Swimwear has been getting a red-carpet makeover, with designers adding their couture cuts — and brand buzz. And it’s no wonder they’re diving into the category.
According to a report by Edited, in the first quarter of 2016, luxury accounted for nine percent of the women’s wear swim market. This year that figure climbed to 16 percent in the U.S. and the U.K. According to Technavio, the overall swimwear market is expected to exceed $20 billion by 2020, with five percent growth expected year-over-year.
While some brands have a long-established swimwear offering, others are only just wading into the category. In a recent capsule, exclusive to Matchesfashion.com, Emilia Wickstead designed bathing suits with her signature high collars, turtlenecks and floral prints. Wickstead described the swimwear collection as “in keeping with the brand aesthetic.” A square-neck one-piece — another favorite neckline of the designer — was added to the mix.
Not everyone would associate a high collar with a dip in the sea (except surfers, maybe) but it only added to the allure of the collection, according to Natalie Kingham, fashion and buying director from Matchesfashion.com. “It’s the perfect collection for a summer getaway,” she said, adding that “vacation wear is one of the fastest-growing categories in our business; typically we’ve sold more bikinis than one-pieces but now it’s 50-50 as there are so many strong styles from both categories.”
Stella McCartney’s latest swimwear designs — which is now produced by the Italian textile firm ISA Spa — draws inspiration from McCartney’s pre-fall 2018 collection, with zigzag, burnt orange and pink leopard-inspired prints and ruched styles. The line also reflects McCartney’s environmental credentials and commitment to sustainability with pieces fashioned from recycled material and regenerated fibers.
“I find that as a woman the times you are in your swimwear are some of the most vulnerable moments; when you are in the beach and exposing your body it can be quite daunting. So I want to make women feel their best,” said McCartney.
“The swim collection is really inspired by all types of women, and I want it to encourage women to feel confident, comfortable and incredible about themselves and in what they are wearing which is really a reflection of what we do in the brand. We have translated some themes from the ready-to-wear like the prints, colors and details,” McCartney added.
Designers and brands are also placing house signatures onto these summer essentials: Fendi’s archival square logo, which plays well on social media, has been applied on triangle bikinis and halterneck bandeau two-pieces.
The increase in luxury beachwear with a clear design aesthetic is a direct result of customer demand: Women are traveling more often and broadcasting their adventures via Instagram, according to Emma Pake, a former swimwear and lingerie buyer at Net-a-porter and Selfridges.
“Social media really turned it around. People are more competitive and they want to look good all the time and show it off,” said Pake, who launched her namesake label three years ago when she spotted a gap between fashion and technical swimwear — and noted customers’ growing appetite for high-end swimsuits.
Pake attributes her label’s success to customers being less brand-loyal and more committed to discover special and well-made pieces.
Other contemporary swimwear labels are also tapping into the trend for statement swimwear, including Lisa Marie Fernandez, Adriana Degreas, Hunza G and Kiini, favored and instantly recognizable for its cutting-edge — and playful — approach to beachwear.
“Gone are the days when the kaftan or the bikini were seen as humble or forgotten pieces and when women would pick up any old thing on their way to their holidays,” said Lisa Aiken, retail fashion director at Net-a-porter. “The Net-a-porter customer is now looking for a full vacation wardrobe, and we are catering to her with a plethora of new brands.”
In April, Net-a-porter said it was making a “significant investment” in the high summer category, which accounts for 20 percent of its seasonal buy. There are 42 swimwear labels on the site, including Pucci, Diane von Furstenberg and Missoni, all of which have reimagined their signature prints and cast them onto beachwear.
“Beachwear is the top-performing category within our vacation shop and this year, statement pieces have also been incredibly popular,” added Elizabeth von der Goltz, global buying director at Net-a-porter. “Eres remains a key go-to for our customers seeking elegance, while Zimmermann, who are renowned for their beautiful florals, and Lisa Marie Fernandez are performing exceptionally well.”
Other e-commerce retailers are following suit. Edited has reported that Farfetch’s swimwear offering has increased by 349 percent, while Matchesfashion.com has seen an increase of 288 percent compared with 2016. Browns Fashion is also riding the swimwear wave, with its newest beachwear category, which launched last July.
“We realized there’s something there: It’s no longer just about what you wear to the beach, but a full summer wardrobe and it gives us the opportunity to work with talent in a new way,” said Ida Petersson, the company’s women’s wear buying director.
She pointed to key additions to the category, including Innika Choo, who hails from Australia; the L.A.-based Belusso, known for its sophisticated printed swimwear; and Double Rainbouu, another Australian label known for its modern take on the Hawaiian shirt, which offers an alternative to breezy caftans.