Hot Water

New bikinis and one-pieces are turning up the fashion thermometer. Just don't try to swim in them.

Focus On Fashion

April 20, 2003|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,Sun Staff

Like many things in fashion, these teeny ensembles come in lush fabrics like velvet, suede, macrame and lace. They're dressed up with Swarovski crystals, sequins, buttons and beads. And accents like bamboo detailing and shiny silver buckles are everywhere this year.

Sound fairly typical? The catch is, we're talking about swimwear.

Bikinis and one-pieces have taken a daring foray into high fashion this season, kicking aside the traditional, unadorned swimsuit and ushering in a summer of impracticality.

Designer names that have set sights on the waterbound include Celine and Christian Dior. And labels from Victoria's Secret to J.Lo Collection have unveiled bikinis more suited to nightclubs and music videos than dips in the surf.

"Anyone with any common sense will know that these things are not for, shall we say, 'active swimming,'" said David Wolfe, creative director of the Doneger Group, a New York fashion trend analyst. "They're really meant for posing around the pool or sitting in a hot tub."

America's new swimsuit has its roots in the average woman's growing connection to her inner fashionista. The plethora of fashion and shopping magazines and popularity of style-driven shows like Sex and the City have made many women more image-conscious than before.

"Women have realized you shouldn't have to abandon your sense of style when you go to the pool," said Mary Jimenez, spokeswoman for, which began carrying Celine and Dior swimwear last year. "If you're a Dior customer, you have a very specific way you'd like to dress and this is an extension of that."

Many designers, too, have turned to baubles and beads to spice up swimwear for one simple reason.

"There's very little to work with in terms of a bikini," Wolfe said. "It's already as bare as decency allows. So new trims and different materials are all that's left for designers to play with. And they're not always the most practical people on the block."

And the bikinis that designers have dreamed up for the season have distinct Dior prints or luxe embellishments like delicate lace ruffles or exquisite mother-of-pearl beading. The looks are so hot it can seem a waste to just wear them on the beach. In this spirit, Teen Vogue stylists recently did a fashion spread featuring singer Ashanti in darling Pucci and Ashley Paige bikini tops paired with pleated skirts and cargo pants and topped with strings of pearls.

"It's so cute to wear a bikini top underneath a tank so the straps show," said Sarah Meikle, Teen Vogue's senior fashion editor. "It's sexy, body-conscious and fun, and it's sort of that surfy beach lifestyle. But it really depends on where you are -- I would not suggest the look to someone in Manhattan."

And before you try these new bikinis, Jimenez had some final advice.

"If you're going to wear them in the sun for a long time, be very careful," she said. "Those buckles and things can get hot."

From the surf to the street

So your bikini is too cute to flaunt just on the beach. Before you wear it to clubs and bars (near the beach), though, here are some rules for conversion:

* Make sure you're in good shape. People are going to be eyeballing you for your intriguing fashion statement. Don't attempt this without body confidence.

* Try pairing your bikini with skirts or sleek capri pants topped with sheer, casual blouses.

* If you're going to wear a high-fashion swimsuit, footwear is everything. Leave your grimy flip-flops at home. "These are not swimsuits to be worn with flats,"'s Mary Jimenez said. "Try a wedge or something with a two-inch heel. Even a three-inch heel would not be out of line."

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