July 27, 2012 9:10 pm

St Tropez comes to South Beach

The Miami swimwear shows are increasingly the place to be
Swimwear by Roksanda Ilincic

Swimwear by Roksanda Ilincic

Miami probably isn’t the first city that comes to mind when you think of fashion shows. Yet each July, when Miami is hot and humid enough to feel truly tropical, the city spotlights the one clothing category it does know best: swimwear.

Now in its eighth year, Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Swim consists of 32 official shows held at the Raleigh Hotel over five days. They’re often held at night, in a cluster of air-conditioned tents nestled in the back of the hotel’s pool area, with guests sipping cocktails on chaises longues nearby. There are also a number of off-schedule shows at neighbouring hotels and boutiques. The event is becoming an increasingly important fixture in the fashion world.

Laure Heriard Dubreuil, owner of the influential local boutique The Webster, says: “There’s more sophistication each year. The level of refinement now is incredible. And Miami has changed too. It used to be dead in the summertime – the hotels were empty – and it’s completely different now. Now people from outside Miami want to come.”

Tory Burch, who otherwise shows during New York fashion week, is one. “We recently expanded our swim collection and felt it was the right time to show it in a more impactful way,” says Burch before her debut swimwear presentation, a concise collection of classic suits punctuated with the brand’s ubiquitous logo and a series of easy, unfussy pieces inspired by “a recent trip to the Amalfi coast, and the seaside colours against the fuchsia bougainvillea and washed tiles”.

Mara Hoffman, who also shows at New York, was at Miami, where her wearable-but-a-tad-edgy suits and coverups reflected the key trends of the season: bright Aztec-inspired prints, cut-out lattice-like detailing, high-legged bikini bottoms and sleek underwire one-pieces with a slightly vintage feel.

“This is a place where we can come and show off a little bit and have a lot more fun in an easier environment for a runway show,” says Hoffman. “New York’s a different story, a whole different level of stress goes into it. The shows are a little bit more exclusive and refined. Here it’s playful and younger.”

Then there was Chloé, which showed a summer version of a biannual show organised by the Parisian house’s local Bal Harbour boutique, aimed mostly at its highest-spending clients. Although the collection included several crisp swimsuits in white and tan, the bulk of the show (unlike virtually everything else shown in Miami) was ready-to-wear, which made it hard not to feel a little sorry for models in chunky cotton sweaters and tan leather shorts walking down the runway in the heat, which hovered around 30C when the show began at 10.30pm.

Swimwear by Tory Burch

Tory Burch

The following night, it was the turn of Milan-based La Perla, which used a glitzy cocktail party as the backdrop for its presentation of a collection inspired by the Sicily of director Luchino Visconti’s 1963 film Il Gattopardo (The Leopard). The suits, some with details such as lace and corsetry ties, seemed aimed towards a more mature clientele than the bulk of Miami’s other offerings. The swim specialist Gottex’s collection of colourful pieces – with circle detailing inspired, according to designer Molly Grad, by the Olympics – were better suited for body-surfing off Montauk than lounging on a yacht off Marbella.

One of Chloé’s swimwear designs on the catwalk

One of Chloé’s designs on the catwalk

The London designer Roksanda Ilincic showed at swimwear trade fair Salon Allure for the first time, mixing colour-blocked red, black and white swimwear with dresses from her resort collection. “Miami is obviously the place to be,” says Zoe Olive, Ilinic’s commercial director, who oversaw the show. “We see a lot of stores in Paris and in London but we want to meet more buyers from the American and international market.”

They weren’t the only ones: in a breezy outdoor cove at the recently opened SLS Hotel, the Brazilian Association of Fashion Designers hosted a presentation and party showcasing lines such as Lenny and Jo de Mer, which featured bright graphic prints on swanky suits aimed at the denizens of a luxury resort.

As Mary-Kate Steinmiller, senior fashion market editor at Teen Vogue, says: “Miami has earned a lot more respect through the years. You see a lot more of the bigger brands coming and showing.” Today South Beach, tomorrow the world.

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Swimwear: Cool kaftans

The swimmers on the starting blocks in London may not have to worry about what to wear when out of the pool but for the rest of us, the question of what to put on top of your bathing suit when on holiday can be as traumatic as any time trial, writes Julie Earle-Levine.

“I see girls in gym shorts, or cotton dresses. They just look uncomfortable and hot,” says Marie France Van Damme, a fiftysomething designer who entered the what-to-wear race eight months ago when she launched a collection of mostly black-and-white kaftans and sarongs in sheer chiffons. “Not everyone has a fantastic body,” she says. “I think it is so much sexier to hide.”

She admits sarongs (from $280) are her worst sellers because many women do not know how to wear them (she recommends halter style at the neck, with big necklaces on top), but says kaftans ($400) are simpler and suit all body types. She claims one of her kaftans, for example, works on both herself at 5ft 2in and a friend who is over 6ft.

Van Damme suggests the following three ways for a sarong and kaftan to carry you from the beach to lunch and dinner.

1. Wear a one-piece, strapless metallic bathing suit and kaftan to the beach. At the beach, swap the kaftan for a sarong, tied around the waist. “When I go near the water, I take off my sarong and put it over my head, turban style,” Van Damme says (that way you have cover immediately on leaving the water and are not scrambling for a towel).

2. For lunch, wear swimsuit and sarong, halter neck-style, accessorising with necklaces or armfuls of metallic shiny bangles. Van Damme says no heels at lunch – barefoot is best.

3. In the evening, bring back the kaftan. Van Damme wears hers with a long camisole, so it is not as transparent. At night, high heels are an option.

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