MAKE A SPLASH
SWIMWEAR MAKERS HOPE TO GET SHOPPERS IN THE MOOD FOR A DIP THIS SPRING WITH A NEW CROP OF SEXY, STYLISH SUITS.

Byline: Marcy Medina

The skinny on swimwear for spring 2002 is smaller, sexier and colorful suits with side-tie bottoms and triangle tops. While spring’s swimsuits may be cheery and full of vigor, sales may not be. Manufacturers are hoping that spring sales don’t resemble last year’s lackluster figures.
Because of sluggish sales at retail, many department store buyers waited until the last moment to place orders, in part to closely monitor inventory levels and to fill stores with the latest trends.
Department stores’ tendency for last-minute shopping has not gone unnoticed by Irvine, Calif.-based Ocean Pacific Apparel Group, which exhibited at the recent WWDMAGIC show in Las Vegas and at the ASR Trade Expo in Long Beach, Calif.
“I had Macy’s West in here still buying 11/15 because they want to buy close to delivery to watch the trends change,” said Karen Dalton, an Op junior sales representative.” Right now, they are looking more at trends for spring than sitting down and buying.”
Like many of his colleagues, Chuck Pinkow, vice president of Anaheim, Calif.-headquartered Lunada Bay Corp., said buyers have been cautious in placing large orders — a concern for swimwear manufacturers.
“Last year, the retail climate caused them to place orders later, so manufacturers are going to be more cautious because they aren’t going to have the order files they had last year,” he said. “They’re going to have a tougher time projecting what kind of fabric to use and how to fill those early cruise orders. It’s a vicious cycle. You can’t help but wonder as a manufacturer, ‘When is that going to catch up to you?”‘
At Becca, the in-house line of Lunada Bay, color remains the big story, with rich earth tones and deep blues complemented by crisp pastels. The new styling evokes images of Grace Kelly vacationing at The Golden Door spa with raw-edged scarf ties in textured, crepe-like fabric and terry cloth.
Similar retro silhouettes are offered in scenic prints with subtle sequin detailing. Embellishments, including narrow belts, embroidery, shirred V-wires on tops and bottoms, rhinestuds (a combination of rhinestone and metal stud) and ribbon ties with beading are also prevalent in the line.
“Everything comes from the street, runways and what designers see at the beach or in downtown Laguna,” said Lunada Bay marketing director Sherri Buchalter. “I think some of the stores have had last year’s merchandise on the floor for a very long time. They’re looking for newness all around. Whether they end up buying it or not, just to get their eyes moving in that direction is positive.”
At XOXO, designer Maya Levy said the swimwear line, produced this season for the first time by New York-based Gottex, has broad appeal because of its inclusion of various trends.
“Not taking any chances with buyers, XOXO offered almost every look on the trend radar imaginable: solids with gold logo studding, denim, graffiti prints, retro scenics and toile,” she said. “Two all-around bestsellers with specialty and department stores are denim with animal print and denim with gold chains.”
In response to the teeny-weeny bikini trend, Levy designed both Brazilian- and American-style bottoms, noting that the skimpier bottoms have been more popular with coastal buyers. Regardless of the coverage, wider-band side-tie bottoms were most popular, replacing last year’s string tie, she said.
Hoping to attract the same buyer that places orders at XOXO, Quiksilver Inc.’s Radio Fiji brand unveiled a more contemporary collection intended to lure an older, sophisticated customer, while its Raisins sister brand will continue to address the junior market.
Rick Kuhn, senior vice president of women’s swim at the Huntington Beach, Calif.-based company, described the new Radio Fiji customer as “college age or post-college embarking on a career, with more disposable income and more in touch with fashion.” With a new focus, Kuhn said he hopes to sign on “more boutiques and contemporary stores that we may not have appealed to in the past.”
From the sleek styling to the subdued prints to the understated labels, everything about the repositioned Radio Fiji is aimed at the new target customer.
And the line isn’t without a sense of fun. “We’ve taken the camouflage trend from sportswear, kept the colorations alive and added a rose print on top of it,” Kuhn said. “Customers are looking for special effects, and manufacturers are looking for ways to differentiate their products. When you’re in an economy where people are thinking twice before making purchases, it has to be really special.”
Popular looks for spring also include tropicals and stripes in halter and side-tie styles. Jimmy McMahon Citrus, a sales representative with swimwear line Citrus, produced by Gardena, Calif.-based Apparel Ventures Inc., is betting on the brand’s multicolored print on clear paillettes as a strong trendsetter once it hits sales floors.
Other firms are banking on the merging of athletic function with fashion-forward design. Angi Broberg, national sales manager for Irvine, Calif.-based Billabong USA, said versatility is important for many buyers. “We have mix-and-match prints, reversible solid tops and tops that tie in lots of different ways. Anything with versatility people are into.”
For junior brand Girl Star, the focus remains on offering trendy — but not over-the-top — styles in an array of prints.
“We’re not so fashion forward that it’s not understandable,” said Pinkow of Lunada Bay, Girl Star’s licensee. “There’s always a twist, whether it’s buckles, bindings or print mixing. We’ll do basic triangle tops, but add a surplus wrap top or a tie-back apron top. The West Coast is definitely more receptive to the fashion-forward pieces.”
The separates, most of which are reversible, include a cherry print with gingham, an ivy print with stripes, solids with grosgrain trim or plaid, and a scenic print with polkadots. Like XOXO, Girl Star offers basic and Brazilian bottoms, as well as an even smaller Rio bottom and triangle top. “We are seeing a little movement, particularly on the West Coast, toward a skimpier bottom,” said Pinkow.
Bebe Swim, another one of Lunada Bay’s licenses, which skipped exhibiting at the sport-oriented ASR Trade Expo in favor of the International Swim and Activewear Market (ISAM), features solid bikinis in suede accented with mother of pearl and jewel tone piques embellished with rhinestones.
Print offerings include a rose-camouflage in forest and desert shades with lace or rhinestone accents and a tropical parrot print with red crystal trim, both in matte tricot. A black-and-white striped group made with gold and silver Lurex features silver buckle accents on hipster bottoms. “That’s a nod to the low-rise jean,” said designer Julie Ann Silverman.
She said that for Bebe’s clothing and swimwear customer, a sexy, body-conscious fit is a priority, meaning that variations on triangle tops, halters, wrap tops and side-tie bottoms that offer plenty of adjustability are always important to the merchandise mix.