GQ recognition propels surfwear designer

Los Angeles TimesJuly 5, 2014 

When John Moore was named to GQ magazine's 2014 class of best new menswear designers in America for his retro-cool surf label M.Nii, it was the branding equivalent of catching the perfect wave.

Not just because the 3-year-old label is stealth-brand small with barely 50 retail accounts globally and retail sales of $1.5 million annually, but also because the entire line was born out of a chance flea market find -- a single pair of navy blue twill surf shorts.

"This is what started it all," Moore says, sliding a photograph across the conference table in his Culver City. Calif., studio.

"My (business) partner Randy (Hild) is a ferocious surf memorabilia collector, and he found these. When he threw them in front of me, I just fell in love with them. I had this immediate reaction to the label. But we didn't know the story; we had no idea."

It turned out to be a story that stretches all the way back to the birth of the first surf-specific boardshorts, which Moore and company discovered as they started researching the name in the waistband label -- M. Nii (pronounced EM-nee-ee).

He shares a tale imparted to him by surfing legend Greg Noll.

"Greg told us he'd be out there charging these waves, and at the end of the night, everyone's drinking beers and watching footage, and some of the guys were claiming his waves," Moore explained. "So his whole vibe was: 'I need something to stand out.' So he went to the M. Nii Tailor Shop."

The shop not only had a range of heavy-duty twill fabrics on hand but also all manner of decorative taping, which helped make Noll's trunks distinctive.

"Word spread fast," Moore says, "and every guy who would go in there would have a different tape or color."

In pretty short order, M. Nii's surf trunk business quickly moved beyond Hawaii, and President John F. Kennedy was photographed in a pair at Santa Monica Beach in 1962.

The boardshorts with a backstory couldn't have found their way into a more capable pair of hands.

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