By day, SwimShow 2009 runs July 19 to 22 at the Miami Convention Center, while Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Swim, which runs July 18 to 21, has nightly shows poolside at the Raleigh Hotel and after parties in the penthouse. In all, buyers will get a first look at 2009 cruise swimwear from more than 400 exhibitors.

If the number of new lines and launches and projected attendance are any indication, swimwear is among everybody’s favorite categories, even during difficult times.

Fern Mallis, senior vice president of IMG Fashion, sponsor of the Mercedes-Benz event, expected 10,000 attendees, the same as last year, including 500 registered media.

Several big sportswear and ready-to-wear lines that have dipped toes into the swimwear category will launch full collections, while small designers are launching swimwear lines as lifestyle brand extensions. Ignoring basics, designers are distinguishing themselves from discount channels with enhanced print, color and embellishment, to give cautious retailers more bang for their buck.

Rather than any one trend direction, variety and individual expression is the order of the day. Bright citrus and jewel tones replace the earth palettes of past seasons. Innovation in fabric, texture and prints shows up in ikat, graphic, digital and 3-D effects.

Patterns — from stripes and polkadots to animal prints — mix but don’t match. The same goes for ethnic and retro influences that play together with no one theme. Not matching, embraced by juniors for years, is starting to catch on in contemporary and even misses’ markets, designers said. 

Responding to demand, lines are expanding the range of sizes and cups, adding more construction and figure control and adding more one-piece suits for a misses’ customer who has been ignored.

Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Swim’s lineup of 16 designers illustrates the influence of fashion, media, celebrity and globalization in swimwear.

“We have a good cross section of the big brands, international lines, like Australia’s Zimmermann and Brazil’s Poko Pano, local favorites such as Miami’s Red Carter, and Pistol Panties, a line that has a celebrity following,” said IMG’s Mallis.

Red Carter, the Mercedes-Benz Presents featured designer, said now is not the time to play it safe.

“Recession calls for more creativity,” he said. “It’s the time for fashion to throw more bells and whistles on swimsuits and see what sticks. There’s no need for basic, $20 suits, because consumers can find that at Target and the discounters.”

Red Carter’s show and party will have a speakeasy theme and a vintage Twenties vibe. The swimwear line includes ikat prints, textured patterns, ruffles and asymmetrical lines, and a sportswear group double the size of last season’s.

Carter will also launch Red Carter Glam, a 30-piece collection of high-end, aspirational suits aimed at top doors of specialty retailers including Barneys and Everything But Water.

High-end, over-the-top glitz is the purview of OYE — an acronym for Open Your Eyes — swimwear, an Istanbul line now in its third season.

With crystal and semiprecious stones, the brightly colored line retails around $300 in specialty stores. This season will include a bikini embellished with a total of 12 carat’s worth of diamonds, priced at $60,000. For more conservative, less showy types, there is also a $20,000 version.

Diesel will kick off IMG’s Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Swim with an opening-night fashion show and after party July 17 at the Raleigh Hotel in South Beach.

The Italian fashion brand will preview spring-summer 2009 swimwear, and show select fall-winter apparel and accessories from its South Beach store on Washington Avenue.

Diesel is showing at IMG’s event for the first time. “Miami is one of my favorite cities in the world,” said Diesel president and founder Renzo Rosso. “I’ve always been drawn to South Beach’s vibrant energy and cultural richness.”

Along with Diesel, other rtw and sportswear lines have launched swimwear collections as extensions of their brands, including Custo Barcelona, Tommy Bahama, Ed Hardy and Tibi.

Custo Barcelona is expanding swimwear this year to a complete collection. From a few pieces last year tested in selected stores including Saks Fifth Avenue, cruise 2009 will feature 45 swimsuits and 19 tunics and dresses, priced $35 to $45 wholesale.

“Swimwear has the same language as the ready-to-wear,” said Custo Dalmau, head of design, who described the collection as “Seventies-inspired, with graphic prints embellished with patchwork and Lurex details. For the U.S. market, the fit will have more coverage and construction than that aimed at European customers. With first-year sales projected at $2.4 million, distribution will include Custo Barcelona’s own 20 freestanding U.S. stores along with specialty stores and department stores such as Nordstrom and Saks. 

SwimShow will hold a multiline fashion show Sunday, July 20, in a tent on the sand at Ocean Drive and 11th Street. SwimShow will add new European resources this year, including Lotus London and the Spanish line Jocomomola.

