SWIMWEAR: SI’S STRONG SUIT
Byline: Anne D’Innocenzio
NEW YORK — Sports Illustrated is getting ready to do it again.
The blockbuster swimsuit issue, that is, complete with calendar spin-offs, videos and, this year, a CD-ROM.
The issue and its attendant products have generated upward of $30 million a year for SI, and the edition’s entry into the interactive age is expected to bring in even more bucks.
The next issue, which marks the 31st year of the swimsuit edition, will hit newsstands Feb. 15. The Time Inc. property’s revenue comes from well over one million newsstand copies and spin-off properties such as desk and wall calendars, each selling several hundred thousand units. This year’s interactive push includes:
A first-time stand-alone music video, reportedly with country western singer Travis Tritt and swimsuit models in Bermuda.
A behind-the-scenes video.
A swimsuit calendar CD-ROM, for sale at computer stores for $29.99.
A one-hour special called “Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Special: The Class of ’95,” to be aired on NBC on Feb. 14. Excerpts of the special will be available on the Internet, starting Feb. 7.
“We are developing all of our properties aggressively, and the swimsuit issue is one of our franchises, and one of the most profitable,” said John Squires, consumer marketing director of SI. SI’s one-year-old TV division called Sports Illustrated TV is producing the videos and the special.
Each year, the edition, which includes 40 pages of come-hither swimsuit fashions, sells about five million copies, including 1.6 million in newsstand copies. A regular Sports Illustrated issue normally sells 3.4 million copies, primarily through subscriptions, according to a Time Inc. spokesman. Over 50 million people, of which 30 percent are women, read the edition, the spokesman claimed.
Of course, swimsuit manufacturers couldn’t be more thrilled about all this activity. “It helps drive your business,” said Anna Lisa Fidanque, marketing director at Darling Rio, a swimsuit name that’s often used in SI. “Stores heavily promote the suits once they see it in the issue. Customers also watch out for the issue and go out to stores to buy it.”
SI swimwear guru, Jule Campbell, senior editor for travel and features, has been putting out the issue since its second year.
“The whole swimsuit issue has taken on a life of its own,” said Campbell, whose swimsuit duties are a full-time job. She just spent two months out of the office, taking about 15 models with her, along with 600 swimsuits, of which only 60 labels are chosen.
Campbell’s quest for locations has taken her around the world, from a lion camp in Kenya to the coral reefs of the Dominican Republic. Last year, her travels took her to 44 pools, from San Diego to Sardinia, marking a break from the usual beach scenes. “I got the idea from Kelly Klein’s book on pools,” she said.
As for the 1995 swimsuit edition, Campbell would disclose only that brunette models were used for one location, while blonde models were used for another site.
“I always sweat the cover,” said Campbell, who’s been spending hours with her photographers examining some 1,000 rolls of film. “It’s never predetermined,” she said, noting that the cover for the 1995 issue will be decided next week..
Selecting suits also requires a certain strategy. Campbell, who shops the swimwear market, including the Miami swimwear show, makes her decision based on a suit’s newness and how it fits a specific location.
Campbell marvels over all the new fabrics, like satin finish Lycra spandex, microfiber and lacy sheers. But her staff doesn’t heed to Seventh Avenue’s fashion dictates. “My editors don’t care whether pink is hot this year; they come from a sports background,” she said, adding that the editors snubbed the plastic look, which has been a hot trend this year.
Another standard for selecting the suits is that they have to be available at retail, though she said she’s been burned by several manufacturers who produced suits for her that could not be marketed.
Some of her favorite swimsuit labels include Gottex, Karla Colletto, Darling Rio, Calvin Klein, Keiko, Adrienne Vittadini and Malia Mills, though she won’t touch the pricier labels such as Christian Lacroix. The highest-priced label she goes for is La Perla, which carries a $300 tag. Campbell also always selects an athletic suit from such labels as Speedo and TRY, given that SI is, after all the cheesecake, a sports magazine.