Down to a Science
It takes just the right mix of coverage, comfort and sex appeal to create the perfect swimsuit.
Since the dawn of the bikini, when fashion trumped practicality, we’ve asked almost the impossible from a fistful of fabric constructed into modern swimwear: It must be functional, cover key parts and fit like a second skin. And, of course from a style standpoint, it must be alluring.
Woe then, to the designer. It takes chutzpa to embrace a garment burdened by unrealistic expectations that often lead to disappointment for the would-be-wearer. Finding a balance is a precarious proposition.
The solution, some designers think, is to move away from overwrought designs meant to cinch, pinch, suck and tuck, which can actually draw attention to the very things the wearer wants to hide. Think of the woman who wears a skirted tank: Clearly she doesn’t want to show off her thighs, but she’s telling the world that she’s hiding them.
When it comes to acceptable swimwear, designers say, Americans are some of the most unadventurous people on the planet. “Swimsuits have become such a hot button issue,” says Keiko Fukuzaki, a New York swimwear designer, whose custom-made suits regularly grace the Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issues.
When women approach swimwear with trepidation, she says, it cancels the liberating effect a swimsuit should have, especially if it is worn on what’s supposed to be a relaxing vacation. “I find this attitude contradictory because Americans are supposed to be free in spirit but are actually very conservative about their swimwear,’’ says Fukuzaki, who adds that Europeans are much more relaxed about their body image.
Of course, a good suit needs to be flattering, so Fukuzaki plays with illusion to highlight the positives. “The secret is to collaborate with colors, which is my forte, especially thinking about color in terms of shapes,” she says. “With color-blocking, for instance, someone who is flat-chested might need to use a busy design on top; for someone heavier on the bottom, I would accent the upper part of the design and keep the bottom simple.”
Cynthia Ricciardi, New York-based designer of Cyn & Luca swimwear, concurs that less is sometimes more. She says women should avoid padded layers on top and discover the merits of a thin layer of high-tech fabric, such as Italian-made tubular micro fiber knits. The soft material feels luxurious and shows off a more natural shape.
The new fabric, already embraced overseas, provides some lift and hold without a lot of internal construction. Ricciardi still accommodates customers who want the security of padded tops, but the padding can be removed for those comfortable showing their curves.
Like Fukuzaki, Martin Capristan (who left Juicy Couture in New York to design and manufacture his unapologetically sexy swim line Capristan in Orlando) also plays with illusion to create something sexy—but subtly less revealing. His popular monokinis are cut past the navel, but there’s enough fabric on each side to conceal a stretch mark or two. A fan of new, soft materials, Capristan is experimenting with a rayon and Spandex mix that feels as soft as a tissue-thin cotton T-shirt.
Why did Capristan decide to focus on a garment that many love to hate? Well, he’s human: The female form free from layers of clothing is hard to resist—especially if it’s on a sun-drenched beach.
“There is something so beautiful about swimwear and working with stretchy fabrics,’’ Capristan says. “It just complements the body.”