Cover me beautiful
Fashion has started to embrace a more modest look in recent years, with designers adopting minimalist styles. The trend has made its way into swimwear this summer. The more conservative one-piece has experienced a revival on the catwalks, with designs by brands such as Michael Kors, Pucci and BCBG Max Azria.
'I think the bikini silhouette has been evolving slowly over the past three or four years,' says Sabina Wong Sutch, founder and designer of Hong Kong swimwear brand Sabina Swims. 'It's gone from skimpy two-pieces, like Burberry's classic string bikini, to increasingly conservative two-pieces with higher waistlines and more coverage at the bust. So it's been a natural progression toward the one-piece.'
The one-piece styles that appeared on the spring-summer catwalks ranged from ultra-conservative to downright sexy. There were plenty of modern cuts, including Lanvin's pleated one-shoulder styles and Pucci's sexy printed cutout suits. At the other end of the spectrum, there was a strong retro influence as designers recalled classic stars such as Brigitte Bardot and Marilyn Monroe. This look was more glamorous. It was seen in the low-cut belted floral costumes at Marc by Marc Jacobs, in the ruffled blue styles at DKNY, and in the embroidered suits with sweetheart necklines at Elie Tahari.
'It's definitely more retro than modern, as we take cues from women like Grace Kelly. The silhouettes have lower leg lines. That really is the key to the retro trend,' says Wong Sutch.
Women are embracing the one-piece's comeback for obvious reasons. The bikini exposes unflattering areas such as the tummy, while the one piece keeps them covered. It can hide a multitude of sins. It's also extremely versatile, as demonstrated on the catwalks this year. Designers paired their suits with outerwear and other regular clothing, elevating it to a year-round wardrobe staple that could be worn both on and off the beach.
'Try pairing your suit with nice shorts or a skirt,' suggests Wendy Puyat, Filipino designer of swimwear label Por do Sol. 'It can even double as an elegant top if the appropriate style is chosen. It can give a dressy and elegant look or project a daring and modern allure. It depends on the style.'
This summer Puyat expects to see Mediterranean-inspired shades of Aegean blue, or rich jewel tones for a more sophisticated look. As colour blocking is also a huge trend, look for neon or bright blocks of colour. 'Colour-blocked suits are more of a statement, and add to the minimal quality of the spare and simple retro one-piece shape,' says Wong Sutch.
Prints are also back, so experiment with florals (a 1950s favourite) or leopard and jungle prints, which are both classic and modern. When it comes to shape, Lianna Man, merchandise director of fashion at Lane Crawford says, 'it's about the deep V with front or back lacing. I also love the sexy athletic one-piece look that has a bondage feel to it. You will be seeing a lot of this trend in spring-summer 2012. You can dress it up with a maxi skirt to make it look like an outerwear look.'
The key to making the look your own is choosing the right accessories, although Wong Sutch says don't go overboard. 'I like understated elegance when wearing a one-piece suit. So much of the body is covered already, you don't need to cover up much more,' she says. The Grecian-inspired look is always popular. This includes gold jewellery like bangles and hoop earrings, strappy metallic sandals and a draped cover-up. For a chic look, Puyat suggests pairing retro-inspired suits with espadrilles, a crochet mini dress and Jackie O style or cat's eye sunglasses.
'For a fierce, modern look, choose a daring one-piece worn with either a plunging jumpsuit or a hot pant romper. Add killer wedges and a man's watch and diamond studs,' she says.
Finding the right shape and style that suits your body type is integral to looking good.
'A good fit is always important, as you can't adjust the bottom and top separately as you would for a bikini. The bottom should be firm and give support without riding up. The top portion should have good support such as underwire for well-endowed women, and flattering details to enhance the bust for more modestly endowed women. The leg should not be cut too short, but should not ride very high like the 1980s high-cut swimsuits,' says Puyat.
'Obviously, with the one-piece, you are more covered than you would be in a bikini. So make sure you don't cover up too much, as it is more flattering to show skin in the right areas,' says Man.
Thin women should look for styles that will add volume to their shape. Puyat recommends details such as ruffles, hip ties, breast padding and cutouts that create an optical illusion of curves.
Curvy women should choose a suit that shows off their assets while focusing on slimmer parts of the body such as the waist. Suits with ruching are ideal because they hide flaws and double as support.
'Go for a modern ruched take on a 1950s style with a cinched waist that can compliment curves in the right places. This also works for a petite frame, as an emphasis on the waist can give the illusion of a longer body, especially with a higher cut on the leg,' says Man.
If you are bottom heavy, Puyat says you should avoid styles with too much fabric around the rear.
'Contrary to what most women believe, the more fabric your swimsuit bottom has, the bigger your bottom will look. A swimsuit in a solid colour that has a clean-cut bottom portion is slimming. Avoid busy prints, detailing and excess fabric and bring the focus more to the top,' she says.
Finally, Sutch Wong says: 'Avoid suits that you don't feel comfortable in. Avoid styles that make your belly hang out, and ones that don't give your bust support and shape. Find one that flatters your figure. I look for a good finish in the stitching, and good quality fabric, which I can discern by the feel of the fabric on my skin.'
Eres: Owned by Chanel, Eres is known for its classic designs with a modern French twist. Think of it as the haute couture of swimwear. www.eresparis.com
Heidi Klein: This popular holiday shop in London now has its own swimwear brand featuring fun yet versatile designs that go from beach to poolside. www.heidiklein.com
Jets: Designed by Jessika Allen, this Australian brand is all about modern swimwear with fashionable details, great cuts and striking prints. www.jets.com.au
Tomas Maier: Simple and elegant is Maier's philosophy (he is also the designer of Bottega Veneta). Expect understated designs, block colours and luxe fabrics. www.tomasmaier.com
Norma Kamali: Kamali is having a renaissance thanks to her offbeat and retro-inspired swimwear that is bang on trend this summer. www.normakamalicollection.com