By  on July 9, 2009

A sea of eager designers and buyers is preparing to head to Miami for the annual collection of swimwear runway and trade show events, starting with Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Swim, which will host nightly runway shows at the Raleigh Hotel, July 15 to 19.

Produced by New York-based IMG Fashion, this year’s Fashion Week Swim boasts an all-time high of 18 designer runway shows, with approximately half of the participants making their Miami debuts at the show. This year’s lineup includes Red Carter, Tibi, L’Space by Monica Wise, True Religion Swimwear, Marysia Swim and White Sands Australia, among others.

Running July 18 to 21 at the Miami Beach Convention Center, SwimShow, the annual marketplace for swimwear manufacturers, reps and buyers, settles into its 27th year with a roster of about 350 exhibitors and is expected to draw some 2,000 buyers, according to officials at the Swimwear Association of Florida, the group that organizes the trade show.

According to industry watchers, a key element to success in the current market is a focus on fresh, exciting product to entice consumers that might otherwise be reluctant to buy.

Hervé Léger-inspired straps, sexy cutouts and slits, mini-ruffles, mixed media and lots of Grecian draping and wrapping — especially a cowl-style drape in the back — are trend-right this season, as are modern, graphic patterns, ultravivid colors on mesh or semisheer fabrics and sophisticated, exotic prints on white or monochromatic backgrounds, according to Roseanne Morrison, fashion director of The Doneger Group, a New York-based trend analysis firm.

“Lingerie is one of the biggest influences this season, especially in the details and straps,” said Morrison. “In addition to the strapping, we’re also seeing lots of stretchy girdle-type fabrics that contour the body.”

Miami-based designer Red Carter, who operates an eponymous swimwear company, hits the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week tents Friday night with about 40 looks — a mixture of pieces from his mass merchant collection and Red Carter Glam, a more avant-garde group of higher-end offerings.

“I watched the movie ‘The Twonky,’ drank a mojito and came up with this season’s inspiration,” said Carter. “The collection is a mix of futuristic shapes and Miami heat. Now, more than ever, it’s time to be innovative.”

In response to the recession, Carter is reducing his line by 30 percent and is doing more cut-to-order, “rather than having all that inventory sitting around,” he said, adding his small team of employees handles all aspects of the line’s design, production and distribution. “We’re like the garage band of the swim industry. We just keep hanging on to our last hit record. We’re Iggy Pop,” quipped Carter.

In addition to running his own firm, Carter is also taking on another project, after being tapped in June by the Camuto Group, the master licensee for the Jessica Simpson brand, to design, develop, manufacture and distribute a full line of swimwear under the Jessica Simpson label. Jessica Simpson Swimwear will hold a private showing at The Shore Club during Fashion Week.

L’Space by Monica Wise has been named this season’s “Mercedes-Benz Presents” designer, joining past headliners such as Monique Lhuillier, Badgley Mischka and Yigal Azrouël. Designer Monica Wise will showcase her suits Friday night on the Mercedes-Benz runway and will also debut a capsule collection for OmniPeace, a humanitarian fashion brand that donates 25 percent of profits to charities in Africa.

“While my designs for L’Space make women feel luxurious, sexy and beautiful, I hope that our connection with OmniPeace also inspires them to make a difference and give back,” said Wise.

Another Mercedes-Benz newcomer is Marysia Swim, a Charleston, S.C., line that takes to the tents Thursday with what designer Marysia Reeves calls a “ballerina-meets-punk” cruise collection. The showing will feature high-waisted bottoms, ruffled and ruched tops, plaid cover-ups and tough details like heavy zippers, bold studs and touches of neon.

Over at SwimShow, returning exhibitors like Gottex, Salinas, Diane von Furstenberg and Syla by Sylvie Cachay will be joined by around 80 newcomers, including Love True Love, Salt and Jo De Mer.

In addition to the shows, some firms are opting to hold private viewings at nearby hotels or showrooms this year, including Tommy Bahama, Jessica Simpson and Lilly Pulitzer, which is adding swim separates this year. The Palm Beach-based resort firm has traditionally focused on suits, but said customer demand has prompted them to diversify their swim offerings.

“Swim for us has always been an accessory for the collection, but now we want to make it the focal point. We’ve been hearing it loud and clear from our customer that she wants the option of separates,” said Janie Schoenborn, design director of print and pattern for accessories and footwear and creative advisor for Lilly Pulitzer.

The company’s resort collection features 10 pieces, which each come in four prints and one solid, almost doubling its traditional swimwear units. Tops include string, tankini, halter and bandeau styles; bottoms feature briefs, low-rise, swim skirts and string looks, and bandeau and halter one-pieces round out the group. Tops retail for $58 to $88, bottoms run $68 or $88 and one-pieces are $128 and $138.

Splendid, a contemporary sportswear line, is introducing its first swim collection at The Shore Club in South Beach. Sold as separates, the division focuses on the same comfort associated with its T-shirts, tops and dresses.

“Swimwear was a natural next component for Splendid as our brand is built around effortless, easy fashion in bright colors and luxe fabrications,” said Moise Emquies, founder and designer of Splendid.

Key elements for its debut collection include stripes done in a rainbow pattern or the brand’s signature ministripe, a sexy cheetah print, ruffle detailing, braided ties, beaded trim and lots of shirring. Rounding out its offerings are a few cover-ups, including a cotton voile tunic style.

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