to come out with a clothing line, and no one had really done it.

After a successful six-year run at Quiksilver, Murray became a mother and took a part-time position at Mossimo, just as that brand moved off the beach and into the high-fashion world of overpriced suits. The fit wasn’t quite right, and after eight months she was ready to move on. She joined Bob Hurley at Billabong, and it turned into a working partnership that would flourish over the next seven years, and when Hurley made his fateful decision to launch Hurley International, Murray was right there at his side championing the cause.

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Today, Murray is the creative director for the whole Hurley brand, which has grown to include a women’s line, accessories, footwear, and an upcoming girls’ swimwear offering. She’s involved with the opening of a new Hurley retail location in Huntington Beach, California, and the brand’s move into the international market. With more than twenty years of experience, she remains one of the most influential women in the surf market. We caught up with Murray the day she returned to the office after an extended Costa Rica trip. Here’s some of what she had to say:

How was surf apparel different back when you started compared to how it is now?

Lian Murray: Back then I was on a mission to update Spicoli. Surf wear was grungy, and surfers didn’t have such a good reputation, but that wasn’t how I saw it. All the surfers I knew were cool guys, people who went to college. They’re all sorts of different people. So I saw a need there that could be fulfilled.

Today, people like to feel a certain way when they buy clothes. It creates a feeling inside you. So if you go into a surf shop and you buy something that’s nice and classy and fresh, you feel good and healthy. That feeling affects design.

After Quiksilver you went to Mossimo, then you met Bob Hurley and made the move over to Billabong. What was that like?

Billabong was a fun company and a fun time. When I first started there, it was sort of a hardcore surf-clothing brand. We brought a lot of fashion into the Billabong label. Bob {Hurley} was such a forward thinker, that for me as a designer, it was exciting to work with him. It was great to have someone support innovative ideas — and it still is.

He was one of the first people to put an ad into Surfer magazines of guys just in clothes — not surfing at all. That was controversial at the time, but it was also a lot of fun.

We had so much fun doing things like that and pushing the edge that after a while we were like, “Gosh, we want to do more fun stuff! That’s when I started to want to do a girls’ line, but at the time we only had the license to the Billabong men’s line in the U.S.

So the juniors’ line was one of the reasons for the launch of Hurley?

Sure. The men’s thing was going really well, and I’m not saying that I was bored, but how many things can you do to a walkshort? It was always fun and challenging to design within those narrow parameters and make something fresh, but I’ve always wanted to do juniors’ and girls’.

So you were eager to see the launch of Hurley?

Yeah. A lot of it me from my passion and desire to innovate and push the surf market, elevate the level of fashion for these kids. At that time I was looking around at how stylish Bob’s kids were — fixing up their hair, the guys wearing jewelry. I said to myself, “These kids are hip, and they know what’s up. I want to be super involved with the teenagers on all those levels, and do all kinds of guy’s clothes. I want to sell it all around the world.

At the time, Billabong had final approval on everything we designed. They could just say, “That’s enough — too much fashion. So Bob did his own thing so we could go around the world, do girls {clothing}, make accessories, and do everything else that we wanted to do.

Do you remember sitting down for the first time to design the Hurley line?

Oh yeah. It was so fun. We produced the first Hurley line at the same time we were producing our last Billabong line, and it was crystal clear which was the Hurley product and which was the Billabong product. The Hurley line was a little bit classier, a little bit sportier, and some of the Billabong clothes — at that point — were just a little bit more traditional.

How do you approach designing a line? How much of the old line do you keep, and how much of it is completely new?

We try and keep 70 percent of the line pretty consistent. Then we’ll take twenty percent and go a little bit forward. Then we’ll take the final ten percent and do what we think will really move the market.

When retailers buy the line, do they gravitate to that 70 percent, or are they open to the rest of it, too?

It depends. Sometimes when you get a good track record with a retailer, you’ll get a good test order for something new. Like with Hurley Girley now, some of the stores are like, “Your stuff is doing good. We’ve got the basics. Maybe we can let you have some more floor space. What do you believe in? We’re starting to get some good relationships with people, and that’s fun.

Do distribution considerations affect your design?

