MIAMI — The swimwear business is percolating, as more well-known fashion brands seek to enter the category and existing lines expand their offerings with new collections and divisions.

Calvin Klein Choice, St. John Knits, Skechers, Paul Frank and Sag Harbor are some of the big-name labels that launched swim lines at the Cruise 2005 show in Miami this week. Juicy Couture swimwear, produced under license by Swimwhere Anywhere, was previewed to select retailers and will officially debut at August market in New York. Michael Kors recently signed a deal with the Warnaco Group and will launch its collection next year, and Carmen Marc Volvo might be entering the category, as well.

“People are looking for newness and strong brands,” said Alexander S. Bhathal, executive vice president at Raj Manufacturing, which is producing the St. John Knits line under license and also makes Guess, O’Neill and Athena. “Price is not always a factor. Customers are willing to pay for a suit if it’s the right fit and color and has a strong name.”

Women’s swimwear sales were $2.2 billion from June 2003 to May 2004, up 5 percent compared with the previous year, according to the NPD Group. Women generally own twice as many suits as they wear, and three out of four women report spending less than $50 for a single swimsuit. More than half the women surveyed by NPD Group said they purchase swimwear “on sale” at least 50 percent of the time.

In Miami, retailers praised a number of new trend directions for the cruise season, including decidedly feminine details such as ruffles, jeweled embellishments and bright colors. Many of the looks reflect what is happening in ready-to-wear, with ladylike styles reminiscent of Fifties glamour girls. Itsy-bitsy bikinis are still around, but many companies offered cutout one-pieces and tankini styles as an alternative to the skimpy Brazilian looks that have dominated the market in recent seasons.

“No one really wants bikinis from me,” said Alisa Marie Beyer, founder and creative director at AXM Swimwear, a year-old firm based in Vienna, Va. “We are seeing interest in one-piece cutouts and cover-ups.”

Amy Benishai, owner of ARB Associates, which distributes Rygy, Zimmerman, Inca, Red Carter and other brands, said, “The real world does not wear tiny bikinis. Many stores now are looking for things that fit a bigger cross section of the population.”

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