Monday, June 7, 2010

Reminiscing of Swimsuits Past

I started selling swimsuits in 1995. It came out of a need to expand my hat, sandal and novelty neck tie business. (Tropi-Ties was originally named after a cooling neck bandanna that I sold.) Swimwear seemed to be the perfect thing to add to my beachy offerings. After all, I felt that I knew a thing or two about bikinis, having grown up wearing one almost 24/7. Back then, if I wasn’t in the pool, I was at the beach and if I wasn’t in one of those places, then I certainly had my swimsuit on under my clothes, just in case an opportunity presented itself to get into the water.

Back in the early ‘90s, bikinis bottoms were cut very scoopy, or V-cut, in front and high on the thigh, with coverage not unlike a diaper in back. The only bikini tops were the simple triangle, or underwire bra. The prints were loud and the solids were neons. There were 2 major markets in the U.S.; “Surf” and “Raunch.” Some of my more savvy bikini shoppers wore the super sexy Brazilian bikinis, such as the "Tanga," the "Rio,"and the "Thong," but only if they were a runway model, or very daring. Even then, those swimsuits were probably too risqué for the American beaches and family reunions. Fabrics were limited to very shiny, 2-way Spandex, and 4-way stretch Lycra and occasionally crochet knits. At this point, the average swimsuit consumer in this country had never heard of Microfiber, or Polyamide textiles.

Then, came the Brazilians. Vix, Salinas and Desiree Nercessian lead the way into the next century and the mainstream American market with their teeny tiny bikini bottoms, elongated halter tops and embellishments galore. The fabrics that they used were a tad heavier than their American counterparts, with a soft, matte finish. The new style of bikini bottoms epitomized the phrase, “less is more,” with backsides that barely covered the bum. The front top lines were low, short and straight. The halter top became the one and only choice of style, but the imaginative things that these Brazilian designers did with it were endless. The ties became short, the straps thin, there were stones, sequins, beads, leather and buckles, as well as other new, exciting trims. Swimsuits truly became works of art.

Around 2005, as the economic recession began to take hold and the Y Generation started settling down to a life of child rearing and domesticity. Swimsuit sales slowed and what did sell was more conservative. The tiny Brazilian bikini gave way to a more moderate coverage swimsuit. The Cut-Out 1 piece gained popularity because it covered the tummy, but was still had some allure. New fabrics were employed and trims became more sophisticated. The higher-end, luxurious swimsuits represented investments for women who still had some change in their expensive, designer bags. It was the age where it was all about which celebrity was wearing which designer bikini.

By 2008, the Brazilians still had a strong stake in the American swimwear world, but they began to lose their stronghold on the market, with new labels emerging from other countries, such as Columbia, Australia, Great Britain and the USA. Zimmermann from Australia, Mara Hoffman from Europe, Maaji and Agua Bendita from Columbia gave us a fresh look at the bikini and one piece swimsuit. The bandeau bikini became the new fashion shape on the beach and cute 1 pieces that catered to a younger customer started to show up in the look books. Engineered prints were everywhere, Cover-ups and beach frocks became the rage.

Now at the end of 2010 season and with the unveiling of 2011 designs, we see a batch of new designers emerging. Once again, these mavericks are taking another look at the swimsuit and creating new shapes and styles for yet another generation of beachgoers and vacationers. We’ll be seeing a bevy of designer looks from Australia, such as Zimmermann and Kooey, next year and some labels from Brazil, including Cia.Maritima, Rosa Cha and Lenny that were overshadowed in the Vix/Salinas heydays. I expect the unexpected in 2011…new takes on old swimsuit standbys. How will they reinvent the wheel? What will they think of next? We shall see.

~ C.

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