Stab Magazine | The Black Tie Experiment

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The Black Tie Experiment

A blind pursuit into a land of luxury. 

// Jan 24, 2018
Words by stab
Reading Time: 10 minutes

The board is born like any other, in a dusty shaping bay, in an industrial estate on any other morning. It’s a piece of foam – a blank – outer layer hard like pavlova with sweets beneath, divided by a three-ply strip of wood. It’s locked to a machine, reminiscent of an MRI machine, which will cut its perfect curves. But for now it’s just one, dirty piece of foam. 

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What’s more elegant than a crystal blue Tahitian underpass?

The suitcase was a trunk, flat-bottomed and stackable, not round-topped like they’d all been during the 1850s. Louis Vuitton, a trunk maker since 16 years old, was the first to choose canvas as his material. To differentiate his design he added beige and brown stripes but competition, as it does, copied his style.

The hat was designed under the name Chanel Modes in a tidy shop at 21 Rue Cambon in Paris. Gabrielle, actually, Coco since her stage days performing for cavalry officers, enjoyed simplistic design and so did the most famous French actresses. The rest of Paris soon either owned or imitated Chanel’s head pieces.

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Mr Freestone doesn’t strain on a fast upward trajectory, he just let’s it flow.

The sweater was made of cashmere, in a more recent time. Fashion designers now came from institutes, like Parsons, where Alexander Wang dropped out and sought experience under Marc Jacobs and Derek Lam. His sketches transformed into six unisex sweaters and were made of the finest knit work, a wardrobe staple, and the attention justly followed.

Eventually, the foam, the trunk, the hat and the sweater would come together in a very roundabout way. They’d come together for an experiment in design and photography: The Black Tie Experiment. 

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Nothing in surfing comes without charge. However, nothing could be more free.

High fashion has sipped on the salts of surf for years, because surfing makes you beautiful and interesting. Plus, it’s inevitably flattering for a core surfer when they answer a phone call from Milan or Paris. Kelly and Versace. Nat Young and Ralph Lauren. Danny Fuller and Chanel. Steph Gilmore and Vogue. Laird and Davidoff. And then there’s the jaunts of high fashion into surf without the surfers. Why? Because regardless of the talent, surfing is a luxury sport with a lifestyle which is completely aspirational. And aspiration, after all, is the perfect ingredient for selling anything. 

The three boards you see here were part of a six-month strategic acquisition to invert the paradigm – to source surfboards made for luxury brands and use them in a high performance arena. Two came from LA, one from Sydney.

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Plunge under, circle back to the surface and break through into the sun. Photo: Pat Stacy

The Alexander Wang board is perhaps the only one you’ve seen in motion. It’s the one our sport’s most familiar with, because its story is tied to Hayden Cox, of Haydenshapes – a Hypto Crypto glamourised with Alexander Wang printed silk. The other two you might’ve seen in shop front windows, or television commercials, or hanging (just) under the arm of a hungry model in a glossy. 

And that brings us to our model, Jack Freestone. Is there a surfer in the world better fitting of a shoot like this? His features wouldn’t look out of place at the end of a runway, and his skillset on a surfboard is of world-tour calibre.

While these surfboards were surely born like any other, aesthetic has elevated them to the heights of high-end fashion. The Black Tie Experiment matches performance to expectation.

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“Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.” – Coco Chanel. Photo: Pat Stacy

Jack Freestone heads straight for the Chanel. “Ahh….” he chuckles, not at all surprisingly. “I’ve been waiting to see this one.”
Inspecting all its angles, all its curves, flipping and toiling the black silhouette Jack absorbs the aesthetics. The 24-year-old is very familiar with style, one who appreciates the value of reputation. 

“I love the simplicity of it. The white logo with the black board makes it look 10 times better in the sense of power.” 

“Imagine riding with a Chanel sticker. I like their image. I like their logo. I like their style. It’d be a very cool thing to bring into the world of surfing, seeing as though that’s the way surfers seem to be taking it now. Being the Big OG, ‘oh, that’s the guy that was sponsored by Chanel.’ That’d be kinda cool.”