They do. You try and think about business and about what’s the ultimate goal that you’re trying to reach when you design a line. Doing that let’s you maximize your creativity. It’s a fine line. Sometimes, if you have too many ideas, retailers can be like, “Oh my gosh. I don’t know what to do! The trick is to have the line thought out and focus the various part of it on who you want to sell it to. So we just sort of break it down, and come up with a pricing and design structure to help our retailers understand the line.

And the more cutting-edge stuff that you’re excited about probably ends up in those stores that “get it.

Definitely. But these stores also have four-ways and defined sections, too, so they can layer down some of the more basic styles and then put up a little plaid or print or stripe, a hat and bag, and sort of lead the people over to the newer stuff.

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Is it hard for you to really get the gist of the line across at retail, given that floor space is so competitive?

We give a lot of planning and thought to that. We keep colors relatively consistent so the message at retail is clear. Every six months, for example, we’ll change the bottom color slightly. Every three months we’ll update the colors of our tops, so it keeps the floor looking fresh, but also helps tie the merchandising together.

So it sounds like crisp whites and bright colors will be popular for Spring ’04.

Exactly.

And the 80s influence will also be important?

We’re not doing any 80s. I’m doing 2004. There are a lot retro influences — from thrift shop to 70s to 80s. For us, we’re just doing clean and classy beach classics with a twist. It’s fun and young and fresh. Punk and music roots are always something that we’re doing. We did some military as well.

{At this point Lian breaks out three full-color pages of various apparel designs, with accessory and footwear suggestions included, to show how part of the line merchandises together.}

As we’ve gotten bigger we’ve been doing more of these overview sheets. Now that my job is creative director, I have to make sure that the accessories, the shoes, and the bags all tie in, and when it’s delivered in March that it all looks good.

Will the opening of the Hurley store in Huntington Beach make your job easier when it comes to merchandising the line?

Definitely. It can take such a long time to get an item from design to samples to production, but with the store we can go over to the art department and spray paint on the pink trucker hat, take six over to our store, and get a test market. It will be fun to have our own place with some really innovative product out there for people to wear.

So it will help refine the line?

Yes, I’m never satisfied. I always wanted to do a better job. I would also like to use it as a place where retailers can come see new P.O.P. ideas, pictures, or little in-store concepts.

A goal that Bob has is to become more like partners with our retailers. We really would love to find ways to help out the shops. For example, he went back east a while back and saw that a lot of the surf shops back there aren’t as cutting edge or up to date as they are out here. We want to help everyone get their stores together, be partners with them, and help them make more money and sell more clothes.

What advice would you give retailers when it comes to their juniors’ department?

It’s not the amount of floor space that they have, but the attention to detail they give it. Any thought they can give the department will help, because we buy for sport. Girls will go out there and if it’s even just displayed semi-cute, we’ll buy it. Of course, a lot of retailers are getting the picture, shops like Pacific Wave {in Santa Cruz, California}, The Girl Next Door {in Saint Augustine, Florida}, and Island Snow {Ala Moana, Hawai’i}. But I think there’s even more room for improvement when it comes to the juniors department.

One of the main reasons we did Hurley Girley was we saw this need for boutique girls brands. There’re shops like Wet Seal and Pacific Sunwear that are huge mass retailers, and they’re fabulous at what they do, but they have a lot of private label in there. Then there are stores like Fred Segal and the other upper-end stores, but not a lot of place for teenagers to go. It’s still a huge opportunity.

How’s Hurley’s Japanese initiative going? Has that changed the type of products you make?

That’s interesting that you should ask, because the feedback we’re getting from the international market is the same types of feedback we got when we first launched Hurley in the U.S. Some people get it right away, and some people don’t. So we’re doing a lot of explaining about who we are and what we’re doing. I know that it’s going to go over well there, but right now they’re asking me how do we answer these questions to our retailers, so it’s just beginning in its launching stages. I’m not even sure if we’ve got any actual product on sale over there yet, but the Japanese are so into design that I’m pretty excited about that market.

So you’ll have one big international line?

Right now we just have one line. I’m not sure how we’re going to handle the international market, but it’s likely we’re going to have to do some other designs for other climates. We’ll see, but it’s important. A lot of the reason we did Hurley and Hurley Girley was because we thought the whole world needed some fresh teenage clothing that was exciting and different.

