Interview: Alexandra Cassaniti

July 13, 2012

Alexandra Cassaniti is the Los Angeles-based, Hawaii-raised designer, best known for creating stylish surfboards, loose, après-ocean linen pieces and beach-ready knapsacks. Her latest collection includes the Beach Cleanup wedge, a sandal with a lucite heel that's full of sand, cigarette butts and all the scuzzy things that are left behind after a day in the waves. Just this past spring, Cassaniti was called in to curate the newly redesigned Surf Lodge hotel in Long Island's Montauk, collaborating with a handul of local herbalists and apothecaries to formulate in-room grooming products. We spoke to Cassaniti about her personal beach beauty regimen, the trendy rise of East Coast surf and why she makes wave-riding gear for girls.

What do you pack in your beach bag? I use Shiseido Sun Protection Stick or Coola Sunscreen Spray, which is a small organic company that I worked with on The Surf Lodge. They make all of their sunscreen in Oceanside, CA. Since my hair is blond and super delicate, I use Davine’s Su Sun Protective Moisture Oil, so it doesn’t get all fried. In my bag, I always have sunscreen, a Fresco towel, my Face It sunglasses, surf wax and a few neoprene items, usually.

Why do you like designing with neoprene? I did neoprenes because, as girl surfers, we didn’t have a lot of options. And I also found neoprene is a great winter material. It keeps you warm. It’s also super durable, so you can spill anything on it, it’s pretty much stain-resistant. It lasts a long time, it's like the opposite of compostable, you know? It’s gonna last forever. I’m definitely still doing neoprene bags because it’s like leather, people really like them. But now that the ball’s gotten rolling, I don’t need to work with neoprene as much. Why fight the big corporations, now that they’re on you, you know?

When did you get interested in surf culture? I got the first pair of Roxy trunks ever. I was raised around surf, so I was the kid who lived next door to the first Rusty shop. I’ve just been around surf culture my whole life, so for a while I kind of fought it— I went to Europe, Chicago and New York, trying to get away from it, but you can never really get away. I realized that I had to approach it in a different way. Sometimes surf culture can be so one-dimensional. Now, it’s become trendy, so there’s more nuances to it, there’s more exploration of it. I think people are more interested in surfing now.

The East Coast isn’t the easiest place to surf, you have to really make an effort to do it. East Coast people kind of pay attention more, whereas in California things just sort of naturally, organically happen, and maybe there’s not such an awareness. New York sort of studies the stuff—people study it and everyone’s super stylish. Everyone wants to know the coolest thing to do or wear. On the West Coast, it's kind of, I don’t want to say 'sloppy', just very natural. There’s almost not enough reflectiveness about what’s going on. People just sort of go and do it. I like a happy medium, but I appreciate both coasts.

How do your travels influence what you create? My goal for the upcoming year is to travel more and go work with people that have been working on a their art for a long time. Like in Bali, they’re known for their embroidery and needlework, and kind of create something new. Work with people that are taking their time with their skill, rather than working strictly on the fashion calender. Which is kind of crazy. I’ve been showing on the fashion schedule forever—this is the first year that I was like, Whoa man, this doesn’t make sense for me. And it was a revelation. The fashion schedule is really intense and never-ending. No one’s making it to every event. No one’s even awake enough to see everything.

So would you say that your laid-back mentality has finally trickled into the line? Sure. I have this other side that’s neurotic and stressed out. I’ve been trying to keep up with fashion, and it’s been kind of crazy. But, finally, that laid-back side is seeping in.

Interview: Alexandra Cassaniti