As if made of ceramics he puts the Chanel board down. He takes a step back like an artist inspecting their work and then reaches back down for the board sock with Haydenshapes printed across the centre. 

“This is the only one I know the shaper of,” he says, tossing the sock to the side and stroking the marble like a new kitchen bench top. 

“I love the silk under the glass. It looks like a put-a-smile-on-your-face kind of board. You’re not going to get upset at yourself if you blow a wave, I reckon. This will never rattle your surf.” 

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And lastly, he picks up the remaining silver boardbag and, cracking open the velcro, he pulls out the Louis Vuitton.

“The yellow speed lines make it feel like a race car,” he says. “Especially with the carbon under the glass. Man, this looks fun, I haven’t ridden a swallow tail since I was about 10. Black boards in tropical sun though, I don’t know how it’ll hold up. I bet the wax struggles to stay on the board.” 

The tropical sun Jack’s referring to is Tahiti, our shoot location. It’s the perfect studio. The bold designs of our showpiece crafts will pop perfectly against a translucent ocean. Jack’s tailored, custom-made blacktrunks which kiss the top of his knee and wrap perfectly at the hips complete the treatment. And then, of course, there’s Jack.

Standing at the tail of the boards all laid out like a token quiver shot, hands on his hips inspecting their outlines, he is the perfect pilot. With his chiselled cheekbones, friendly mouth and apex jawline, Jack is a young man capable of looking both tough and sensitive. There’s a James Dean cool to his demeanour, and you can’t help but feel he’s a man who’s found control. He’s grown out of being a haphazard teen star into a young man with security, both financially and emotionally, with an account of life in perpetual motion.

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Far from highways, traffic and human hustle there’s tranquility.

But, is he a man of luxury?

“I wouldn’t be human if I said I didn’t enjoy the luxuries,” says Mr. Freestone. “That being said, it doesn’t mean I feel like something’s missing from the life I live. I see that lifestyle, this lifestyle, as cool as it is, I don’t think I’d want to live with it.”

This lifestyle, right now, is a 35-foot luxury speedboat, two 300-horse power Mercury engines spinning their propellers across sheet glass ocean. It’s a six-year-old vessel, the Balthazar II, $300k brand new and owned by a perfect Frenchman, Franc Zermati.

Tall, slim, and positively spritely, Franc is dressed in earthy tones. He’s wearing mocha boat shoes, sans socks of course. His shorts are perfectly kept; ironed and above the knee. His white linen shirt pokes from beneath a beige sweater and round, reflector lenses ooze French confidence. His brown hair is swept back in the elegant dishevelment you’d expect from such a boat owner in these waters.

Despite the early hour of our shoot day, he reaches for the Marlboro reds tucked away in a cup holder and it’s with broken English, hand gestures and a lighter with which he offers a cigarette to Jack and I. 

Franc made his fortunes in property development, and his skin tone perfectly matches the last 12 years he’s spent in Tahiti working less, of course.

When you look at Franc, his boat, his home at Papeete looking out across the channel to Moorea, how he crosses said channel full throttle without caution, you know that life is wild and dangerous and beautiful. His kind of living is for the champagne classes. It’s perfectly fitting for Chanel, Vuitton and Wang. 

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No matter how playful the waves are, there’s always a friendly reminder that you’re surfing in three feet of water over jagged reef. Limes aren’t just for beers.

And such luxe wouldn’t be foreign to a man like Jack, I presume. 

“To tell you the honest truth, that question makes me really angry because I haven’t indulged in the things that I’ve wanted to,” he says. “I’m just so spoilt going to places, but I’m not actually going to places. It’s always, get there, check in, do a contest, go home. Brazil, Europe, anywhere, I need to go and experience the luxuries.”

“I want to switch off, go to an island like this and do the cliche thing. I’d love to do that, man. Kick back, get a little fatter, lie horizontal for a week and do nothing.”  

For now, Jack saunters around the bow, running his hand along the chrome railings, staring into the electric blue ocean beneath. Sting rays, reef sharks  and tropical fish dot the passage between the boat and the lava rock shoreline and timber docks stretch into the channel. The water is the perfect amount of warmth and refreshment, somewhere between azure and emerald.

