Swimsuits: The Right Fit, the Right Fabric

The secret to a great swimsuit lies in the fabric.

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Special Issue
WWD Swim issue 07/07/2008

For covering so little of the body, swim fabrics must deliver quite a bit.

This story first appeared in the July 7, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

In addition to withstanding hours of exposure to chlorine, ultraviolet rays, sunscreen and oils added to spa baths, the textiles used to make swimsuits must also look good by keeping their shape and fit after hours of wear.

“Durability is the bottom line,” said LeAnn Schwartz, commercial manager for Dow XLA, Dow Chemical Co.’s first stretch fiber, which made its debut in the U.S. this past spring in Adidas’ Infinitex+ line and Nike’s Evr-X brand.

Equally important in swimwear is the ability to endure a variety of printing, dyeing and other techniques that help designers adapt trends to the swim category that pop up first on the runways and streets.

“We are constantly on the lookout for fabrics that will reflect changes in fashion and the innovations of our mills,” said Kim Farrugia, swim designer for action sports brand Insight.

One of the new materials that Australia-based Insight will offer next spring is a gold metallic trim that appears wet even when out of the water. Yet no matter how the styling walks the tightrope between surf and street, Insight understands that its swimwear belongs in the waves.

“Our fabrics need to stand up to the surf,” Farrugia said. “So even though our prints and styling are fashion-forward, the Insight girl knows that her swimwear will last.”

Indeed, “swimwear is unforgiving,” said Nicky Zimmermann, designer of an Australia-based contemporary fashion and swim brand bearing her surname. “If it doesn’t flatter the body, then there is no point in referencing sportswear ideas in swim.”

Still, she said her swimwear always reflects the brand’s fashion perspective in ready-to-wear. “We translate that across each swim grouping, thus incorporating some interesting fabrications,” said Zimmermann, who started the company in 1991 with her sister, Simone.

One such material is a chiffon mesh that Zimmermann used to convey the transparency trend that first appeared in designers’ collections in the spring. In a one-piece being offered as part of Zimmermann’s spring 2009 lineup, the designer strategically covered parts of the body with strips of a quirky floral print while keeping the abdomen, hips and décolletage subtly visible under the sheer chiffon.

“Even though [our swimwear is] always moving in fabrication and direction, we always work to ensure that it has our unique stamp, which is different to a lot of swim lines,” Zimmermann said.

Raj Manufacturing is moving toward the high end with the launch of a new brand, Luxe, that showcases a slinky micronylon jersey spruced up by a slight sheen. A spin-off of Raj’s flagship Athena brand, Luxe makes  its debut in July for the coming spring season with retail prices ranging from $130 to $195. In comparison, Athena’s prices run from $100 to $120.

While some companies might opt to lower prices in an uncertain economy, Raj advocates aiming higher with more innovative — and thus costly — fabrics. “We’re leaning more on these specialized products to separate us [from the competition],” said Lisa Vogel, co-president of Tustin, Calif.-based Raj.

At Blue Water Design Group, Apparel Ventures Inc.’s division that produces swimwear under license for fashion brands such as Trina Turk, Rampage and A.B.S. by Allen Schwartz, designers scrutinize the sportswear market for new fabrics, colors and details that they can integrate into swimsuits.

“We are constantly upgrading our fabrics to make the feel better, and appeal to our customer and differentiate ourselves, as well,” said Howie Greller, president of Blue Water Design Group in Gardena, Calif.

Aware of the predominance of textured textiles in recent rtw collections, Blue Water Design Group knitted a Seventies-style white jacquard that is offset by a bold background in hot pink, black or mint green for Trina Turk next spring. For Rampage, the company created a leatherlike fabric that Greller described as “almost biker.” With A.B.S., designers took a walk on the wild side with a crocodilelike synthetic cloth that mimics the pricy reptile skin with shiny bumps affixed on a stretchy brown base. “It feels like the real deal,” Greller said.

On the other hand, environmentalists who can’t bear to don any kind of animal skin can turn to Lunada Bay, which plans to introduce soy fabric as early as next year in the form of tankinis, triangle and halter tops and swim shorts. Costing 20 percent more than nylon-based textiles, the soy swimsuits follow the introduction of bamboo, which was knit into velour and jersey cover-ups. Looking ahead to 2010, Anaheim, Calif.-based Lunada Bay also is experimenting with fibers derived from corn.

“We’re all trying to be better people to the planet,” said Pat Osmanson, senior vice president at Lunada Bay.
Besides the eco angle, the soy swimsuits also yield a soft hand that Osmanson said reminds her of cotton. Still, the biggest challenge of working with soy is that, unlike nylon and bamboo, the fabric can’t achieve a bright color palette. As such, Lunada Bay is sticking with a muted array in black, brown, rust, olive and aquamarine, Osmanson said.
“What I really love about it is it takes you back to the cottony feel,” she said. “It seems to be what the consumer is going back to.”

A soft touch was also the goal for a lower-priced subbrand from Natalie Golonka, whose year-old Los Angeles company, called Junglegurl, recycles vintage garments into teeny bikinis. Because the vintage garments are expensive and difficult to find, Golonka worked with Los Angeles-based Jiann & Co. to twist nylon and spandex yarns on a vintage knitting machine in an updated technique that Jiann said will reduce pilling while improving durability and the feel of the fabric.

While Golonka will continue to create one-of-a-kind bikinis from vintage fabric for Junglegurl Green Label, the secondary line, called Junglegurl, will use mass-produced textiles and cost half as much, with wholesale prices running from $50 to $60.

“The lower price point will come in handy for the street, edgy, surf girl who’s still into fashion,” Golonka said.

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