Photograph by Grant Spanier and Corey Waters courtesy of Public Space.

The La Croix Bathing Suit Designers Believe Vaporwave Will NEVER Die

Public Space, which made a viral La Croix-print bathing suit, is staking a whole clothing line on the short-lived aesthetic subgenre.

by Daisy Alioto
Jun 27 2018, 8:33pm

Photograph by Grant Spanier and Corey Waters courtesy of Public Space.

Stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before:

There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish, swimming the other way, who nods at them and says: “Morning, boys. How’s the La Croix™?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes: “What the hell is ‘La Croix’™?”

The recipe for La Croix remains a mystery for now, but Los Angeles-based brand Public Space recently learned that the lightly-seasoned seltzer is the sole ingredient in going viral when the Internet lost its suburban mind over the brand’s La Croix bathing suits.

i-D called them “the ultimate summer thirst trap,” Esquire deemed them “insufferable,” and PAPER dared to declare, with requisite self-doubt: “These New LaCroix Swimsuits Are Actually Very Chic?” Unfortunately, nothing gold can stay (...carbonated once opened). Shortly after the suits’ mid-May debut, Public Space received a nicely worded letter from the National Beverage Corp., La Croix’s copyright holder, and that was the end of that.

(Full disclosure: I bought the suit in Pamplemousse and it could be yours for the low, low price of several thousand dollars; DM me for details.)

Photograph via Public Space.

For Public Space founders Eric Wu and Tammy Chow, this incident was data about their audience. Gimmicky suit aside, the brand is committed to fulfilling the destiny of vaporwave in 2018. “People [like us] who do vaporwave, we recognize that nostalgia is a medium,” Wu says. “We’re using nostalgia almost as a language.” La Croix has been around since 1981, but its current popularity, and the swimsuit’s buzz, suggested to Wu and Chow that nostalgia doesn’t have to be limited to the past. It can extend toward the present too. Maybe even the future.

At this point, the musical and aesthetic subgenre known as vaporwave has been encircled by memes like sharks around an Instagram model, but for the uninitiated, there’s a 20-minute YouTube explainer by user wosX that name checks Daniel Lopatin (Oneohtrix Point Never) and James Ferraro as progenitors of the genre. It started as an appropriation of ambient 80s and 90s music and acquired a number of aesthetic signifiers including, but not limited to, corporate logos, palm trees, Roman busts, Japanese characters, and digital glitching. One of the earliest vaporwave albums was Floral Shoppe, a 2011 project by the electronic artist Vektroid. The most famous track on the album is Lisa Frank 420 / Modern Computing, a slowed down version of “It’s Your Move” by Diana Ross. On reddit, fans debate whether Drive, Bladerunner, and American Psycho are vaporwave films.

Photograph by Grant Spanier and Corey Waters courtesy of Public Space.

WosX calls vaporwave “the first true post-music genre,” but fans love to mourn its premature demise. In 2016, Esquire declared, “Vaporwave is dead. Long live vaporwave.” Wu and Chow aren’t game to let their beloved aesthetic go down in obscurity, though.

They see Public Space, which Wu began developing in 2015, as distinct from streetwear brands that engage in bootlegging or co-branding (see: Coca-Cola x KITH, IKEA x OFF WHITE) because vaporwave’s relationship to nostalgia lends it a certain earnestness that is absent from hypebeasts’ stoicism and predilection for exclusivity. The brand tried emulating Supreme and other streetwear giants, but their audience’s reaction was a collective WTF, Chow explains.

The memeification of corporate culture weaponizes irony, blaming consumerism for modern malaise, but Public Space’s embrace of nostalgia softens the tone of this critique. “When you have a subculture around parody, it just becomes a parody of a parody,” says Wu, “And then at a certain point you’re not even sure yourself if what you’re making is ironic or if you’re actually just so sucked into the culture that the irony has been lost on you.”

He’s worried about not seeing the forest for the (ironic) palm trees. After all, when you associate certain brands and technologies so closely with your childhood, it’s hard to rebuke them without rebuking a part of yourself and your memories.

Photograph by Grant Spanier and Corey Waters courtesy of Public Space.

Wu, who is in his late 20s, says he was among the first generation to be truly raised by the Internet. He wants to harness the power of nostalgia for the brands and technologies of his childhood and translate them to Public Space apparel.

The brand’s other offerings include a t-shirt of Kate Bush riding a beaked whale on the Japanese cover for her single “Symphony in Blue,” a Microsoft Windows 95 onesie, and Kodak sweatpants. (That Kate Bush tee also fits in with vaporwave-adjacent aesthetic of seapunk. Rihanna is a fan.)

In addition to their own designs, Public Space also partners with digital artists to give them wearable canvases. 3D artist Blake Kathryn has a capsule collection in the works, and four pieces by graphic designer and prop maker Evan Ohl are currently for sale on the brand’s website. Two of Ohl’s pieces–an Evian cigarette box, and the Fiji logo pooling down on itself–were adapted to shirts after the artwork was a top performer on Public Space’s Instagram feed. A long sleeve t-shirt with a plasticky bust of Helios–Nike logo across his forehead–is a nod to the oft-memed cover of Floral Shoppe, Ohl explains.

“We recognize the pitfalls of late stage capitalism and we still can’t get out from the fact that we love brands,” says Wu. If that seems hypocritical, that’s because it is.

“We live in an era (especially in America) of hyper-consumption/commercialism and brands are so totally ingrained in our psyche/culture/lives,” writes Grant Spanier, one half of the directing duo Dad, which recently produced a commercial for Public Space. In the video, a model in an Evian onesie guzzles Evian water and jumps into a pool as David Foster Wallace narrates: “Most of the problems in my life come from my confusing what I want and what I need.”

“Satirizing corporations, but retaining that love for individual brands. That’s the guilty pleasure,” Wu says.