Under rows of palm trees deluxe accommodation shade themselves and the high green mountains behind cut together like the lines on an ECG machine. Honeymooners have left their saffron robes and zip by on jetskis or catamarans or kayaks and breaking waves run aground on coral reefs in the distance. It’s idyllic. It’s calm.

“Let’s do this, where do you want me?” says Jack.

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The hum of drone propellers is the only element which doesn’t fit this picture of paradise. Jack, being the leading man – and a hard working one at that – now slinks around the boat, then to the water, floating on his back with the crafts in frame. The drone buzzes above capturing this moment of masculine luxury, as a dozen smiling Tahitian women motor by on a larger vessel. 

Jack is used to the cameras. Surfing that is. You can tell this kind of work without a breaking wave doesn’t come completely naturally, but he’s a sponge and takes direction perfectly with enthusiasm. 

And moments later, at a nearby reef break, Jack needs no supervision as he pilots the crafts through their flight.

“Sometimes I just wish I could go fuck it, I wanna wear an Acne suit,” Jack says. “Imagine one day if surfers started rocking up to events in Acne or Armani suits, like in the NBA. How cool would that be.”

It’s only a matter of time until such an arrival to a would tour event could be possible for Jack. His qualification is imminent. His ability is widely spoken about (particularly since Cluster), and his hype is completely fair. 

With a surfer so sure of his equipment, it’s refreshing to see a mind at work figuring out a different board. 

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Mr Freestone casually separates the elements with luxurious electricity.

The Chanel was so unprepared for the ocean it was without grub screws in the fin plugs. It’s 6’4”ish, rounded pin. Narrow. Precise. Jack rode it best when he went straight. In the tube, into a fin release, over a float section, the board’s longer rail line preferred a simple direction, not drawn out carves. The blue ocean, black board, black trunks, tanned torso – it was a striking combination. 

Vuitton was a swallow tail, shorter, and rode with more flow than the Chanel. It responded well to a pump off the bottom, clicked nicely off the lip with more speed and held a much finer line through turns. It was heavy too, so Jack’s 86 kilos worked in great unison. 

Wang didn’t have a leg rope plug, and where most surfers would ride with caution Jack could feel the forgiving outline. He held his speed through drawn-out cutbacks and personified Machado or Curren beautifully with a tight stance and boughed back leg. It was everything he expected from a “put-a-smile-on-your-face board.”

“I felt super expensive out in the lineup,” he says. “Chanel on a board, you think it’s automatically going to go like the best board in the world, right? And Louis Vuitton, this board is going to go like everything Louis Vuitton.”

“But I struggled not having a tail pad, real hard,” he admits. “Sometimes when I get those kind of boards you know by the look of it whether it deserves a tail pad or not. I felt like they all did, especially the Chanel board, it was begging for a black one. I’m just so used to them. It’s about having that register for your back foot and where it should be. It’s interesting though because I quickly worked out that the legrope string was a good guide.”

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Whip your head, shake the water to the air and play it on repeat.

And this world Jack finds himself in, is it a taste of the future? Of something which awaits after the jump? Or is it a life which’ll always remain a little ambitious, just how Chanel, Vuitton and Wang like to keep it? 

“Surfing’s a trending fashion right now. They’re investing in our lifestyle because in their world it’s a point of difference. More and more of those companies are seeing the value in investing in surfing. But, what happens when that fashion fades?”

“I don’t know anyone who actually lives like this. These labels, these boats, these expensive things. Look at Leonardo Dicaprio, he is style and luxury and it’s because he’s so accepted with how good he is at what he does, I don’t think he’d have any haters. His life of luxury is perfectly fitting because he deserves it. Every surfer in this generation and previous ones have some from very simple upbringings.”

With that we leave Franc and his boat at a wooden jetty as the sky does all kinds of sunset behind the French Polynesian islands. 

And in a perfect juxtaposition, Jack cracks a cool can of Hinano, picks at a handful of Pringles and then orders a steak and fries from the street vendor who’s just opened for the evening. 

“Like I said mate, I’m a man of simplicity.”

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