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Swimwear: It’s All in the Details

A report from the Cruise 2004 Swimwear Show this week in Miami.

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MIAMI — Following a turbulent year where firms had to deal with woes brought on by war, weather and a sour economy, brands jumped into the critical cruise season with a plethora of new lines, divisions and brand extensions.

This story first appeared in the July 24, 2003 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The Cruise 2004 Swimwear Show ran July 19-23 at the Miami International Merchandise Mart & Radisson Convention Center and drew plenty of buyers from major department stores, from Macy’s to May Co., as well as specialty stores, national chains and a few international retailers.

Sponsored by the Swimwear Association of Florida, buyer attendance was up 5 to 7 percent over last year, with 400 exhibitors showing about 2,000 collections, according to show officials. In 2002, swimwear sales topped $2 billion. About 1,800 people attended a Monday night fashion show.

“This is the biggest, most important show,” said Roger Williams, president and chief executive officer of Speedo/Authentic Fitness. “We get a good, early read on our lines from buyers here, whether or not they leave paper.”

To celebrate its 75th year in business, Speedo expanded its booth to a 10,000-square-foot space that had a swimwear museum, with vintage looks from the turn of the century through the Nineties.

To offer retailers a more complete in-store presentation, manufacturers added products like cover-ups and flip-flops. Brands also reached out to juniors’ and girls’ lines with new divisions, and to misses’ lines with more updated looks.

Attendees acknowledged that weather, a poor economy and consumers’ changing travel patterns had contributed to a tough retail environment this year. But retailers were pleased with variety, innovation and newness in the market, despite a few complaints of too much repetition from big manufacturers.

Among the major fashion trends were:

  • Buttons, buckles, belts and bows: Decorative detail included hipster belted bottoms; panels with oversized buttons, and metal clasps, toggles and chains, or bows, ties and ruffles for more feminine looks.
  • Lord of the Rings: O-rings, D-rings, from tiny to tremendous, used in plunging necklines, halters and side closures.
  • Multicultural: Moroccan, Asian and Hawaiian motifs were big, sometimes combined in retro prints with beading, fringe and embroidery detail. Garnet, magenta and brown are big new colors.

  • Eighties Glam: Black is back, with dramatic accents from rhinestones to studs to neon splashes of color.
  • Kaleidoscopic: Pucci-inspired brights, graphics and optical illusions evoked a Mod mood.
  • Grecian: Draping, ruching and gathering added texture and flow, while one-shoulder tops and elaborate lace-up ties continued the classic theme.

Coni Sutter, owner of The Beach House of Naples, a specialty swimwear boutique in Naples, Fla., noted the creativity of the season’s offerings, especially in designer lines that are her store’s specialty.

“The market shows talent, and technological and fabric innovation,” she said. “There’s plenty of excitement for customers. It’s all over-the-top in exaggerated statements.”

Sutter said a few larger brands were “too cautious with silhouettes, offering too many cookie-cutter groups,” but she welcomed new alternatives to the abundance of halter tops, especially bandeaux, wraps and cropped tops from Robin Piccone, Letarte, Bebe and Calvin Klein. She also bought one-piece suits and monokinis by the same vendors.

She ordered Karla Colletto optical prints, Bebe men’s wear-inspired looks, Gabar skirted two-piece suits and Letarte ruffled “rumba” skirts. For cover-ups, she shopped for easy-care fabrics that “fit in a teacup” for travel, she said. DKNY was among the brands she bought.

“Cover-ups need to evolve from boxy shirts or matchy pieces to more tunic tops, skirts and wraps,” Sutter said.

Marie-Soleil Calvert, vice president of merchandising for Les Boutiques San Francisco Incorporees, a Montreal-based specialty chain with around 65 swimwear stores throughout Canada, researched trends before coming to the show. She focused on finding oriental, military, Moroccan and Eighties-inspired looks. For juniors’, she concentrated on brands popular with teens, but for older women who are less brand conscious, she shopped for fit and style over labels.

Calvert bought Eighties-style neon colors and stripes from XOXO, Body Glove, Bebe and Lucky for juniors’. For misses’ and contemporary customers, she picked up halter tops and glamorous pleated suits from Gottex Silver and new underwire tops at Becca. She also bought looks from Jantzen’s Ruby label and new Diving Girl divisions, as well as from Mainstream’s new Caribbean Joe collection.

Business for the Canadian chain was flat this year, as the SARS outbreak affected tourism in Toronto and consumers were spending cautiously and shifting priorities away from apparel, said Calvert.

Anthony Dunbar, owner of Catch A Wave, a Coconut Grove, Fla., surf shop, shopped with a budget 10 percent up over last year, reflecting the sales increase his business has seen in the last year. Buying goods for customers between the ages of 10 and 40, he focused on belted boy shorts for juniors’ by Roxy and Intuition, and reversible photo-printed suits by Aaron Chang.

“We’re looking for trendsetting lines for younger customers,” he said, adding that his favorite item was a suit with an embroidered heart cutout on a bikini bottom that, with sun exposure, provides a “tan tattoo.”

Pat Schaefer, owner of Atlanta Beach, an Atlanta specialty store, shopped for newness and edgy looks, but was disappointed with the repetition.

“It got to the point where I didn’t want to see one more belt or one more ring because they were everywhere,” she said. “We expect to see freshness and so do our customers.”

Schaefer bought from Lunada Bay, as well as smaller, boutique-oriented lines, such as Karla Colletto. Her top trends were “beads and leather treatments,” she said, along with mix-and-match looks in suits and cover-ups. She also bought European lines, such as Melissa Odabash and several Brazilian resources.

“Customers are not afraid of European fit anymore,” she said, “and they come to us for a swimwear wardrobe, rather than just to buy one suit.”

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