Byline: Neal Turnage

SARASOTA, Fla. — As cruise swimwear hits stores this month, retail buyers and swimwear executives are gearing up for what many believe could be a strong season.
New styles and fresh takes on established silhouettes, swimwear spinoffs of sportswear trends, along with a contemporary misses’ market that’s expanding to include crossover junior customers, are adding excitement to selling floors, they say.
“This year’s cruise lines are better than ever,” said Stacey Siegel, president of Everything But Water, an Orlando, Fla.-based retailer that operates 20 stores. She noted that the most popular styles still include the halter and triangle, but that bandeaux and other bodies are also performing well.
Among Siegel’s early best-selling brands are Anne Cole, La Blanca and Calvin Klein, with deep reds and russets the most popular colors — “Anything that has that rich, earthy landscape tone to it,” she said.
Sportswear trends continue to influence swimwear, said Siegel, reporting that velvet flocking and bias-cut suits are some of the major fashion statements on the selling floor.
Siegel also has high expectations for an area that many in the industry feel has been overlooked: contemporary misses’ swimwear.
Connie Sutter, president of The Beach House, with stores in Bal Harbour and Naples, Fla., said there are two reasons why the contemporary misses’ market is poised to make an impact this season.
“First of all, there was a lack of contemporary suits last season. It was either designer or nothing at all,” she explained. “And designer doesn’t work for everyone because of either price point or styling.”
In addition, she believes manufacturers and retailers have a new perspective.
“Everyone has finally realized that baby boomers will never want to look like their mother in a swimsuit,” she said.
Sutter reported that animal prints, brown, stripes and navy appear to be popular for early cruise. She also expects shoppers to respond to vanguard styling. Good examples she cited include La Perla’s crochet group, Gottex’s navy and black combination, Calvin Klein’s “unusual mix of color” with sheer overlays and Gideon Oberson’s Missoni-inspired print that looks like a knit, but is actually printed Lycra.
Industry executives point out that there are more women who require or want a misses’ cut, but with a contemporary look.
Manhattan Beachwear is capitalizing on the trend with its Via Marina line. According to Geti Margolese, vice president of sales, the suits are styled for younger customers, but with construction more appropriate to the misses’ market.
“The customer for this is a woman who wants the hottest styles, but can’t get into a junior cut,” said Margolese, who knew she was onto something when a May and June test of halters and HotPants with a misses’ construction at Federated Department Stores did well.
She pointed out that the suits were sold at full price, whereas they usually start getting discounted at that point in the selling season.
Margolese continued: “We learned that upwards of 40 percent of all junior customers are going into misses’ to buy a suit. There are lots of girls who can’t get into a size 6 or 8 and need a fuller cut.”
What she’s offering is such updated styling as boy-legs that feature a lace-up front like board shorts, sidestriping, a retro nylon and Lycra and doubleknit fabric. Each retails for approximately $70 and have misses’ features, such as a fuller cut or a support or soft cup.
Jones New York swimwear, licensed by Tahiti Apparel, is another line that’s more conservative in its styling, but is still catering to a similar customer, according to Natalie Walker, executive vice president of design and merchandising. The line was previewed at the Miami market in July and launched for cruise ’98 with a nautical theme as one of its major fashion statements.
To give the line an edge, Walker said signature hardware detailing has been added to belt buckles and rings on the shoulder straps. Underwires or underwires with bras and soft cups are standard features, she explained, noting that the construction is subtle.
Empire waists, shaped high-necks and texture — including suede — are also featured, each designed to appeal to a woman who shops for multiple suits, Walker said. Given the healthy economy, Walker thinks there is a good possibility its core target customer will either be traveling during the season or taking company-incentive trips.
Walker noted that the line is inspired by the Jones New York collection. For example, the swimwear collection includes a nylon and Lycra spandex blend with a hand similar to sandwashed silk, which is heavily used in its sportswear. Other suits have a “flocking sheer” with plaid that’s printed on velvet, another look picked up from the sportswear line.
“Most customers are drawn to fabric first,” she pointed out.
Robert Balit, president of Montreal-based Christina Swimwear agrees. For cruise, he’s upgraded his entire line from rashel to tricot and has invested in his own mill, where he produces the fabric instead of sourcing it.
“When you look at the total cost of swimwear, about 70 percent is fabric,” he said. “If you can lower that, you can pass savings along to the customer.”
The suits sell in department stores and boutiques such as Everything But Water, Dallas, and J.C. Penney and retail for approximately $50.
Balit expects the fabric change to translate into sales. Already, he said, the company has had a 150 percent increase over last year.
“Another reason we have high hopes is that swimwear is coming off a good year and a good summer,” he said. “Orders are up, I think, because stores want to maintain the business that’s already there.”
Joseph Boitano, executive vice president of Bergdorf Goodman, said he thinks the main difference between cruise this year and last is that the market is more item-driven.
“Manufacturers have responded by placing more of an emphasis on separates and knits,” he said. “I think this is probably an evolution of the category. When people travel, they want simpler pieces.”

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