A WIDER RANGE OF WOMEN’S MAGAZINES IS GIVING SWIMWEAR LABELS MUCH-WANTED EXPOSURE.
Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg
Sure, landing in Sports Illustrated’s annual swimsuit issue can give any brand a serious boost. But SI aside, a range of magazines is giving swimwear labels a lift.
Swim is in and not just in fashion glossies and laddie books. Fitness and beauty titles like Shape, Allure and Self have also gotten into the game with full-page spreads spotlighting swimwear.
Stacey Siegel, president of Everything But Water, a 37-store chain with five more doors in the works, said: “Magazines are having a tremendous influence on swim, and they already had a big influence last year.”
The fact that swimwear is turning up on runways — in some cases, for designers that don’t even sell swimsuits at retail, such as Diane Von Furstenberg and Marc Bouwer — has made more publications take notice of the category. The designer influence also is prompting swimwear makers to be more creative with their own collections. After all, nonconventional styles have more eye appeal when it comes to magazines.
More important, their readers are tearing out those colorful images of bikini-clad women frolicking on the beach and marching into stores in search of the ideal suit.
Hitting the dressing room, however, can bring a cold splash of reality.
“Customers can be so set on the suit they want,” said Kathleen Mudd, president of Canyon Beachwear.” But the way the suit is shot can be very deceptive, and you might not see the thong back or Brazilian cut.
“A lot of times, what’s in magazines is not what the average customer can wear. When that happens, we try to turn them to something else that would be more suitable.”
Mudd and her staff try to sidestep shoppers’ disappointment by finding another style from the same label or in a like pattern.
“As long as you have something to offer that is similar to the look they wanted, they’re happy,” she said.
Magazines are also tipping consumers off to new trends. When Cosmopolitan staged a fashion show in the windows of Sephora’s Rockefeller Center store, scores of tourists stopped in their tracks, even lining the steps of St. Patrick’s Cathedral across the street for a glimpse of the bathing-suited beauties.
At Barneys New York, Julie Gilhart, vice president of fashion merchandising, reports that more shoppers are seeking out specific styles that they first spotted in magazines like Vogue, In Style and Elle.
“They see a groovy new print or color on this amazing body [in a magazine] and they want to be that person. It gives them entry into being part of that world,” she said. “It helps edit swimwear for the customer.”
Instead of walking into swimwear departments and being overwhelmed by the selection, women who tote along tear sheets have a better sense or direction or “a starting point,” as Gilhart puts it.
“They know that magazines can only photograph so much. That makes [a suit] seem special,” she said. “We get excited about magazine coverage, too. When you see something you’ve bought for the store, it feels like you’ve made a good choice.”
Everything But Water has swimwear makers tag its Web site in magazine credits and is stocking its stores with what’s featured in books like SI, Glamour, Elle and Cosmo. A few of those cover shots are also featured on Everythingbut-water.com’s home page, inviting visitors to check out and buy styles shown in those books. “There are definitely a lot more people walking in the door and saying, ‘I want this suit,”‘ said Stacey Siegel, president of the chain. “We’re very reactionary. If we don’t carry it, we will.”
To assure that magazine editors and other media types know what’s in store at Everything But Water, executives routinely send products to them. At this year’s Screen Actors Guild awards, the retailer was among the companies that set up mini-stores so that guests could pick out their own style instead of offering attendees the same one in a gift bag.
Siegel does have one piece of advice for magazines who put swimsuits in their pages: Steer away from the ubiquitous feature on selecting a style according to body type — as in, “if you’re pear shaped, wear this.”
“Why not show a beautiful model in a green suit running though the forest?” she said. “People would rather see the fantasy of a perfect body than some figure flaw. They should take a more fashion-forward approach to make it exciting. It’s not a bra fitting.”
Alison Johnson, buyer for Diane’s, said that younger shoppers tend to be the ones who bring in pages featuring the suit they’re looking for, often from books such as Teen Cosmo, Glamour, In Style, Vogue, Elle, Cosmopolitan and Muscle & Fitness. Diane’s customers are also calling ahead to make sure a specific style is stocked.
Using magazines as tools for swimwear shopping is easier since shots are larger than in the past and spreads feature a greater variety of price points.
“Magazines are more consumer-oriented,” Johnson said. “They’re not just about high fashion or couture — that’s not something everyone can have.”
Interestingly, teen shoppers tend to be more influenced by the brands they see in fashion layouts than their more mature counterparts, she said. There are a few exceptions, with some non-teens looking for harder-to-find suits from designers like Dolce & Gabbana or Moschino, Johnson added.
Tom O’Hara, owner of Gone Banannas, a 25-year-old swim specialty store in San Diego, said magazine coverage is most effective for hard-to-find brands or lesser-known labels. His store routinely fields calls from women looking for them.
“We wouldn’t try to bring a brand in because it was in a certain magazine. But I do tell them where they might be able to find it,” O’Hara said. “I also tell them to call me back if they still have trouble, and I will help them find the company.”
Swimwear editors need to be more specific in describing the merchandise they feature, he said. For example, after In Style’s May issue advocated a Tommy Hilfiger underwire top as being a good choice for full-busted women, many readers ordered the style from Gone Banannas and then wound up returning it.
“It was nowhere near a big-busted suit,” O’ Hara said. “Swimwear is a funny animal. There’s no escape from coming into a store and trying suits on, as much as people would like to.”
The lack of sizing standards in swimwear makes shopping straight from a magazine difficult, O’Hara said. Eight out of 10 women who order swimsuits from Gone Banannas that they saw in a magazine send them back, he added.
“When customers call, we ask them their waist size, bust size, how they want the suit to fit and all types of other questions,” O’Hara said. “It’s very frustrating to ship a suit and have it come back. But we try real hard.”
Not every store’s seeing customers consult an editorial spread before they plunge into a new purchase, however.
At Ron Juan Surf Shops, women come in with a clear idea of the style they want to buy and ask for specific bra tops, bottoms or brands, said Debbie Harvey, director of merchandise buying for the four-store operation.
“Girls may be using those magazines when they’re sitting around with their friends, but they’re not bringing them into the stores,” she said. “People come into our stores with an idea of what looks good on them.”