The swimwear trend that’s really making a splash this season takes its inspiration from fashion’s latest preoccupation with sport. With designers offering swimsuits in high-tech fabrics and simple shapes to accentuate, or create the illusion of, an athletic physique, it’s also hard to miss the 1990s influence. Imagine the original supermodels frolicking on a beach for a Bruce Weber shoot in pared-down one-pieces and you’ll get the picture.
“Women don’t just sit on a sun lounger – they are swimming, playing volleyball, jumping off boats, playing with their kids, so need functionality as well as sophistication,” says Adam Brown, founder of swimwear specialist Orlebar Brown. Last year, Brown supplemented his men’s line with a women’s collection that includes low-back one-pieces in white, blue, turquoise and aubergine with buckles on the hip (from £195) and contrasting block-coloured styles in navy, taupe and sandy limestone (£225).
While some of the simpler designs this season could be straight out of the 1990s, others have new details. Colleen Hill, associate curator of accessories at the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, says having more fabric to work with than a skimpy bikini allows for a wider range of designs.
Justin O’Shea, buying director of online retailer Mytheresa.com, agrees, citing this season’s sleek details: “They are architectural, adding sex appeal and modernity to this classic swimwear style.”
There’s the white Thapelo Paris one-piece with its blue go-faster side stripe and gold metal button detail (£200) or dramatic geometric designs by new Australian brand NLP, which raced out of Selfridges.
The big labels are also lapping up the trend. Take Fendi’s colour-block swimsuit with its peeping eyes feature (£330) or Oscar de la Renta’s subtle raised floral pattern (£500). For his own label Tomas Maier, who is also Bottega Veneta’s creative director, has a scoop-neck one-piece with waist-defining, contrasting stripes (pictured left, £366).
New fabrics are helping to drive the scuba-inspired styles by Lisa Marie Fernandez. This season a cap-sleeved one-piece comes in satin neoprene, which gives a wet look (£305), and Fernandez also uses a soft, stretchy crêpe. “There are only a few silhouettes to a new swimsuit and it has to function and fit because you can’t disguise anything,” the designer says.
According to Judd Crane, Selfridges’ director of womenswear and accessories: “The definition of swimwear is changing, with the crossover between ready-to-wear and swim collections becoming less defined. A woman who prefers simpler styling is unlikely to be excited by prints or frills as she wants pieces that complement her everyday style.”
Mandeep Kaur Chohan, a London lawyer-turned-fashion designer, has just bought her first one-piece for upcoming pool parties in St Tropez, Paris and elsewhere – a high-necked, zip-front Lisa Marie Fernandez swimsuit from Net-a-Porter.com. “I was looking for something different that no one else would be wearing,” she says. “It fits into my wardrobe, unlike other swim pieces. I can pair it with my full skirts or my new Dolce & Gabbana temple-print skirt and block heels.”
Sam Coon, a London-based PR director, finds that an athletic style fits into her working day, and wears a black Adidas by Stella McCartney swimsuit for her daily swim at London’s Shoreditch House. “The sleeker, sporty design means that I can swim faster and more powerfully in a limited time because there’s less frill, and it makes me feel more focused on the exercise. It’s also smarter in case I bump into people I know. A bikini, with midriff exposed, is not how I want to be seen by clients.”
Perhaps the most obvious bonus of the one-piece, however, is that it’s flattering, and means you can spend your poolside time catching up on reading rather than doing crunches.
Yet what about that all-important tan: how can those dreaded lines be avoided? Fernandez suggests, “With zipped pieces, unzip the top and roll down so there won’t be lines on shoulders and arms. For cut-outs, put heavier factor 50 or 60 on the exposed skin. Or alternate [with another costume] to even out the tan.”
However, the tan line can be a badge of honour, according to Bethany Mayer, owner of the Surf Bazaar @ The Surf Lodge in Montauk, which stocks sporty one-pieces from established names and newcomers such as Seea, “because [with tan lines] you look like a cool surfer,” she says.
Stockists in this article and this week’s other Style articles