Also exhibiting at SwimShow this year is Badgley Mischka. After introducing swimwear last season, the line is expanding distribution this year, with U.S. stores such as Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom’s online channels and international markets in Dubai, Canada and the Middle East, where the rtw line is sold.

“Swimwear has been an extremely successful category,” said James Mischka, who said the new collection contains the same inspiration in the draping, necklines and embellishment as the eveningwear. “It gives our customers exposure to our brand at a reasonable price, rather than spending $5,000 to $10,000 on a gown.”

Swimwear was a logical step for the dress line Tibi, after several recent brand extensions, including shoes, wallpaper and tights. For the 20-piece all-separates collection, Amy Smilovik, creative director, drew on print archives from her dress collection.

“We went back to our roots, using enlarged, recolored prints from my travels in Indonesia,” she said. “It was important to present the line with a consistent point of view that was recognizable, the way Missoni or Pucci is, rather than just following what’s in or trendy.” Like the dress line, the swimwear targets the 25- to 45-year-old customer, but will wholesale at $40 to $45.

Jantzen had success last year by relaunching its own updated version of the signature Vamp suit, a red maillot originally launched in 1954. This year it will add new colors and prints.

Every delivery includes a suit inspired by Jantzen’s archives, many with retro details, from high waistlines to tiny patent leather belts or hardware that have become current fashion trends.

Jantzen is the fashion swim brand of parent company Perry Ellis, which also owns Jag and Nike Swim. Sales for the swimwear division increased 15 percent for the year ended 2007, to a total of $90 million, according to Lori Medici, vice president of marketing.

For the year ended June 30, sales were also up in double digits for Lunada Bay, an Anaheim, Calif., manufacturer of Becca, Betsey Johnson and Lucky Brand.

“Retail is difficult and the season has been a roller coaster,” said Susan Crank, president and chief executive officer. “There have been more peaks and valleys this year.”

Crank pointed to opportunities with many stores that are expanding online businesses, and noted that retailers are demanding product with the “wow” factor, especially as prices increase.

Speedo will feature its Lzr Racer swimsuit, launched in February for Olympic athletes, which will retail for $550 at sporting goods chains and specialty stores. Speedo will also launch the fashion line Bondi Beach, a 20-piece collection of mostly one-piece suits in bright colors with figure-shaping features for the misses’ customer.  

Alex Bhathal, co-president of Raj Manufacturing, a Tustin, Calif., manufacturer of swimwear brands Guess, Athena Pick Your Fit, St. John, O’Neill, Tommy Hilfiger and Hurley, said swimwear, though not as strong as in previous years, had been helped by good weather this year.

“The economy’s bad and traffic in stores is down overall, but swimwear retail sales held up better than other categories,” he said. “Weather is more of an important factor than the economy on swimwear.”

Total company sales for the year ended June 30 are flat with last year, though June was strong, and international business helped compensate for sluggish sales in the U.S. market. Misses’ brands have outperformed juniors, where competition is fierce.

Bhathal said rising costs, from petroleum to production in China, would result in higher-priced suits, putting more pressure on brands to create value that justifies  prices to consumers.

To generate excitement, Raj is adding more color and new prints across all brands. Mismatched patterns, paired with prints, skins and florals in separates, have started to catch on with the misses’ market, allowing customers individual expression, according to Lisa Vogel, co-president.

Retailers planning their Miami trips are looking forward to fresh color, prints and new fabrics, but expressed concerns over rising prices at a time when consumers are strained by gas prices and other costs.

Janet Wong, buyer for Atrium, with stores in New York and Miami, will buy more swimwear this year, especially for year-round swimwear business in Miami, where international tourists, taking advantage of the weak dollar, now account for 70 percent of sales.

For that customer, who likes color, print and skimpier suits, she will preview European lines including Vanda Catucci and bestsellers Vix, Shay Todd and Lenny and Delfina.

“I’m being careful about price, looking for the $195 to $295 retail range, and insisting on good fit from resources I know I can count on, rather than ones that may be just starting out,” she said.

Pat Schaefer, buyer for Atlanta Beach, a swim specialty store with two locations, said that concerns about fit and shipping have led her to narrow her vendor structure to proven resources. Topping her list are Tommy Bahama, Eres, Robin Piccone and Sauvage.

Though business this year has been strong, Schaefer is cautious about the coming year.

“Everyone is concerned about gas and food prices, and it seems frivolous to spend lots of money on a swimsuit,” she said. “I’m making sure I’m on the sales floor, and staying alert, because nobody knows what’s going to happen.”

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