By and  on July 30, 2008

MIAMI — Miami Beach has become a tale of two swim cities — all-business trade show by day and glitzy blowout by night, for media, partyers and occasional celebrities, and any buyer with the stamina for round-the-clock swimwear. Both shows, SwimShow 2009 at the Miami Convention Center from July 19 to 22 and Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Swim, in tents at the Raleigh Hotel from July 18 to 21, offered a first look at cruise 2009 swimwear from over 400 lines. This year, the action spilled over, as luxury brands such as LaPerla, Zimmerman and Eres held private shows in suites or poolside parties and fashion events at South Beach hotels and nightclubs. Officials for Swimwear Association of Florida, sponsor of the convention center show, said 2,500 buyers attended, while IMG Fashion, sponsor of Fashion Week Swim, reported 12,000 attendees — 500 registered media and celebrities that included Anna Kournikova at Red Carter’s show, Billy Zane at Pistol Panties and others as diverse as Carson Kressley and Dennis Rodman. Retailers got down to business, buying proven lines and bestsellers, demanding good fit and the “wow factor” to loosen consumers’ tight wallets. Concerned over the economy and rising prices due to increases in raw materials, labor costs and the weak dollar, they demanded bang for their bucks. Manufacturers were bullish on swim, launching new lines and divisions and expanding into sportswear, dresses and accessories, for multiple sales. (See sidebar, this page.) “Though the economy is tough, swimwear has dodged the bullet,” said Howie Greller, president of Blue Water Design Group, a division of Apparel Ventures. “The weather has been good, and a swimsuit, even for a backyard pool, is a relatively inexpensive form of escape.” Invista global marketing director Ninabeth Sowell echoed the positive swimwear spin. “Swimwear is surprisingly upbeat, perhaps because it’s one of the simple pleasures consumers can afford in a difficult economy,” she said at the closing show July 21 that was sponsored by Xtra Life LYCRA. Sowell stressed fabric advancements, like more yarn sizes that give glow to light colors and richness to jewel or black tones. She noted consumers’ emerging awareness of eco-friendly, sun protection and fair trade factors, but said fit was their top priority. In a move to cope with rising oil prices, Invista is restructuring supply chain routes in general, with attention to Europe and Asia. “Now that form-fitting shapes like high waists and monokinis are trendy, we need to educate retailers more than ever about this fiber’s money-making benefits,” she said. Designers gave it their all, in bold, glamorous statements of color, print and details to distinguish product from basics and justify wholesale price hikes of 5 to 10 percent on average. Among the key trends: l World of color: After last season’s earth tones bombed, manufacturers delivered brilliant hues — rich jewel tones of aqua and turquoise and a range of pinks and yellows. l Tribal prints: New takes on African-inspired patterns in unexpected colors, with hardware, beading, wood and natural details. l Modern art: Abstract art inspirations, from bold splatters to wavy stripes and unexpected pairings of color and pattern. l Pinup girls: Think Betty Grable and Norma Jean Baker’s publicity shots — ruching, ruffles, lace, high waists and more emphasis on the bust, with molded cups and sweetheart necklines. l Mix, but don’t match: Taking cues from the junior market, contemporary and misses’ lines offered separates that pair mismatched plaids, dots, florals and other patterns for individual expression. Buyer Ann Evans, owner of Nani Nalu, a Minneapolis swimwear specialty store, sat front row at a late night show July 18, after a day of buying at the convention center. “The [nightly shows] are fun, but I’d like to see more industry people here, not just media and celebrities,” she said. “I come to see what’s on the runway, but there’s not much that I can buy, because everything’s too bare and tiny for my conservative, country club customer.” Most of her dollars at the show went to three lines — Carmen Marc Valvo, Robin Piccone and Huit. “I’m looking for chic, sophisticated, classic swimwear, in sizes 0 to 16, with an emphasis on the 10 to 14 sizes,” she said. Mark Sidle, owner of Swim ’n Sport, a Miami-based chain with 36 stores in 14 states, bought with a bigger budget, for four new stores opening this year and for existing stores that had strong comp sales this year. “I’m buying happy, bright, pretty colors, because that’s what works,” he said. “I’m dropping some nonperforming labels. I’m open to new replacements, but I’m selective, buying only the best,” he said. He bought Trina Turk, Gottex, Body Glove, 2 Bamboo, LaBlanca, Profile and Skye, concentrating on romantic looks with lace, ruching, ruffles and details including hardware, buckles, chains and rings. Junior business has been challenging, but contemporary is “where the action is,” he said. With prices rising, he implored manufacturers to offer perceived value to consumers. “If you charge $110 for a swimsuit, it should be worth $120, not $50,” he said. With business slightly down this year, Gabi Amato-Heap, buyer for Absolutely Suitable, a specialty store in the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, Fla., bought cautiously, focusing on tried-and-true resources, and leaving money for reorders as the season unfolds. Among her favorites were Manuel Canovas’ bright colors and prints; Eres’ multiple colors and proven silhouettes; Karla Colletto’s solids with trims, piping and embellishment, and a broad array of product from Shan. She previewed very few new resources, among them Papillon Bleu, Echo Designs, Rhona Sutton and Sundek, a men’s line. Despite a high-end clientele, and more European tourists taking advantage of the weak dollar, even luxury customers have become more skittish in the past six months, shopping less frequently, buying less and showing price resistance, said Amato-Heap. “Our biggest concern is price, especially from European labels. We consider $200 to $300 a good retail range, but above that it’s difficult. We don’t want to inhibit consumers or give them one more reason not to buy.”

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