How will things change at retail when it comes to the juniors’ market in the next five years?

It’s going to be great. The stores are going to all fix themselves up and use maybe like Huntington as a role model. There’s Jack’s on one side of the street and Huntington Surf & Sport on the other and probably ten other stores up the block, but everybody seems succ, to show how part of the line merchandises together.}

As we’ve gotten bigger we’ve been doing more of these overview sheets. Now that my job is creative director, I have to make sure that the accessories, the shoes, and the bags all tie in, and when it’s delivered in March that it all looks good.

Will the opening of the Hurley store in Huntington Beach make your job easier when it comes to merchandising the line?

Definitely. It can take such a long time to get an item from design to samples to production, but with the store we can go over to the art department and spray paint on the pink trucker hat, take six over to our store, and get a test market. It will be fun to have our own place with some really innovative product out there for people to wear.

So it will help refine the line?

Yes, I’m never satisfied. I always wanted to do a better job. I would also like to use it as a place where retailers can come see new P.O.P. ideas, pictures, or little in-store concepts.

A goal that Bob has is to become more like partners with our retailers. We really would love to find ways to help out the shops. For example, he went back east a while back and saw that a lot of the surf shops back there aren’t as cutting edge or up to date as they are out here. We want to help everyone get their stores together, be partners with them, and help them make more money and sell more clothes.

What advice would you give retailers when it comes to their juniors’ department?

It’s not the amount of floor space that they have, but the attention to detail they give it. Any thought they can give the department will help, because we buy for sport. Girls will go out there and if it’s even just displayed semi-cute, we’ll buy it. Of course, a lot of retailers are getting the picture, shops like Pacific Wave {in Santa Cruz, California}, The Girl Next Door {in Saint Augustine, Florida}, and Island Snow {Ala Moana, Hawai’i}. But I think there’s even more room for improvement when it comes to the juniors department.

One of the main reasons we did Hurley Girley was we saw this need for boutique girls brands. There’re shops like Wet Seal and Pacific Sunwear that are huge mass retailers, and they’re fabulous at what they do, but they have a lot of private label in there. Then there are stores like Fred Segal and the other upper-end stores, but not a lot of place for teenagers to go. It’s still a huge opportunity.

How’s Hurley’s Japanese initiative going? Has that changed the type of products you make?

That’s interesting that you should ask, because the feedback we’re getting from the international market is the same types of feedback we got when we first launched Hurley in the U.S. Some people get it right away, and some people don’t. So we’re doing a lot of explaining about who we are and what we’re doing. I know that it’s going to go over well there, but right now they’re asking me how do we answer these questions to our retailers, so it’s just beginning in its launching stages. I’m not even sure if we’ve got any actual product on sale over there yet, but the Japanese are so into design that I’m pretty excited about that market.

So you’ll have one big international line?

Right now we just have one line. I’m not sure how we’re going to handle the international market, but it’s likely we’re going to have to do some other designs for other climates. We’ll see, but it’s important. A lot of the reason we did Hurley and Hurley Girley was because we thought the whole world needed some fresh teenage clothing that was exciting and different.

How will things change at retail when it comes to the juniors’ market in the next five years?

It’s going to be great. The stores are going to all fix themselves up and use maybe like Huntington as a role model. There’s Jack’s on one side of the street and Huntington Surf & Sport on the other and probably ten other stores up the block, but everybody seems successful because they’ve done a good job explaining who they are. It becomes not only a place to shop, but also a place for teenagers to hang out.

There’s so much in the retail market for differentiation. People can really elevate their stores by figuring out who they are. You could get more juniory like Roxy, more artsy like Volcom, or have a beach-classics feel like Hurley. People have different looks, and there are enough people out there for everybody to sell product to. There’s room for good growth at retail.successful because they’ve done a good job explaining who they are. It becomes not only a place to shop, but also a place for teenagers to hang out.

There’s so much in the retail market for differentiation. People can really elevate their stores by figuring out who they are. You could get more juniory like Roxy, more artsy like Volcom, or have a beach-classics feel like Hurley. People have different looks, and there are enough people out there for everybody to sell product to. There’s room for good growth at retail.