LONDON — Swimwear designer Melissa Odabash — famous for her Bond Girl bikinis worn by stars such as Kate Moss and Elle Macpherson — has taken on a new role as guest designer of a high-end capsule collection in honor of Speedo’s 75th anniversary.
This story first appeared in the July 18, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
She also recruited her friend, rocker Bryan Adams, to photograph celebrities wearing her one-of-a-kind suits for a special-edition coffee-table book to mark the brand’s milestone. The duo and Speedo executives rounded up Naomi Campbell, Jerry Hall and other big names to pose for the book. Speedo is publishing the book and plans to give it to the media at an anniversary bash at its London flagship in September.
Odabash said she learned a lot in the three months it took to design the collection.
“Every single person knows Speedo and has worn one at least once in their lives — even if it was to early-morning swimming lessons,” said the New Jersey native from her London studio.
When she started asking celebrities to pose in her one-off designs for the book, she learned something else: “Everyone said, ‘Don’t tell me I have to wear those little black shorts.’”
Her goal was to move forward with the Speedo brand name and leave the little black shorts behind. “I wanted to change the whole idea of Speedo,” she said.
Odabash designs under the Bachata by Odabash label and has been making swimsuits for the past seven years. Speedo chose Odabash because the company believes she’s among the best designers in the high-end swimwear business. Jennifer Lopez, Cindy Crawford, Sarah Jessica Parker, Uma Thurman and Macpherson are among her celebrity clients. Stateside, the collection is available at such stores as Saks Fifth Avenue, Barneys, Scoop and Intermix.
“Her designs push the boundaries of swimwear, something we’ve been doing for 75 years,” said Simon Rider, the president of Speedo International.
Odabash, who is known for making figure-enhancing suits, said, “A lot of my clients have kids — and the scars to prove it. They have c-section scars, stretch marks, tummies. I have to think of everything when I design a swimsuit, like putting just the right amount of elastic on the waist so it can give support without cutting into the stomach. I also have hidden ways of cutting cups and positioning elastics, ways of tying or crisscrossing the suit to give a woman’s chest a boost or add extra support.”
Speedo wanted to highlight its move into fashion, which is why it asked Odabash to design two suits that will be sold at retail. Odabash had a free hand in designing her swimsuits — they didn’t even have to go in the water — and the only requirement was that she reference traditional materials associated with anniversary years, such as diamonds, semiprecious stones and leather.
“Believe me, you can be very creative when your suits don’t have to get wet,” she said. “The diamond theme of a 75th anniversary was also in the back of my mind, which is why a number of the suits incorporate Swarovski crystals. Under the light, they sparkle like diamonds.”
The suits, modeled by celebrities including Campbell, Hall, Liberty Ross, Jodie Kidd and Joaquin Cortes, are made from materials including leather, vintage denim and metallic gold starfish. Some are studded with beads, sequins and Swarovski crystals, while others boast embroidery or turquoise and coral beading. All of them were made in Italy, where Odabash makes her own suits, and embroidered in India.
The project wasn’t an easy one. Odabash’s size 40 suit for the champion boxer and Olympic gold medalist Audley Harrison was labor intensive, taking 10 hours to hot-press on the Swarovski crystals. Another swimsuit was supposed to be festooned with crystals and feathers, until the Indian workshop sent it back with crystals and chicken feathers. In the end, Odabash had to pluck off the quills herself.
In addition to the one-off creations, Odabash has designed two women’s swimsuits under the Melissa Odabash for Speedo label that will be sold at Selfridges, Speedo’s Covent Garden flagship in London and Figleaves.com starting this month. They will retail for about $123 and are similar in design to those from her own collection, Bachata by Odabash, with ring fastenings and halter tops.