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WWD MAGIC issue 08/11/2008

In a turbulent economy, the swimwear industry is not poised to make many major style waves.

This story first appeared in the August 11, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.


Instead, the niche swim sector is cautiously adding a digestible dose of fashion to a stable of classics that shine despite domestic uncertainty. The nearly 60 swimsuit vendors attending WWDMAGIC are building upon past trends — such as those for Eighties nostalgia and animal motifs — and smartly sprinkling in a smattering of new ones, including dreamy floral patterns and global travel-inspired designs.


“People love to see fashion, but at the end of the day, they will go with what sells,” said Carlos Cortes, who handles sales and marketing for Malibu Dream Girl Inc., the Bell, Calif.-based manufacturer of Gossip, Gossip Collection, Ocean Dream Collection and Palage labels.


The swimwear category, historically lagging behind sportswear in catching on to trends, has steadily advanced toward its runway-ready brethren. Dour economic conditions haven’t stopped that, but have made swim vendors careful about enlarging collections with risky suits.


Still, Malibu Dream Girl isn’t hesitant to elevate its fashion component. Globe-trotting is sparking a trend that Cortes calls “global ethnic.” Falling into this trend are Ikat prints resembling cloths woven by different cultures across the world.


Romantic florals are blooming at Blue Water Design Group. The Gardena, Calif.-based division of Apparel Ventures Inc. that makes Trina Turk, A.B.S. by Allen Schwartz and Rampage swimwear, among other brands, is drawing upon ready-to-wear’s embrace of feminine flourishes in its 2009 assortment.


“Florals in swimsuits have not been in the vocabulary for the past five or six years,” said Howard Greller, Blue Water’s president. “We are betting a lot of money on this.”


The U.S. economic outlook may be dark, but swimwear’s color palette is skewing toward the sunny side of things. “The last time we saw these bright colors were in the early Nineties,” said Lisa Vogel, co-president of Tustin, Calif.-based Raj Manufacturing. She said that Raj, the maker of swimwear under the Tommy Hilfiger, Athena, Guess, O’Neill, Luxe and St. John labels, is incorporating more bright hues than ever in its collections.


Bikini Flavors’ catalogue is saturated with oranges and yellows. “It is nice to have those splashes of brightness in swimwear,” said Colleen Thompson, who recently cofounded the Winter Park, Fla.-based line.


Outside of the bright array, swimwear is capturing the yuletide spirit early. Concentrated reds and greens give shoppers opportunities to spice up their swimwear wardrobe.


“[Our customers] like the deep color,” said Carol Wior designer Lana Hue of a jade color that’s new for the Los Angeles-based company. Rob Hamilton, control brand Miraclesuit’s national sales manager, singled out greens and reds as pivotal for 2009. “They are thematically colorwise being shown in most swimwear collections as well as ours,” he said.


Shoppers will have to wait for a silhouette revolution. However, the momentum for silhouettes once considered anomalies such as bandeaux and cutout one-pieces hasn’t slowed.


“They have gone from 2 percent to 10 percent in some of our juniors categories,” said Raj’s Vogel of bandeaux. She added cutout one-pieces have performed “great” and identified the Guess swimsuit customer as particularly drawn to the sexy styles.


Bandeaux looks have been strong at Blue Water Design Group, according to Greller. In terms of cutouts, he underscored that Rampage has offered “one of the single best-selling monokinis” on the market.


Halters and triangles, though, dominate tops.


After halters exploded two seasons ago, Cortes said, “Everyone is going back to the triangle.”


In contrast, Miraclesuit believes halters are on the rise. “We had them in the line and had gone away from them,” Hamilton said of previous seasons. “Silhouettes like that cycle.”


Across all shapes, versatility is an asset in a retail environment bursting with value-conscious shoppers.


Bikini Flavors’ swimsuits are reversible, and tie-side styles come with interchangeable ties. “Out of one bikini you basically get 16 different looks,” said Thompson.


Gurla Beachwear’s three-in-one top — it can be a halter, bandeau or triangle — has become its most recognized. Its popularity has convinced the Miami-based brand to launch an adaptable top with a solid on one side and a print on the other.


Trends with long shelf lives stick around for a reason — consumers don’t seem to get their fill of them. Eighties- and animal-inspired designs are in this durable group.


“Eighties is still strong,” said Cortes. He said that Malibu Dream Girl is keen on a “Run-DMC meets ‘Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’” look characterized by graffiti artwork and metallic touches.


Animal skin patterns pop up again and again. Miraclesuit’s latest animal take is leopard. Carol Wior is channeling Africa in its 2009 prints. Malibu Dream Girl’s abstracted animal print gives swimwear an exotic edge.


In addition to enduring prints, timeless colors are always winners in the swimwear aisles. Lana Todorovich, senior vice president of sales for Calvin Klein women’s underwear and swimwear, said the brand’s 2009 collection “starts off with a classic Calvin color palette” of black, steel gray and a splash of berry.


This year, classics may play a greater role than the recent past. Getting the swimwear selection right is crucial when retailers have little money to spare. “The days of making multiple buys, that is not happening right now,” said Cortes. “It is a conscious and knowledgeable buy that you know is going to work.”

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