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Bikini Breakout

A model shows the Ed Hardy collection by designer Christian Audigier. Photo: Al Diaz /
A model shows the Ed Hardy collection by designer Christian Audigier. Photo: Al Diaz /

By Kathryn Wexler

It’s all about the backside.

Some of the best bikini bottoms sashaying down runways at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Swim had flanks so wide they made a mockery of their flimsy string cousins. The wholesome coverage stood in condescending contrast to those barely-there Brazilian cuts that have become ubiquitous.

But just as modesty seemed to be getting the upper hand, the bottom edge veered north and slyly arched over the cheeks – coy as a wink.

Details like these, found on swimsuits by Diesel, Syla, Tibi and Red Carter, can turn an average swimsuit into a stellar one. Making grand gestures with a few inches of Lycra can quickly look silly, as with Poko Pano’s whacked-out bikini with a taupe band that stretched from hip to breast. Was that beachside body armor against anyone making an advance?

But aim too low, and a collection can drown in a sea of Lycra. Swimwear shows offer a lot more skin than material. When the suits can’t carry the day, the bodies get all the attention (hmm . . . would an earthquake make those concrete implants jiggle?)

Fashion Week Swim, with its 15 runway shows offering glimpses of swimwear for 2009, is about much more than bikinis, however.

”This is where they do their branding,” said Christina Neault, associate producer of 7th on Sixth, the fashion component of entertainment giant IMG, which produced the fourth annual event at the Raleigh Hotel in Miami Beach that ran from Thursday, July 17 through Monday, July 22.

”Our vendors love a show,” said Kristin Klonoski, in-house publicist for Tibi, an upscale clothing company that, like several participants, was launching its new bathing suit line. “It gives a lot of credibility to the line. When they have customers come in, they can show them a video.”

The business of buying and selling swimwear happens a few blocks away at the Miami Beach Convention Center, where the concurrent Miami Swimwear Trade Show draws hundreds of international swimwear vendors and buyers each year.

Fashion Week Swim allows companies to forge identities they hope will stick around long after the seasonal flood of swimwear recedes. And that doesn’t always require a trick up the sleeve, like a flame stitch (Tibi) or fringe (Custo Barcelona).

Take Tommy Bahama. This company isn’t trying to set the world on fire. The dependable, generously cut suits in monochromes or leafy prints were perfect for people on Carnival cruises who have no ambitions to be the envy of the pool deck, but who simply want to plop down on a lounge chair and order a well-deserved daiquiri.

Custo Barcelona, meanwhile, introduced a swimwear line that crackled with a clever blend of reflective dots and mixed prints. The designs were testimony that putting a lot of thought into a few tiny triangles can pay off. And yet, even Custo’s longtime stylist Bernat Buscato allowed, when it comes to itty bitty bikinis, “there’s only so much you can put in.”

Recurring elements in many shows were diagonal lines, animal prints washed over in subdued colors, one-piece suits with cut-outs along the sides and lots of coverups – a thriving business, as well.

"I just think it’s another way to dress at the beach,” said Amy Smilovic, designer of Tibi, who debuted a good number of pieces that hid her bikinis.

Ed Hardy swimwear was a riot of happy colors and bright missives about death. The tattoo-chic designs are instantly recognizable, and the models that Christian Audigier’s team lined up were more shapely than skeletal women at some shows, lending the line some va-va-voom! But one wonders whether smiling skulls will survive. Already, Ed Hardy’s chipper version of death is getting old.

It’s a good thing when the general manager of Saks Fifth Avenue/Bal Harbour takes enough interest in your line to turn up for your show. Such was the case at ViX. Designer Paula Hermanny has a new collection that whispers of wealth, with its liberal use of metallic enhancements and transparent sequins. And while the tiny bottoms on many of those bikinis seem as though they belong in the Juniors department, ViX’s suits were

maturely restrained.

Local designer Red Carter has won national recognition for his swimsuits, and his vintage-inspired, high-waisted numbers were hits, as was a cranberry one-piece, covered with shimmering fringe like a flapper dress.

In other shows, a few pieces stood out here and there. Zimmermann, the line by Australian sisters Nicky and Simone, had some delightful, sheer cover-up pants that cinched above the ankle.

Brazilian mega-brand Cia.Maritima got tie-dye just right, and came up with effective combos like little red roses and leopard prints.

Some of Tibi’s florals and swirls drew the eye downward, a quiet provocation. Pistol Panties by English designer Deborah Fleming (who lived in Miami Beach as a child) offered fabulous floppy hats that probably do what others promise and never deliver: Block that hateful sun.

The shows seemed more subdued than in years past, and offered few celebrity scores for paparazzi. Instead, this is the sort of thing that passed for news: A raven-haired beauty on her way back up the catwalk tried to dislodge her white bathing suit from her rear.

Maybe a wafer-thin bod is far beyond most spectators’ reach. But a wedgie, at least, is something we all can relate to.